Turkey Hunting Ain’t Just About Taking Turkeys
Day 1: South Dakota’s Howling Gobblers Create Memories for Brad Harris and John E. Phillips
Editor’s Note: Do you consider fooling a longbeard and bringing him within gun range the essence of turkey hunting? Or, does turkey hunting have an intrinsic value to you that goes beyond your ability to harvest a gobbler every spring and fall? In my world of turkey hunting, I view my turkey-hunting experiences as part of a continuing-education program. My goal in life is not only to take turkeys, but rather to learn all I can about how to take turkeys and to create memories that last much longer than feathers and meat do.
After riding our horses to the top of a mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Brad Harris, a longtime friend and avid turkey hunter, from Neosho, Missouri, and I stood quietly and listened to the wind roar. To hear each other, we had to stand close together and yell. We spotted three longbeards in a pasture on the adjacent mountain but couldn’t go after them, because of the distance and the steep grade. “I’m going to call to those turkeys, and you watch what they do through your binoculars,” Harris instructed. “Do what?” I questioned. Harris repeated himself, so I could hear him over the roaring wind. “How do you think those birds will hear you when I can hardly hear you?” I asked Harris. He shot back, “I don’t know if they can hear me or not, but watch and see what happens when I call.” Harris almost blew the rubber out of his diaphragm call he cut and cackled so loudly. Watching the birds, I saw they didn’t even stop feeding. But then their necks straightened and their heads shook as though they had gobbled. I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. “Do that again,” I told Harris loudly. Once more, over the roar of the wind coming from our backside, Harris forced more air through the two-diaphragm reeds as he cut and cackled loudly. After a 5-second delay, the three gobblers on the opposite mountain shook their heads. I looked at Harris, leaned close to his ear and said in a loud voice, “I can’t believe those turkeys are answering your call. Yelp again, and you look at them with the binoculars this time.” Harris talked turkey through the roaring winds, used the binoculars to look at the birds and then observed, “Not only are those gobblers answering the calls, they’re coming.”
When I looked through the binoculars, sure enough, the turkeys had started walking down the mountain toward our side of the valley. As the gobblers reached the bottom of the mountain, they encountered a three-strand barbed-wire fence. The first bird hit the fence three-different times trying to go through it, while the other two gobblers stood back and watched. Then the second bird ducked under the fence and trotted across the pasture in the bottom of the valley, with the other two toms following right behind him. “We better get off the top of this mountain and move down the side, because those turkeys are coming,” Harris said. “I can’t believe those turkeys are coming and that they heard you when I barely could hear you through the wind,” I murmured in shock. We moved down the side of the mountain to where an old logging road switched directions, and the wind didn’t blow so hard. Harris yelped again, and all three turkeys gobbled less than 100-yards from us. “Get ready, Bubba, you’re about to take a Black Hills gobbler,” Harris whispered. In less than 10 minutes, a big longbeard appeared, and Harris’s prediction proved true. Today, I don’t remember the size of the turkey, the length of his spurs, his weight or the delicious taste when we fried him at camp. However, I’ll never forget the mountain-trained horses we rode, the raging wind, the impossible distance Harris called the turkeys in from and the brotherhood we formed on that windy day in South Dakota.