Many of you who read my blog also follow me on Facebook. Those that do know that I have chased a tom I coined the Grand Poopah since the first of the season. Not so much because of size or age, more for the fact he rules the roost on our Alabama turkey lease. The ALPHA TOM…the first to Gobble in the morning and often the only one; keeping the subdominant birds tight-lipped. He fights anything that gets within 60-80 yards of his harem. I have seen him from a great distance through my binoculars, but I have also seen him close up with no shot opportunity. One of those birds that challenge you….kind of like a TRIPLE DOG DARE! You dream about him. How you will outsmart him. That bird that lets you pass up others just for the chance. He makes it easy to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning. Yeah, THAT KIND OF BIRD!!
I had an encounter with the Grand Poopah last Sunday but was unable to get a shot at him. That has fueled my obsession to get out there and hunt him when I can. This morning was no different. The alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. and by 5:20 a.m. I was creeping across a cow pasture to secure my spot for the morning. It was foggy and the fog was holding the lights from the local school, factory and cell tower below the clouds causing a ricochet of light that made it possible to go in without any light source. As I got closer to the area where the Grand Poopah normally roosts, I felt I needed to stop and go no further. I was afraid that he might be able to see me cross the field if I proceeded to my intended spot. I went with my gut.
I crept out about 20 yards from the tree base where I was going to sit and staked out a single feeding hen. As I got back to the tree base, I set out my stool, took off my turkey vest, laid it beside the stool, dug out my Blodgett Tough Country call, shooting stick and ESP ear protection. I took off my gun sling and packed it into my vest. I then settled onto my stool, punched my shooting stick into the ground and dug my mask and gloves out of my side pant pockets. The same routine that I do on every turkey hunt. I was thinking to myself that it was going to be a gray morning and there was a good chance the birds would fly down late.
I laid my head back against the tree and shut my eyes, taking in the morning. There were no sounds yet but the air was thick with moisture, the smell of cows and wet grass. The property that I hunt is terraced and hilly cow pasture laced with mature oaks and pines. I started to let my mind go through my daily To-Do-List and was deep in thought when the first gobble rang out. It sent a chill up my spine and even though it was muggy out, I could feel goosebumps creep down my arms. A brief 2-3 minutes passed before he let out another gobble, followed by a third in less than a minute. I reached over and picked up my call and made a few soft tree yelps and immediately he cut me off with a gobble. I glanced over at my decoy and placed my shotgun on my shooting stick so I could free up my hands for a few more soft yelps. A gobble came from in front of me…this had to be a bird I named “Third Bird”; a bird that was left from a trio that Richard and I doubled on earlier in the season. Or possibly “Down Low” another tom that I named because of his nature of hanging around, on the down low, just outside of that 60-80 yard barrier that the Grand Poopah kept on his harem. They also roosted in this area.
Just as soon as the stray gobble ended, the Grand Poopah let out a double gobble, then another gobble about 10 seconds later. I made a few more soft yelps and a fly-down cackle. He gobbled once more as I was setting my call and striker down. I inserted my ESP into my ears and turned my eyes back to the field when I caught movement across the sky…it was the Grand Poopah flying down. Just about the same time he hit the ground I noticed a spider hanging down under the front of my baseball cap bill. I couldn’t move. The tom was looking around for movement from a hen. The spider inched up its short strand of web and was now on the underside of my cap bill. I watched the spider start walking to the right just under the bill of my cap and in the distance I could see the blue and white of the tom’s head as it would go into half strut, come out of strut and gobble. The tom was 70-80 yards in front of me; just out of range. I could not move. He was facing me. The spider was inching closer to my face and at one point, all I could see were its legs wiggling. I tried desperately to blow through the edge of my mouth to change its direction…but my breath was weakened by my net facemask.
The spider slowly made its way to the right edge of my ball cap, stopped and wiggled its legs as if it were taunting me or trying to intimidate me. I am being honest when I say that I am not afraid of spiders. After all, very few even bite, even fewer in the south. However, as the spider hovered there, wiggling and stretching its legs as if trying to find something so step down on, I felt instantly afraid of spiders!! Then it happened, as I felt it step off onto my eyebrow, a whirl of nausea hit my stomach and a cold sweat broke through my skin. Chills ran down my arm. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t blow at it. I just stared forward, cheek close to gun stock. It was sheer torture. The tom was still facing me looking around. The spider seemed to sit there forever before making its way to my face mask. Whew!
As I turned all my attention back to the Grand Poopah, I noticed a cow walking into the woods directly behind the tom. The tom didn’t move and continued to stand there looking around. Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of four calves as they topped the hill. JUST what I needed in an already intense moment. All four stopped in their tracks when they saw my decoy. I knew immediately what was about to unfold. It happens anytime you put a decoy out and a cow is within 300 yards of it. Three of the four amigos walked directly to the decoy to check it out. This did not pose a problem since the cows were nowhere near my line of fire to the Grand Poopah. Nor was the cow behind me in the woods since it was down in a ravine now.
