We left the house around 5:00 a.m. giving us a little time to spare if we needed it. We had gone over to the property the weekend before and brushed in an area that we had planned to set up in. The Friday night before this first hunt we actually had a bird fly up to roost in the corner of this field; but the bird was up in the trees before we could make out what it was and it was too thick to tell from the distance we were standing. That was a good sign and knowing where a bird was is definitely a good starting point for the morning hunt.
As planned we crept into the set-up and Richard walked 20 yards out into the field to set the decoys up. I arranged my stool the way I wanted it and was settling in putting on my gloves and face mask while Richard was setting up the tripod and laying out calls. We still had another 30-35 minutes before day break. The morning was deathly quiet and nothing seemed to be stirring.
Once the sun was breaking and at the appropriate fly-down time, we still had not heard a tom. Richard made a fly-down cackle and a few yelps. It seemed like an hour before I finally spotted a tom in the field. I was starting to feel like the wind was knocked out of me—I guess it really showed because I was looking over my shoulder at Richard to see what he was doing and he looked up at me and he said the next thing he saw was my eyes shot wide open; he said as big as half-dollars but I don’t think that is possible. I looked at him and pointed down low toward the field and said “BIRD! BIRD! BIRD! It’s a Tom-white head.” I must of didn’t think he understood me because I looked at him again and repeated the entire thing to him and he just nodded his head in agreement. He wasn’t able to see him, but it was clear to me now that he knew what I said.
Richard used a mouth call to try to coerce the tom a little closer. In the few minutes he was working the tom toward the decoys a hen belted out a fly-down cackle directly in front of us. She raised cane for a few minutes after fly-down with Richard mocking her every note. That NEVER ceases to amaze me—the interaction between a caller and a bird. We could not see her, we just heard her. All of the sudden the tom at the end of the field started moving toward the planted pines that we were set up in. He walked half a horse shoe and was 20 yard directly behind us. He still had not said a word and was halfheartedly strutting. Then the hen flew up in a tree across from us only to cast down in the field a few seconds later. As we were looking in her direction, Richard noticed another tom on the opposite end of the field that the first tom had been on.
It was evident that this tom was not the same one that skittishly moved off the field and into the woods behind us. Now it made sense! This older, more dominant tom, must have been within eyesight of the subordinate tom and moved him along. The hen pecked around about 70-80 yards to our left. She slowly, and in a meandering way, was gaining yardage on the decoys. When she got withing 8-10 yards of the decoys she just stopped and stared. The tom was 60 yards from the decoy at this point. When the hen went back to feeding, the tom stayed between 50-60 yards strutting. It was evident that this was definitely a trophy tom with a beard in excess of 10 inches and what also seemed to be a second beard and his spurs visibly curled up. He was strutting but never made a sound other than spitting.
I, of course, was deafened by the loud heartbeat booming off in my ears. Wearing ESP hearing protection only amplified this effect. In my mind I was thinking that once he got to a certain point that I visually marked I would be prepared to take a shot. He was slowly, but surely making his way to that spot. When he was within a couple yards I had taken my safety off and slowly looked over at Richard to make sure he was ready.
When I completed my slow turn and was staring at him dead in the face, he mouthed “Don’t shoot!”. I thought to myself “I think I misunderstood him.” So I slowly mouthed back to him, with greatly emphasized annunciation, in a questioning manner shaking my head negatively “DOOONNNNN’TTTTT SHHHHOOOOOOOTTTT?” and for good measure I said it again, “DOOOOOONNNNN’TTT SSHHHOOOOOOTTTTTT?” He affirmed that question, shaking his head and mouthing “DON’T shoot!”
I slowly turned my head back to the bird, still bewildered and a little confused. I watched the bird get within 45 yards and once again for good measure I turned to Richard and asked and this time with convincing reasoning…”DON’T–DON’T shoot? I have extended range shells–are you sure? DON’T shoot?” Richard shook his head affirmatively. As I turned around, I let out a breath of air that made it look like someone had stuck a pin in me and let the helium out…neither one of us noticed it until we watched the video later that evening. I did notice that as soon as I was sure that I would not be shooting, my heart beat was no longer an issue in my ears–just like someone turned a switch off.
We watched the bird and Richard filmed him for about 40 minutes before the tom headed out through the planted pines, not without gobbling just for good measure as if he were laughing at me. When we could talk freely I immediately asked “Why did you not want me to shoot?” He said “Because I didn’t have a good video frame of him because of that tree and the sapling.” As we gathered our stuff and walked back to the truck I got thinking to myself…had I taken that shot, it would have actually been about 5-7 minutes of some doldrums footage. If the tom was hot, gobbling and putting on a show, it was going to make for some awesome footage harvesting this trophy bird. Since we have exclusive rights to this property for turkey hunting, that bird will be there for another day of filming.
I learned several valuable lesson today: first and foremost, ALWAYS wait for the cameraman to make the call that you can now shoot at anytime and secondly, I have a deeper appreciation of the natural behavior of wildlife. Reserving a shot on a trophy bird like this one took patience and control. As confused as I was at the moment, it was like writing on the wall when we talked about it later. We will be headed back to the hunting land this Saturday morning to see if we can get everything in sync: the hunter, the cameraman and the turkey; at that pivotal moment I will probably ask the question just for certainty: “SHOOT?”