I was excited about this hunting trip; our first hunt on the new Kentucky lease. We had received reports from a hunter that hunts the adjacent property that the birds were gobbling and plentiful in the area. We drove the 6.5-hour drive to Pirates Cove Resort on Jonathon Creek Bay at Kentucky Lake where we would be staying for the next few days as we hunted until our hearts were content or we tagged out.
Saturday morning the alarm went off and I was dressed and in Clyde on my way to the hunting land, with Hank in tow. As soon as we pulled in the drive and parked, we were hurriedly unloading Hank off the trailer and packing our stuff into the basket and bed. It is funny that after you do this several times, it becomes second nature. As soon as I finished lacing my snake boots and put Crackie on silent we were sneaking across the field in stealth mode on Hank.
We stopped Hank at the old barn and sat for about 10 minutes before hearing the first gobble; a single gobble that rattled the morning. We patiently waited and another gobble cut the morning air like an axe hitting a piece of fresh pine. That gobble was followed simultaneously with two other gobbles from nearby toms. I jumped off Hank, grabbed my turkey vest, turkey stool and my shotgun and we were sprinting across the field toward a tree line. As we hit the bottom of the field we started sloshing in waterlogged weeds that were about thigh high. This slowed me down considerably but I could still see Richard in the dim morning light so I just hustled to catch up as soon as I cleared the marshy bottom.
Since this was new property we were hunting, it took us a minute to find a place we wanted to set up. As we were hem-hawing about “Here? Or there?”, three or four toms were gobbling their heads off about 50 yards from us. Finally, I made the decision for us and said…”HERE! We are setting up here!” I just could not stand it any longer. My heart was pounding and I had just sprinted across a soggy bottom, thigh deep in grass with the anticipation of a child walking through the gates at the county fair. I HAD TO SIT DOWN!
I set up my stool as Richard walked out into the field to set up a tom and a hen decoy. By the time I was sitting still, with my shotgun in my lap, facemask and gloves on, Richard was just firing up the video camera. The toms were still gobbling. Chills ran up my arms and the hair on the nap of my neck stood on end. There is something magical about the sound of a tom gobbling on a dew laden morning just before day break…absolutely breathtaking and exciting–not knowing what the morning is about to bring you.
When the toms were on the ground, they moved down into the woods directly behind us. This was PERFECT! These toms were coming to the sounds of the fly down cackles and the purrs we were making. Every sound was resonated back with a gobble; good, strong, hearty gobbles. After about 15 minutes, I heard a cluck fairly close behind me, followed by a cluck from another tom, then another answered with a cluck. Glancing over at Richard, I could just make out the words as he whispered “They are close, I hear them drumming. “
Those birds worked their way up the bank and were standing less than 8 yards over my left shoulder. I didn’t move. I cannot explain how intense the moment was. I could hear the grass crunching under its footsteps–and of course, my heartbeat in my ears. I had to concentrate on a bug crawling on a weed in front of me to control my breathing. These birds were close enough you could see them blink. They needed to come from around me and to an area that the camera could pick them up.
They did not come around me but backed out the exact trail they came in on but were still gobbling about 20 yards behind us. The Carry-Lite Bob-N Tail Turkey HD tom looked so realistic with its weighted tail bobbing in the wind. Several times it looked as if it came out of strut only to fan out again, mimicking a real tom. Evidently the tom decoy was something these less dominant birds did not want to mess with. When they heard the sound from the gobble tube, they responded and before we knew it they were making their way around to the side of us. These birds would gobble at just about any sound we made, but they sure did not want to get within 15 yards of our decoy setup. We had no doubt that there must be a more dominant bird in these woods because these three birds were not going to cross the line of that dominant toms liking.
Two of the three toms were standing 18 yards from me, glancing at the decoy and the woods, and picking at seeds/bugs in the grass. I slowly turned my head and whispered to Richard “Do you want me to shoot him?” I was ready: safety off, gun steady, bead on the bird—one pull away from the shot.
Richard said “No!” I knew immediately why he told me not to shoot. These birds had not done anything for the footage: no strutting, no fighting or challenging the decoy; NOTHING exciting. Actually they looked scolded, sneaking in, and that just wasn’t interesting at all. The only thing they did do was gobble in return to our calling. They skirted the decoy half a circle and were back in front of me before they meandered off down the hill.
Once they had walked into the woods about 80 yards from us, I laid my shotgun in my lap and looked at Richard and said, “They were close.” He laughed and said about 10 feet over your shoulder when they first came out. He then explained that he thought the birds were acting the way they were because a bigger/older bird ruled these woods and that is why he didn’t want me to shoot since we would come back to this spot in the morning and hope the Grand Poopah came into our setup.
We knew we were coming back the next morning to hunt; locating birds on the property was our main concern for this first hunt. Richard mentioned that in the morning we would not set up a tom decoy, just two hens. He felt that might make these birds strut and do more for the footage even if the Grand Poopah didn’t come into our setup. This was private property and we had that option of letting them walk to return the next day for a better hunt.
We grabbed our gear and were headed back to Hank when we seen three jakes skirting the bottom of the hill and walking to the end of the field. I had a great feeling about the next morning’s hunt. I thought about the song “Ol’ Tom Gobbler” by my friend Randall Haley and laughed as the words “until next year little noggin’!” came to mind.
When we returned to camp Richard and Greg went back out to the lease to put out minerals while Billinda and I went to WalMart to grab some groceries for grilling out later in the afternoon. There is one thing about Hunt Camp…you never go hungry. On the menu was grilled ribeyes, baked potatoes, green beans, and steamed asparagus.
Storms started rolling in around 2:00 p.m. and at several times during the afternoon we were under a tornado warning. The rain held off long enough for us to get the ribeyes grilled and we were eating dinner when the bottom fell out. What an outstanding meal; I was so full after dinner that it was not long before I retired for the night.
It rained off and on all night long. We had made plans to get up at 4:00 a.m. and head to the woods for a quick morning hunt if it was not raining. When my alarm went off, I could tell that there was lightening in the clouds when the dark room lit up every few seconds. I quickly got up and checked the weather on my computer. The radar indicated that we were on the front side of some heavy thunderstorms and rain. It looked like it was going to last well into the morning. I woke everyone up telling them that they could sleep in because we would not be hunting with the storm moving in. It did rain most of the morning, so much that the road at Pirates Cove Resort was underwater.
We were only able to hunt one morning on our first trip to the Kentucky Lease…but all was not lost, we were able to spend time with good friends, enjoying great food, many laughs, and making wonderful memories. Every dark cloud truly has a silver lining and often a rainbow that follows. We will be back in Kentucky to finish out the season in just over a week.