I started off this season quickly learning that there existed an Alpha Bird on our turkey hunting property. This bird was the first to gobble every morning and had no mercy on any other toms that came within 60-80 yards of his eleven-hen harem. I coined this bird “The Grand Poopah”. This bird quickly made his way to the top of my hit list. The problem–my feathered foe didn’t become the Alpha Bird by being an EASY HUNT.
I passed up shooting some good birds waiting on the opportunity to harvest The Grand Poopah; GP for short. I watched on several occasions as he strutted in all his grandeur with his eleven hens early in the season. The property that we hunt is primarily cow pasture; which actually is some of my favorite type terrain for turkey hunting, not only because turkey frequent cow pastures to feed on the grub and bugs under flipped cow patties but also because of the longer sight and shot opportunities. However, this type of terrain is harder to navigate without being seen when birds are already on the ground because any tree lines that you have to navigate in have a cow browse line and you can easily be seen walking in them by turkey from a long way. So, ultimately, getting in close enough to set a decoy and call a bird in after sunrise is trickier and requires knowing the pastures and every terrace.
Many of those reading this have followed along on this quest and know that I have actually put the time into hunting this bird while taking several others that were just too good to pass up. I even had an opportunity to harvest the GP at 35-yards with the camera rolling but Mister and I both had second thoughts if the bird in front of us was indeed the GP by the way he was skirting the decoys. That bird just did not act like an alpha bird so I decided to let him walk. Both Mister and myself started to think we both needed a kick in the butt for that decision.
This bird became “THAT” bird!! He started to consume my idle thoughts. Harvesting him became a challenge; a triple-dog-dare, almost. “THAT” bird was the last thing I thought of when I set my alarm for 4:30 a.m. every night and the first thing I thought of when my feet hit the floor the next morning. Time was getting short as the season was coming to a close. The GP’s scorecard was starting to look like that of an Olympic Gold Medalist compared to my own. He was winning by outwitting me, out strategizing me, and the worst part of it all, consuming me as if he were taunting me.
With the Alabama season coming to an end, this weekend was the last full weekend to get it done and I had plans to bring my favorite hunting partner along with me and use his skills in calling in hopes it would entice the GP to his doom. FIRST, we had to find the GP!! Our hens are setting on the nest and we removed 3 other toms from the property causing the GP to get lockjaw and to go on a HIATUS by completely moving to another roosting area deeper into the woods. I spent the past week in the woods nearly every morning waiting, praying, straining to hear a gobble and it just did not happen. I studied the Topo maps that Mister had saved for me. We looked at them together and strategized where I needed to go the next morning. All that work was to no avail.
On Friday night, Mister studied the Topo map and told me the plans for Saturday morning’s hunt. As we waited at the designated spot per the plan first thing Saturday morning, the GP gobbled exactly where Mister had assumed he would be. We hurried to an area that Mister felt was going to be the best advantage to our plan. We settled in with one hen decoy set up at 25 yards in front of us. The GP gobbled twice more before he pitched down to the ground. Mister made calls off and on for the next 45 minutes but it was obvious before long that the GP was not interested in whatever this lone hen was offering. We packed up our stuff and headed into the woods to see the area he was roosting in for ourselves so we could plan to set up close to him on Sunday.
About an hour and a half later, the plan was laid out and we knew we were going to need to give ourselves an extra 15-20 minutes in the morning to move into the thick woods quietly to set up close to the GP’s suspected roosting area. We also agreed that we would not try to come back in the afternoon to hunt or roost the GP for fear of bumping him into another roosting area. We loaded Hank the HuntVe up and were on our way home.
Sunday morning started off with odds against us. The first thing I noticed when I woke up was the thick fog outside my bedroom window. This could mean a later fly-down. We loaded up and were on our way to the hunting land in record time leaving us the extra time we needed to creep into the area we decided on starting at the previous day. The woods were thick with a green patch that looked to be an old roadbed where I set out a single upright hen decoy, the Hunter’s Specialties Suzie Snood, and I had hopes that she would entice the GP into shooting range. The second odd against us was that the GP never gobbled nor did any other birds in these woods; matter of fact, even birds of other feathers were quiet. It was already well past prime fly-down and I found myself leaning against the small pine thinking how odd that the cows were not even braying as usual…or could it be that we were in the thick woods and I just could not hear them.
