A Tale of Two Toms

Growing up in northeast Ohio, there was a constant, longing for spring and fall to roll around. Springtime in my world meant turkey hunting and baseball, while the fall brought on bow hunting for whitetail deer. Being born and raised on a large family plot of land and with room to roam the woods and start tagging along on hunting adventures long before even being a teenager, I never really wondered why I do the things I do. Whether it was obsessing over my archery setup, testing different loads through my guns, or just buying gear throughout the seasons, some form of hunting is on my mind at some point every single day. As I grew up and went through the various stages of relatively normal life I realized that I was part of an overwhelming minority of the population. Something like 11.5 million people go out and hunt nowadays- a very small drop in the bucket when you realize the total population of the United States is hovering around 325 million, equating to about 3.5% of that total. The only way this is going to not drop any further is that we as hunters are going to have to introduce more and more people to the sport. I know sometimes it may be easy to get greedy and not want to take people out to your spots or it may seem like to much of a hassle to deal with someone who doesn’t know as much, but it needs to change. To do my part in this, I figured I would try to get my wife to go hunting with me. I didn’t really need to push her, as she actively wanted to spend time with me, so if it needed to be in the woods she was okay with that. She grew up about fifteen minutes away from me in the neighboring town, but had absolutely no exposure to hunting and fishing as a child. To say she is a true city slicker is an understatement, but I love her anyway. And on the flipside of that, she would also be the first to say she sees varying degrees of insanity when it comes to the obsession that’s in me with hunting and that she thinks I’m a redneck (among other things), but thankfully she loves me as well.

Even though she came from a family that had no exposure to hunting or any outdoor excursions like what I grew up with, she still agreed to go turkey and deer hunting with me. From what I gather, she is more attune to chasing spring turkeys through the woods rather than sitting in a tree stand in the fall waiting for big woods bucks to come strolling by in the rut. I don’t know if it’s the stationary part of freezing in a tree stand she detests, or if she just enjoys actively making noise and chasing things, but she now has the spring turkey bug. And to this I am eternally grateful.

wooded trail

She probably became hooked on the turkey hunting side of things because of the experience she had two years ago with me on a chilly April morning. We set out early for the hour long drive to the family property around 4:30 in the morning so we could get into the woods and be ready to roll once the birds warmed up with the rising sun. As we got into position in the dark of morning, we waited amongst the chirping songbirds for the thunder of those big boys to commence. As any seasoned turkey hunter would know. That waiting led to more waiting. And more waiting. And more. Not a single gobble all morning long. As this was my wife’s first foray into hunting, I was thinking in the back of my mind that this was going to be a total disaster. She was going to hate it, never want to go again, and mock me for both not finding any turkeys to chase, but also for wanting to go looking for something that obviously isn’t there to begin with. I needed to get something going, and I needed to do it fast. I decided to move out to the end of the property where we’ve killed a lot of birds in the past, catching them in a transition area between open fields and the surrounding timber. As we approached this area, I began to hear the faint rattle of the end of a gobble. Any seasoned turkey hunter knows what I am trying to describe- that two to three clicking sounds that are just a bit louder than the beginning of the gobble. Steering more in the direction of that rattle, we picked up the pace. I wasn’t about to let a frisky hen get in between this bird and us at this point. We closed the distance in just a few minutes and got to where I could hear the bird a little better. It was now pretty evident that there were actually two birds gobbling back and forth at one another, rather than just the one sounding off. I positioned my wife off to the left, trying to explain to her that I didn’t want her to be smacked in the head by a three and a half inch hot shell screaming out the breach of my Mossberg 935 if the opportunity presented itself.

I’ll just say that I’m an extremely aggressive caller by nature. I always seem to get in disagreements with my dad about how to approach birds in the spring. I will temper that in saying that he has probably forgotten more about these birds than I’ll ever know. But as his son, I obviously tend to think I know more, whether I actually do or not. In being this aggressive, it’s sometimes hard to temper myself when I have a timid bird that I’m working. Thankfully for the sake of this story, I had two birds and they were screaming hot on trying to find themselves a girlfriend. There was only one of me for the two of them. And this was about to turn the tide in my favor. After about two or three good cut and runs, those boys decided to have a foot race to see this sweet talking hen with the diaphragm call. And my wife just happened to be about five feet to the left of me when they decided to make this happen. targeting

Where we were set up wasn’t exactly the most ideal spot, but when you have two birds closing the distance as quickly as these two were, you really don’t have much of a choice. There was a small ridge that dumped over into an old strip mine high wall that ran along back to our left, so there was really no place for these birds to come but straight in front of us or to hook far around to our right. If they decided to come in from the left, they would have to walk clear around us and either fly up over the top of the high wall or not come to our level at all. So we sat down right away and decided to roll the dice. This hilltop only allowed us to see roughly thirty five yards in front at the most, and I knew for the sake of her being with me, I needed to let them get in close. I wanted to make sure she got the chance to see them in the wild before I took the shot. As beautiful as these critters can be with their feathers and all, they’re also pretty ugly. Having a face only a mother could love is a good way to describe them, but the dedicated people that appreciate them see that real beauty of each and every one we come across. Regardless, I wanted her to see them up close for herself so she could see what they look like in their natural surroundings.

I didn’t really need to make much noise after those few cuts to let these two jokers know where we were. I could hear them coming over the horizon, gobbling incessantly at one another. And all of a sudden, there it was- the white golf ball head bobbing through the spring undergrowth on his way to find his lady. I never got a look at the second bird because I was too busy trying to find an opening in the foliage to catch up with the first tom, but I know he was somewhere trailing behind. Like I said earlier, I could only see around thirty five yards to begin with, and this bird was on the move. It probably worked out for the best because my wife had a front row seat to the show, the shot, and ultimately my sprint to the flopping bird. From how she talks, I’m on Usain Bolt’s level of sprinting, but I’ll let you think whatever you want.

We got all our things gathered, grabbed the spent shell, unloaded the gun, and filled out the tag. Then we started taking pictures and she even decided to get one with the bird. It was a cool thing to see when someone who never experienced something like that gets a little lost in the moment of a successful hunt. I know I get lost in it all when the practice and preparation comes down to the moment of truth and things happen the way you want, because obviously you typically fail more often that you succeed in hunting, but that’s definitely part of the process that makes me love it all so, so much. On our way back to the house, I tried explaining to her that it rarely happens that fast and ends up being that easy and that she should probably never expect it to be that easy again, but not even that would dampen her spirits. I think she’s hooked, just like the spurs on that big old tom I had slung over my shoulder.

hunter with turkey