The fourth calf, a rambunctious bull calf with a #93 blue tag and #19 yellow tag, had all his attention on the Grand Poopah. All the movement was just too much for him as he started walking toward the tom with his head high and ears forward. When the bull calf–one I knew well from his past shenanigans–was within 15 yards of the tom, the tom came out of strut and started to walk the other direction. The bull calf started trotting and the tom put it in high gear, putting and running for the woods. Now the bull calf was in a run, bucking his heels up and swinging his head and tail like sideways helicopter blades until it stopped short of the edge of the trees.
Thinking my hunt was over, I reached down for my phone and snapped a picture of his friends still standing at my decoy. I thought to myself that I would sit until the calves moved on and then I would pack up my gear and head to the truck. The bull calf joined the cow in the woods and the three calves moved on. As I took one last look around the edge of the woods…..I saw white. Yep! The Grand Poopah was walking back out onto the field.
Not only was my gun laying across my lap, I was facing the wrong direction for a shot to my extreme right. The Grand Poopah walked the edge of the field and was as close as 30 yards prior to walking back into the woods. I had a split second that I could have “putted” to stop him for a shot if I was quick on turning and raising the gun to get the aim and take the shot but I had no idea where the cow and bull calf were. I did not want to harvest the Grand Poopah and an expensive cow; the farmer surely would not appreciate that and from what I hear, beef prices are up right now. The Grand Poopah finally meandered into the woods walking away from me. I was able to get turned around, facing the direction he was walking in. I picked up my slate call and made a yelp. He gobbled. I yelped again. He gobbled. I made some purrs and he gobbled again but a little further away. It was clear that he was walking away. He was not coming back in my direction so I figured I would give him time to get further off from me and I would load up my gear, grab my decoy and back out–saving this spot for Saturday’s hunt.
All of the sudden, a thought came to me…THE SPIDER!! By this time, the spider was on the inside of my face mask, so I took a minute to knock the spider out of the inside of my mask and sat quietly replaying the morning. About 10 minutes had passed when I glanced in the direction the tom had walked away just to make sure all was clear before standing up and as I turned my head, I caught a glimpse of white. There he was at 30 yards through the thick brush and dense trees. I was able to turn quickly and get on my knees as he stepped behind a huge pine tree. He gobbled when I made a feeding purr and turned my direction. I instantly heard my heartbeat in my ears when I thought to myself, “THIS IS IT…he is coming to me. As soon as he clears that brush and walks between those two trees, I am taking the shot.” The thought no sooner passed when I saw a hen to the right of me at 20 yards. The hen yelped softly and was feeding and walking in my direction. The tom was trying to get out of the thicket to come in the direction of the hen. He walked out the end of the thicket but was walking straight toward me. I was on the other side of the tree and I could not get the gun mounted in a comfortable position to take aim and shoot. I let the thought cross my mind of shooting left-handed but he would surely see me move.
The Grand Poopah was getting closer….I could hear him spitting. The hen was walking toward me which now put another set of eyes on me. Should I just, snatch the gun up, mount it quickly as I clear the tree, take aim and shoot. NO! That was just too risky. I didn’t want to miss or worse, wound the bird…I just didn’t feel that was an ethical shot. He stayed in one place in the thick vines and small oaks strutting. I saw him clearly at about 20 yards as I peered around the tree and caught a glimpse of him going through a little ditch. I took that opportunity to move one knee-length to the right. Whew….he didn’t see me–nor did the hen who was just about completely on the other side of me out-of-the-way. He was still coming. As soon as he cleared the ditch, he took a hard right. SHEESH…had I stayed where I was at, I could have had a shot in about three steps. NOW WHAT! He was close enough that no matter what, he was going to see me if I moved.
I was kneeling on both knees, about a shoulder width apart, on my turkey stool causing a locked-in effect at my waist. My eyes were cut so hard to the left where my neck could no longer turn that it was actually making me dizzy and my eye sockets ached. The Grand Poopah walked about four good strides and put his head down to peck at something on the ground. It was at this time, I pointed my gun up and swapped the sides of the tree with it. He shot his head up. Did he see me? I didn’t breath for a second. He calmly lowered his head and took a step, again pecking at something on the ground. I took note of my shot opportunity. When he stepped into the clearing of two trees 18 yards from me, I will take the shot.
Just two more steps…I drew in a breath…TWO more steps. As the tom lowered his head I raised my gun to my cheek. He was about to reach the gap in a mere two strides and I would take the shot. My eyes were killing me and my head was dizzy from the length of time I kept my eyes cut. I lifted my right knee to move it in closer to my left so that I would have more stability to take the recoil of the magnum shot. The stool popped loudly and it jolted me. The Grand Poopah threw his head up, let out a PUTT, and took two steps to the right into the brush. I could just make out the white of his head as he stopped in the thick brush; not giving me a shot. Then he putted again and quickly walked in the opposite direction as I would catch his stark white bobbing head through the trees and brush.
Once he was clear out of sight, I turned around and sat on the stool…..EXHAUSTED. At this point, most hunters would be frustrated or plain mad….me, it just added another level to the obsession in my Quest for the Grand Poopah. ~TO BE CONTINUED~