Gobble! Gobble! Gobble! My heart was pounding as the adrenaline pumped through my blood and I tried to steady my nerves. The big tom was in full fan, strutting back and forth a mere 15 yards in front of me. Two more toms were also strutting off to the right and another eight hens and a few jakes were slowly making their way up the hill in front of the toms. I made a few soft yelps on my box call, but none of the turkeys even took notice.
It was only 20 minutes after light and I had been slowly making my way down an old dirt road in one of my favorite turkey hunting spots that cold, crisp Spring morning when I rounded a bend and saw the turkeys in front of me. They had been calling and I knew I was getting close, but it still took my breath away to see them that close. They had just crossed the dirt road and were starting to head up into the oak brush to my right. Although I knew they had seen me, they didn't seem to pay any attention and were more interested in breeding than anything else.
"Do you see those turkeys?" I asked my 5-year-old son and turkey hunting guide.
"Yeah," he whispered back.
"They're pretty cool, aren't they?"
"Uh-huh. Shoot that big one right there!"
Before I could respond, another loud gobble erupted from the brush off to our left and two young toms quickly emerged from the trees and crossed the road 25 yards in front of us. They looked behind them and then ran forward to catch up with the rest of the flock. I puzzled over their curious behavior and then realized what was happening. These two toms must have been the lieges to the grand monarch himself. Another enormous gobble was followed by the appearance of the biggest, most majestic turkey I have ever laid eyes on. He proudly strutted into the middle of the road, turning this way and that so all the world could behold his magnificence.
I couldn't resist any longer so I opened the truck door and began to climb out. He immediately relaxed his pose, glared at me and trotted up the hill to join the rest of the flock that were making a hasty retreat. Halfway up the hill, he stopped, turned around and let out one last angry gobble. I had a feeling this wouldn't be the last encounter between he and I.
With my legs still shaking from the excitement, I walked to the spot he had crossed the road and looked at his tracks in the soft, moist ground. I examined them closely so I would recognize them in the future. Three long marks spread at equal angles with the middle mark pointing straight forward told me this feathered giant only had three toes on each foot. I named him Old Three Toes and vowed to confront him another day. Only next time, it would be on my terms and the outcome was sure to be different.
This exciting encounter took place two weeks before the start of my first ever turkey hunt. You see, after sixteen years, I had finally drawn a turkey tag in Utah. OK, so I had only been putting in for the last six of those years, but it had still been a long time. I was excited to finally draw, but my excitement was tempered by anxiety as I realized how many other hunters drew the same unit. It seems the DWR, in an effort to increase hunting opportunity, had increased the tag allotment for this unit to ensure that nobody would ever have to go through the agony of being rejected in the drawing ever again. To make matters worse, I had drawn a tag for the second of three seasons and would have to wait and watch while an army of camouflaged neophytes bumbled about for a week educating all of the turkeys and scattering them to the four winds.
As I always do when I draw a tag of any kind, I put forth every possible effort to prepare myself. I owe it to the quarry I pursue to be at the top of my game. That's why I took this last scouting trip to make sure I knew where the birds were hanging out. Even though it was only the first time I had been out this year, I had been thinking about it a lot. With my preparation complete, I was ready to go.
I was hopeful that this secret spot I had located would be overlooked by all of the other hunters and the birds would be undisturbed during the first season and everything would be perfect for my hunt. There were a lot of birds there and everybody I had talked to said they didn't think very many people knew about this place, so I was guardedly optimistic.
My first indication that there might be a problem came a few days before the first season opened when I found out that a former neighbor and his son-in-law had tags for that first season in my unit and I called to find out where they were going and what they had seen. My friend told me that he hadn't had a chance to get out and do any scouting himself (loser), but that he had heard from a couple of his friends that there was this secret spot just above this little town with a lot of birds that nobody knew about.
Once I realized they were going to my secret spot, I decided to tag along with them to see what happened on their opening day. A few days later it was time to go. I woke up early in the morning and drove up the dirt road to the secret spot. I wondered if maybe there was going to be a football game there later that day because trucks were parked along the side of the road all the way up to my secret spot, just like you would see outside of Lavell Edwards stadium on game day.
I finally found a parking space just before it started to get light, hooked up with my friends who were just finishing up their tailgate party and we started up the hill. We hunted hard all day long and saw a few birds, but didn't get any shots. We did call in 39 other hunters, but we passed on all of them. The good news for me was that I didn't hear another shot all day long. Maybe it had something to do with the 4-wheelers and trucks cruising up and down every trail in the area all day long or the guy who kept alternating between his terrible rendition of a gobble and his equally terrible rendition of a set of fingernails scratching a chalkboard every 30 seconds for 4 hours straight. At least that's what I think he was trying to imitate.
