John's Journal...


Middle-of-the-Road Gobbler

Click to enlargeEDITOR'S NOTE: I first hunted with David Hale about 25-years ago. Although I had the same shoe size I have now, I had a waist about three-sizes smaller and lots more hair. Both of us young men had just started our careers in the outdoors, and both of us wanted to take a turkey. Although we worked hard all morning to try and bag a gobbler, the bird we'd picked chose a flock of hens to move through the woods with, rather than coming to our calling. But I learned right away that I couldn't tag David Hale a quick quitter. I found out that he'd hunt turkeys from before daylight until the falling of darkness or the law made him stop.

"We gotta go, John," Hale told me after we'd failed to take a bird on our morning hunt. "We've gotta cover ground and find a bird that's lonesome in the middle of the morning. We'll run these hills until we locate a turkey that will talk." From about 7:30 a.m. until we finally heard a tom gobble at 10:00 a.m., we walked the mountainous areas around Cadiz, Kentucky, near Hale's home. Let me rephrase that. We didn't actually walk as we traveled from mountaintop to mountaintop but moved at the quick step, a rate of speed somewhere between fast walking and running. Every 150 yards Hale would say, "Wait a minute, Click to enlargeJohn. Let's check this hollow." Then Hale would cut and cackle on a diaphragm call. As I tried to suck in enough air to relieve the tightness I felt in my lungs, I'd next hear, "John, slow down your breathing so I can hear better."

For most of the morning, I thought this exercise an effort in futility. Yet at 10:15 a.m., like the ringing of a school bell or a blast on a plant whistle signifying a shift change, a turkey gobbled as clearly and distinctly as I'd ever heard a bird talk. Hale immediately announced, "There he is. I knew if we covered enough ground and called long enough, sooner or later we'd locate a hot bird." But I knew someone else hot besides the turkey. Even in the chilly morning air, I'd built up a head of steam and had become soaked with sweat from the brim of my cap to the tips of my socks, trying to keep up with Hale. "I believe that bird will come down that old logging road on the side of the hill," Hale observed. "Let's drop off the side of this ridge, and set up beside that logging road." Following Hale's directions, we went toward the turkey. I'd barely gotten comfortable sitting beside a big pine tree when Hale whispered, "He's coming." When I whispered back that I couldn't see the tom, Hale told me the bird had gone down into a little dip in the road. "John, although you can't see him now, he'll pop up in just a minute. Get comfortable, put your gun on your knee, and ready yourself to take the shot. When that gobbler comes up out of that dip in Click to enlargethe road, he'll be about 50 yards from you. Just let him keep coming until he reaches that pine stump on the left-hand side of the road. He'll be about 30 yards from you there, and then you can take the shot."

I couldn't believe my hunt had almost ended. In less than five minutes, I should have my turkey, and Hale and I would head out of the woods back to camp. I knew Hale had set us up in a good place and that the bird would present a clean and easy shot if he walked beside the stump on the side of the road. Just as Hale predicted, the tom came out of the dip. Soon I spotted his white, cotton-colored head moving up the road. Then I could see his big bronze body waddling from side to side, and his ropelike beard swinging with the rhythm of his stride. I began to breathe deeply and quickly with excitement because of the large size of this bird that easily weighed 20 pounds or more. I realized that bagging this tom would give me bragging rights. The bird kept walking until he reached the stump. As the turkey continued moving about 5 yards past the stump, Hale clucked on his diaphragm call. The bird's head went straight up like a periscope. Hale told me to, "Take him."

Click to enlargeI squeezed the trigger and created a memory for life - but not the one you would think or the one I'd hoped to get. As I watched, the big bird jumped straight up in the air and flew away. I wished I'd had an excuse to offer when Hale asked, "What happened? Why did you miss? The bird was standing still in the middle of the road with his head up and waiting to die." Although my brain went into high gear, replaying the shot as quickly as possible, I could find absolutely no reason for my miss. I finally just looked at Hale like a whipped puppy and explained that, "I don't know what happened. I just missed." Now, missing while hunting alone doesn't involve nearly the shame that comes with missing while hunting with one of the legends of turkey hunting like David Hale. However, I learned then about the Brotherhood of Misses in the Fraternity of Gobbler Chasers as Hale grinned and said, "Aw, don't worry about it, John. I miss turkeys too. Although I haven't missed one as open as that one was, I still miss them. "Don't worry. That gobbler just whipped us. However, we'll get another one either today or tomorrow. Let's go hunt some more. Besides, if you'd killed that turkey, we'd have to quit hunting. Now we can keep on hunting and maybe find another bird." The next day we did locate another gobbler, and I redeemed myself. However, I'll never forget that big mid-morning bird standing in the middle of the road on the first day I ever hunted with David Hale. I learned so much that day about turkey hunting in the middle of the morning and about persevering and staying after gobblers until you finally made one talk.


Check back each day this week for more about BRUNCH-TIME GOBBLERS

Day 1: Middle-of-the-Road Gobbler
Day 2: Mid-Morning Gobbler Tactics
Day 3: More on Mid-Morning Gobblers
Day 4: You Can Outlast Toms
Day 5: Bird Dog Turkeys with David Hale



Entry 295, Day 1