Finally A Long Beard

Joseph Antinora

Ontario, New York

I have been a dedicated turkey hunter for over ten years now. I love the sport; however, have had only minimal success. The successes I have had have been on a few beautiful jakes, but I have wanted a long beard so bad I could taste it. Success or not though, I would always be in the turkey woods whenever I could. Just for the thrill of hearing a thunderous "gobble" break the morning silence or for the chance of being in the right place at the right time watching a tom in full strut, putting on a show, to win the affections of any hens in the area.

It was the first week of New York's spring turkey season and I was running a little late getting into the woodlot that morning. As I started my journey into the woods the sky was already lighting up and the normal concerto of various songbirds in the area was well underway. I headed to an area of pines that border a small swampy area where I had seen three jakes the day before. All three jakes came in quietly but there was also a turkey gobbling in the distance. I figured there was a good chance he may be a long beard by the submissive mannerisms the jakes were displaying so I tried to call in the vocal gobbler but he would not move my way at all. Maybe hens with him or at least that's what I hoped the problem was; I was quickly losing confidence in my abilities to call in a long beard. The gobbling turkey never showed and I blew it on the jakes hoping for the long beard. Today, I was hoping the vocal gobbler would still be in the area and maybe roosted in the pines.

As I hurried along the trail toward my tree it happened. A tom thundered out his morning gobble. He sounded like he was in the hardwoods bordering the side of the swamp and probably within a couple hundred yards of me. I quickly abandoned my original plan and picked a tree where the pines start bordering the swamp. He was getting himself all hot and bothered, as he gobbled about five times, while I was getting myself situated up against a tree. Once in position, I yelped to him and he gobbled right back. We did this two more times and I decided not to overcall and just sat there quietly. He gobbled two more times on his own and I could feel the excitement build to boiling over inside me. Then he gobbled again, but this time it sounded muffled. He must be out of the tree, I thought.

I let out some excited yelps and cuts to provoke him my way and then planned to go quiet on him again. To my disappointment there was just silence. I waited for what felt like forever and still nothing. I tried yelping again and this time he gobbled back. My heart sank as he sounded further away. I tried yelping again and he gobbled back--this time sounding even further away. Was it my calling...was he with hens...I was feeling pretty unconfident sitting there trying to come up with a plan to possibly cut him off. As I sat there hoping for another gobble to pinpoint the travel route he was taking, a booming gobble rocked the woods. Wow! That was close by, I thought, as my heart leaped into my throat. That gobble was immediately answered by the distant gobbler that I thought was walking away from me. The first gobbler apparently was coming in to my calls quietly, until he was in my general area. The other gobbles I heard were that of another tom further away, apparently not snubbing his nose at my calling like I had first thought. This gobbler was within eighty yards and closing the gap quickly as he gobbled three more times coming in.

Finally I could see his white head and body walking my way. I could just make out his shape through a young sparse pine and he was in full strut as he closed the distance. He came over a knoll about forty yards to my left and I saw him! He was a long beard! The adrenalin shot through me like a bolt of lightning. He was now about twenty-five yards away and he gobbled again. The woods felt as if they actually shook by his mighty voice. He was angling by me too far on the left and blocked by shrubbery and ground cover. There was no way I could get a good shot now. I needed to do something to make him turn and come back. Just as I was about to make two soft clucks and hope for the best, he turned on his own and started back my way. He walked his previous path behind the thick ground cover and a young pine--still offering no good shot. Then he went into a strut again, turned, and came right back my way. If he continued on this path he would go behind a tree and walk out on the other side of it only about twenty yards away.

It was going to happen, I was going to get a long beard! I watched as he continued walking toward me. His eyes seemed to pick apart every square inch of the woods, looking for the amorous hen he had been hearing. I thought for sure he would spot me and be gone in a flash. I figured if he couldn't hear my heart pounding a mile a minute he surely could see me shaking with excitement. Finally, he strutted as he walked behind that tree. I positioned my gun and patiently waited for him to come out on the other side. I waited and waited, feeling like an eternity was passing by. At last, he took those last few magical steps from behind the tree and my gun roared. As I watched the magnificent tom go down a flood of emotions ran through me. He was a mature twenty-three pound tom with a 9-1/2" beard and 1" spurs. What a beautiful bird, what a great hunt...I had finally gotten my long beard!

Finally A Long Beard
May 5, 2000; 6:00AM...23 Pound Gobbler; 9 1/2" Beard, 1" Spurs

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