I was brought back from my deep thoughts by Mister making a few feeding purrs I placed my shotgun down across my lap. I glanced over at Mister and he shrugged his shoulders. I looked back forward and thought to myself that we should wait about another 30 minutes and then we should pack up and go home, I had a list of things I needed to do to get ready for our turkey hunt in Missouri that we would be leaving for mid-week. About 15 minutes had passed when Mister made some more feeding sounds and shortly after he shifted his legs. As he did, I caught movement in front of us and to the left. I strained to see what it was. I didn’t see anything but I heard shuffling in the leaves. I shot my eyes over to Mister and he gave me that “WHAT?” look as I slowly pointed to my ear and then in the direction of the sounds.
Mister looked in that direction and then he glanced back at me. I shot my eyes back over to that direction as Mister struck a yelp on his call. The tom let out a good strong gobble. I think we instantaneously jumped. My shotgun was lying in my lap, I didn’t have a clear view of the tom so I didn’t want to move until I knew he wasn’t able to see me. It took just a second to hear the leaves moving and then I saw the white of his head. THERE he was looking in the direction of the hen decoy as he crested a little a terrace. I was in a predicament. The tom was 35-yards in front of me looking at the decoy that was directly between us in his line of site and my shotgun was lying across my lap while I was casually leaning against the pine tree. WHY? WHY do these things always seem to happen? How am I going to swoop up my shotgun, shoulder it, aim and shoot without this tom “putting” and taking off down the terrace—out of sight.
I could feel my heartbeat in my neck, hear it in my ears, I felt a bead of sweat pop out on my upper lip as I realized this was THE GRAND POOPAH!! My last chance to seal his doom and I am not even ready. The bird was in half strut as he walked forward about two strides and stopped, and then he turned sideways. NO!! NO, please do not bust out of here. Then, as if someone popped a piñata with a stick as he “popped”, with a spit and drum, into full strut. He looked as if he were floating as he slowly started turning away from me. As his tail fan shielded his head, I set into motion by quickly raising my gun and shouldering it. The GP turned back to the right as I focused on the bead of my shotgun, raising it to my mark. Mister saw I was ready as he putted. The GP raised his head and looked in Mister’s direction. Time seemed to have stood still as I placed the bead of my shotgun under his ear, steadied myself, drew in a breath, slowly released half of it and squeezed the trigger.
I think I was holding my breath as I heard the sounds of shuffling in the pine straw and leaves, watching the GP as he ran to turkey Heaven bicycling his legs in the air. I racked another shell in, put my gun on safety and I was standing up before I knew it. As I got closer to the GP lying on the ground his legs drew in and he quit moving. Mister walked up to me and we both high-fived and hugged as I yelled, “WE GOT HIM!!” as it choked me up emotionally. All the energy, time and emotions that went into hunting “THAT” bird, The Grand Poopah were now rewarded.
As I reflect back on my 2014 Alabama spring turkey season I feel blessed, not only for several successful harvests, but also for my health and the means to have had the opportunity to spend so many days in the field. I am not only lucky in the fact that we have a long season but also because our birds are challenging enough to keep you on your toes with a grit of determination in your soul; The Grand Poopah was prime example of this. Harvesting The Grand Poopah was bittersweet for several reasons: first for the fact that this old bird ALMOST won and I will be the first to tell you he put up a good game–he only had three more days to outsmart me. Yes, just THREE days and he would have not only won, but he would have haunted me for the next 10 ½ months until opening day of the 2015 season.
I truly danced with a fist full of The Grand Poopah’s feathers…a hunt that lasted longer than expected but reaped more in memories than I could have ever asked for.