Steve Hickoff is the Realtree Turkey Hunting Editor and Blogger. He’s been beaten by more birds than he can remember. Still he kills enough to eat well, and fool with beards, spurs and fans until the next season. Pennsylvania born and raised, Maine is his home base now. A full-time outdoor communicator with a couple university writing degrees, he chases spring gobblers and fall flocks around the country. It's "all turkeys, all the time" on the Realtree Turkey Blog.
May 8, 2011 | By Steve Hickoff
Ever wonder how heavy the biggest gobblers go? The current Top 3 Eastern (“Typical”) birds registered with the National Wild Turkey Federation weigh in with these numbers:
Kyle Nook’s tops the list at a weight of 35.8125 lbs., a gobbler taken in Guthrie, Iowa back on April 28, 2001. A box call brought the bird to the gun.
Scott Cernohous is next in line. His St. Croix, Wisconsin longbeard creaked the scales at 34.5000 lbs. He got that one by the feet on April 10, 2002. The medicine? Again, a box call.
Allen Vanderpool’s 34.2500 lb. Whitley, Kentucky gobbler ranks third on the list. His date of kill? April 13, 1998. You guessed it. This longbeard was also lured in with a box.
Easy right? Just use a box call and hunt in April!
What's your biggest Eastern turkey gobbler? Ever kill a monster Merriam's, Osceola or Rio Grande longbeard? Did you do it with a box or some other call? Did you use a call at all?
(NWTF media photo)
May 4, 2011 | By Steve Hickoff
My old Ford truck wheeled along in the dark, headlights leading the way. Country music set the mood. The weather report talked of a cool and sunny day ahead and confirmed the good feeling. Perfect. Even better: nobody was parked at my preferred destination.
For starters, I was in good shape. We all know that feeling can change in an instant when it comes to wild turkeys.
The long walk in was pleasant enough, but the silence stayed just that.
Even a barred owl, silhouetted against the pale sky, failed to pull shock gobbles from birds I just knew were in there. Everything I heard was off the property. Plan B: sit and listen. I did that until 7 a.m., then left that setup for a little walk.
Hmm. Time to make something happen.
I crossed several frosty fields, slipped into the woods, down a little ridge, and settled in above a creek bottom flanking a swamp and hillside below a bigger saddle.
Initially, my cold calling did nothing. I'd had a conversation with my buddy Scott Basehore (the custom callmaker with numerous prestigious awards on his resume over the years), and told him my goal was to kill a gobbler this season using one of his fine box calls.
I stroked the box: two gobblers fired up on the far hillside. Nice. I waited them out, called again. They hammered back, still in the same place.
This might take some time. Been there?
TIME'S ON THEIR SIDE
Minutes can seem like hours in the turkey woods and hours seem like minutes (you Realtree-clad turkey hunters know what I mean, right?), so when I hit the box call again to silence, I thought the game was over . . . or that they were quietly coming. I made ready.
In the wrong direction.
Just then hard gobbling came from my extreme right. I couldn't move. Footsteps in the leaves. I strained my eyes: hen, hen, huge longbeard, flanking the bench; then another longbeard and a jake, all coming but wary. More gobbling. Then alarm putting. At that they turned and I had no shot at a longbeard as the hens and hefty gobbler slipped up the hill. The other longbeard and jake drifted back though, and then down the hill away from the group. Away? I wasn't sure.
This was getting interesting. These birds hadn't called at all until they arrived. By then it was too late for me to close the deal.
WAITING: THE HARDEST PART
Apologies to Southern rocker Tom Petty for that subhead.
I waited. Waited some more. Yelped. A bird hammered back just over the rise. More waiting. Shotgun getting heavy. Time passed. Gobblers gone? My heart sunk like a stone in a deep pond of regret only turkey hunters know. Patience, I thought. Be patient.
Still, I felt sick like I'd blown it.
THE DEAFENING SILENCE
The woods were quiet, far from the rowdy gobbling that had preceded it. Far off, I heard geese moving overhead. Wood ducks in the nearby swamp made their crazy calling, dumping in. An approaching mallard winged toward my position, quacking the whole way . . . that was when the two birds on the far hillside lit it up with shock gobbling.
I made a mental note to pass on at least one mallard duck when waterfowling this fall, and readjusted my attitude.
GAME (BACK) ON
I yelped, and the two original gobblers on the far hillside ripped back at me. I laid on some silence. Some more quiet stuff. I yelped again on the Basehore box and saw them coming hard.
Gun up, I waited. Waited some more.
That was when I saw the two turkeys steadily walking along the edge of the bench, looking, studying my position. I'd have seconds to pull this off. I picked a broad oak trunk in the path of the lead gobbler, and waited for the bird to pass behind the tree. I flowed, got on the shooting lane, waited.
The turkey stepped out: I shot, bird down. His jake buddy hustled away. Bird down, but head up: I shot again and it was over.
You can't eat the numbers.
Weight of my opening day Maine bird? Good sized, for sure (we're making a turkey chili tonight). Spurs: not my biggest. Beard: long enough for me.
I texted my callmaker buddy almost immediately: Hey Scott. Some might call my Maine opening day gobbler "average," but it's my current favorite since I did it with one of your box calls. Thanks!
Check out Scott Basehore box calls here:
(Steve Hickoff self-timer photo)
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