After that opening day adventure, I decided to make my secret spot Plan B. I had several promising leads on getting on different pieces of private property for my second season hunt, which started eight days later, so I decided to focus on those as Plan A. Even though some people might say hunting on private property takes away some of the satisfaction of hunting, I believe they just say that because they don't have access to any private property.
I tried all week long to confirm that it would be OK for me to hunt on these different pieces of property and finally came to the realization that hunting on private property takes away some of the satisfaction of hunting and decided to fall back on Plan B.
To further complicate things, my schedule at work took a turn for the worse and I found I would only be able to hunt opening morning and then I wouldn't be able to get back out until twelve days later, which was at the tail end of my season. I now had a decision to make. Should I leave my 5-year-old guide home on opening morning and try to get-er-done on my own, or should I bring him along and let him experience the hunt and then risk trying to find a straggler during the last few days of the season that had somehow managed to avoid the first two waves of hunters?
I decided to take my boy along under the conditions that he not whine or say he wanted to go home and to sit still like a statue whenever I told him a turkey might be nearby. With my expectations now set at a sufficiently low level, we woke up early opening morning, loaded up our gear and headed out.
We didn't exactly arrive at the crack of dawn, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were only a handful of trucks parked along the road and we immediately heard a gobble as soon as we parked. We headed off in the general direction of the gobble and heard several more as we got further up the hill.
The other thing that got my blood going was that I noticed a set of tracks in the soft ground as we were walking up the hill. I could tell at a glance that it was Old Three Toes. The tracks were fresh, so I knew he had survived. The closer we got to the gobbles, the more tracks we saw and they were all made by Old Three Toes. It was amazing how much ground he covered. You would have thought it would have taken dozens of turkeys to make that many tracks.
We finally found a nice little sagebrush flat, set out our decoy and found a place to hide in the edge of some oak brush. I began scratching out my music and several toms took turns answering. One even came in close enough that the command to be still like a statue was issued. However, we couldn't get him to show himself and he eventually lost interest and moved along. My little guide also began to lose interest so I decided to go on the march again.
We gathered up our things and began to slowly hunt towards another tom that was particularly vocal. We closed the gap until he was less than 80 yards in front of us, hidden in the brush. We crouched down and tried to coax him out with some soft clucks and purrs, but he wanted nothing to do with it and actually moved further away. So, we circled way around and tried to get in front of him. It turns out we didn't circle far enough and as we bobbed our heads over a little rise, he was bobbing his head over the same rise coming from the opposite direction. Our eyes met and his bobbing immediately changed directions and increased in speed. I pulled up my gun and thought about shooting, but without being able to get a good look at his beard and tail feathers, I didn't want to risk the disappointment of shooting a bird that wouldn't make a good mount.
The next couple of hours were more of the same. A fair number of birds were talking, but none of them wanted to come and introduce themselves to our decoy. A big snowstorm was starting to come in and my boy, although he had been true to his commitment, was obviously ready to call it quits. So, we picked out the sound of one of the few gobblers that was still sounding off occasionally that happened to be in the general direction of our parked rig and headed toward it.
Just about this time, the first snowflakes began to fall. They were big and firm and made a fairly noisy landing as they hit the brush and ground. The noisy snow, combined with the wind, masked our noise as we moved along. Probably because of this and our Indian-like footsteps, we walked around some trees and right up on a small group of turkeys that had sought shelter in a group of oak brush. They weren't quite sure what we were, but they knew they didn't like that shelter anymore and immediately began to search out a new one.
Two big, red-headed toms moved off to the left towards a small opening about 25 yards away, while the rest of the group retreated deeper into the brush. I could see that the closest one to me had a nice beard on him and they looked like twins, so I figured either one that gave me a shot opportunity might be in trouble. As it turns out, they both moved to the small opening and stayed in it for a couple of seconds as they moved straight away. I raised my gun and followed them with my bead as a million thoughts went through my mind. The close encounters we had had earlier that morning...the thrill it would be for my boy of being there when I killed a turkey...the desire to shoot a bird in full strut that I had called in...the uncertainty of not being able to see what condition their tail feathers were in...the uncertainty of not being able to hunt again until the final days of my season...the reality that my former neighbor and his son-in-law had hunted
hard their entire season and never got a shot opportunity...and why are those dang birds standing right in line with each other so I can't shoot?!?!
Finally, after another step, the tom that was further away stepped off to the side and into the brush, leaving me with a split second to decide what to do before the other one did the same. Instinct kicked in, the trigger pulled back, the gun barked and the tom went down. I walked forward with adrenaline rushing through my veins as the old boy thrashed around on the ground. As soon as I could safely get a hold of him, I quickly fanned out his tail and breathed a sigh of relief as I saw his tail was in excellent condition.
To my further amazement, I looked at his feet and realized I had done it! I had actually killed Old Three Toes.
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