Turkey Hunt of A Lifetime

Darrell Bentley

Licking, Montana

The eastern sky was starting to show a hint of light yellow and red as I turned my truck off the main paved road onto a gravel county road in the Ozark Mountains. This road would lead me back into the wilderness of the Ozarks, where I would experience the most remarkable days of turkey hunting in my life. The only sound was the crunch of gravel under the tires and the hum of the truck engine as I slowly drove away from civilization and into the crisp morning darkness. Countless times I had driven into these hills to search for both deer and turkey. Countless times I had returned to the city with a feeling of being fulfilled in being part of something as wonderful as these hardwood covered mountains, if only for a short time.

The headlights of the truck bounced their bright beam of light along the rough road and lit up the dogwood and serviceberry trees that were in bloom by the road. The spring air had a fresh smell of newness to it. I soon found the spot to turn onto a logging road that would lead me even further back into the wilderness. This road had been made years earlier by logging crews taking the hardwood logs from the ridges and valleys of the area. The truck bucked and jarred as it crawled over the occasional big limb that had fallen across the road. The mud holes were full of brown dirty water and most were inhabited by families of frogs.

The sound of the truck traveling along the road had to seem like an invasion of monsters to the creatures that lived there. Soon I arrived at the end of the road. I was on a ridge that I knew overlooked a beautiful small valley. It had been two years since I had last ventured to this place but I knew it would be unchanged. Last year I had accepted an offer to hunt at a farm in the eastern part of the state and was disappointed with both the scenery and the hunting. This was like a homecoming to me.

The door of the truck squeaked as I exited the cab. I was extra careful to not slam it and make more noise (like it would have mattered after all the crashing and splashing I had made getting this far). The sky was starting to blot out the stars with the early red light of morning. The woods were dead silent. I took my gun from its case and started gathering the tools for the hunt, making sure that everything was in working order. After two or three minutes the sounds of the forest started to break the cautious silence. First was the distant hoot of an owl, then the whippoorwill called from a flat near the truck. One by one the creatures started their day with a song.

It was time to test the weeks of owl and turkey calling I had driven my wife crazy with. The owl call was the call of choice now. Then I would try a crow call to just wake things up. I placed the owl call next to my mouth and did a call that made shivers of pride ripple through me. If there was an owl calling championship, I knew that one would have taken first place. I had not yet removed the call from my mouth when the answer came from behind me, A lonely owl cackled and laughed from not twenty yards to my right. Not only did he answer the call he came to see the wonderful owl that could speak so sexy. He flew to a tree only ten feet from me and sat perched on a limb looking at me with shock and amazement. When he saw who was talking to him he silently flew away as fast as his wings could carry him. I called again, and this time I could almost feel the earth tremble beneath my feet as not one but three gobblers rocked the forest with their gobbles. They were only seventy-five yards in front of me on the west downslope of the hill toward the valley. I took the crow call and called again. Again the three gobblers rang the forest with their gobbles. They were hot. I knew that things were going to be tough, because not only were they close to me they were downhill from me and I knew of an old fence that lay between them and me. If they had been east of me on top of the ridge the call to the downslope into the valley would have been easier. They would be flying down from the roost in a short time as the sun started to peek through the trees.

I made the decision to try and sneak past them and position myself at the base of the hill. I knew the hens would be lower on the hill and starting to nest in the tall grass in the field. I checked my compass and started a slow easy walk to the south and around the birds. I had gone only sixty yards when I heard the gobblers fly down from the roost and hit the ground gobbling. They started fighting almost as soon as they hit the ground. This was good, as it would give me time to get to a point between them and the field. I went fifteen yards further and came to the fence that I knew was there. The turkeys had been on my side of the fence anyway. This would be great! I could set up at an opening in the fence and call them to it right here.

A couple of the old posts had rotted and the wire was down under the leaves only twenty feet up the fence from me so there I would make my stand. I eased myself to a huge oak tree and made myself a place to sit, facing in the birds' direction. As I sat down I heard the flutter of wings, then the "pluck, pluck" of hens. They were flying from the roost only forty yards behind me. This was too good to be true! Everything was working great! I have been hunting long enough to know things can go wrong quick, though.

Turkey Hunt of A Lifetime

The hens were purring and jabbering their way down the hill toward the field at the base of the ridge. The gobblers were gobbling every breath now and starting to come toward the hens. I began to worry about whether there might be another hole in the fence that the birds would take and not come down to this one. I wondered if I should call them in my direction or let the hens do my work for me--after all, who better to call a horney gobbler than a horney hen? I decided to take a chance and try to ensure they would come my way. I placed the call in my mouth and started a low sexy purr. The forest rang with the answer. They were coming my way. They had been on their way before my call and were only forty yards from me now.
No more calling would be necessary, so I told myself to just, "Get ready!" The sun had started to lay patterns of shade on the forest floor and the bright green of the spring leaves was splotched with the white of the dogwood blooms. I eased myself to the left toward the gap in the fence and raised my shotgun. The birds were now only twenty yards away and coming fast. My heart started to beat at a rate that a doctor would admit you to a hospital ward for. The sweat started to ooze from my face and hands. The camouflage paint was starting to run into my eyes and burn. My legs were numb and my nose itched so bad I thought I would die. All of this and I was at a point in this hunt that if I blinked an eye it could cost me my bird.

Every bird that flew from branch to branch drew my eye. Every leaf that moved was a giant gobbler coming my way. The gobblers had stopped and were fighting again. That is when I saw the black and gold flash of one of their backs. Then I could see the white and blue of two heads. They started to walk toward an opening in the foliage to where I could get my chance. As I readied myself I heard a gobble so close to me I thought my call had gone off in my pocket. And it was a good call too. I eased my eyes to my right and saw a giant gobbler running by me not more than ten feet away. He was on a dead run to the approaching gobblers. This was the biggest gobbler I had seen in twenty years of hunting. He had three beards. The longest was nine inches long with two more under it that measured six inches each.

He ran into the opening I had picked out to fire on the other bird and stopped. He dropped his tattered wings and fanned his tail and, with his head and neck outstretched, gave a gobble that I will remember the rest of my life. As I pulled the trigger I saw the three other birds start to run toward the falling king. They acted as if they never heard the report of the gun. The birds ran to the now flopping giant, all three jumped onto him wildly started pecking and spurring him. As I jumped up to run to the downed bird the others saw me and with jeers and flapping wings flew through the trees down the hill toward the now widowed hens. I had a feeling that they felt like they had killed the king of their world.

The old king weighed in at twenty-six and one-half pounds and, along with the three beards, he had one and three-quarter inch spurs.

I have hunted in this area now for the last four years and have never had a day even close to being as thrilling as this. I call it the best turkey hunt of my life.

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