One Time in the Turkey Woods

By Stephanie Mallory, Tony Hansen, Steve Hickoff and Will Brantley

One Time in the Turkey Woods

By Stephanie Mallory, Tony Hansen, Steve Hickoff and Will Brantley

Ever seen something funny in the turkey woods? So have we.

A new turkey season is finally here. There’ll be plenty of time for calling tips, setup strategies and other serious matters. For now, we’re delving into the sport’s lighter side with these four humorous tales from the spring woods.

 The spring woods are never short on memorable moments. (John Hafner image)

 

THE CAMO CASANOVA

Stephanie MalloryOur media turkey hunt starts off like any other. We are paired off with our guides and I’m matched with Billy Bob the landowner. He seems nice enough. We exchange some small talk, but that’s where the niceties end… at least on his part. Let me qualify this by saying, it takes a lot to offend, embarrass or anger me, but Billy Bob manages to do all of the above in one day. We’re walking down the dirt road to our hunting local when all the sudden Billy Bob stops. Has he heard a gobbler? I stop to listen as well. But it’s not a gobbler I hear. No, instead I hear the zipper on Billy Bob’s pants. He’s actually peeing right in front of me. I turn briskly and walk ahead, assuming he’s simply a little rough around the edges…nothing I can’t handle.

We eventually find a good place to set up and call. He sits down beside me, and while whispering something about our setup, he burps inches from my face.  I can’t breathe. The smell is putrid…a combination of bologna and boiled eggs.  I turn my head, breathe in some fresh air and again decide to overlook his rudeness. After all, gassy men and hunt camp go hand-in-hand. See, no problem here. I’m just one of the guys.

The smell is putrid…a combination of bologna and boiled eggs. I turn my head, breathe in some fresh air and again decide to overlook his rudeness. -- Stephanie Mallory

After making a few calls, he suddenly turns to me and offers to let me put my legs on top of his. He explains that he’s concerned about my lack of room. I have plenty of room I assure him. I let this offense slide as well, thinking certainly he’s not making a pass at me. Or, perhaps peeing in front of me and burping in my face are his signature lady-killer moves, and he’s wondering why they haven’t worked on me yet. But, no worries, he has a few more tricks up his sleeve.

After hunting all morning without hearing a thing, we decide to change locations. When we come to a creek crossing that doesn’t look all that deep, Billy Bob says to me, “Ladies first.”  I’m taken aback by his chivalry, and think maybe he has a little class after all…that is until I step into the creek and sink up to my waist. Billy Bob has tricked me into getting soaking wet, and he’s howling with delight. I’m pissed off now, but what am I to do? I’m stuck with him for the day. 

As we continue to hunt, he asks me if I’ve ever cheated on my husband.  I tell him no and that I will never do so. He then begins arguing with me, saying that everyone cheats. Is he trying to convince me to have an affair with him? Has he been wooing me this entire time?  Has the burping and peeing been his form of flowers and candy?

I’m relieved to be back at camp. I hesitate to say anything to the other hunters because I don’t want to sound like a high-maintenance, whiny girl. But the thought of spending one more day with Billy Bob is more than I can bear. So I tell Billy Bob of my plans to change partners the next day. He looks hurt. I feel kind of bad, but not that bad.

Best of luck, Billy Bob. I’m sure there are plenty of ladies out there who won’t be able to resist your charms. – S.M.

THE BOAT ANCHOR GOBBLER

Tony HansenMy kid brother Kevin and I decided to hit a local river for smallmouths one fine spring day several years ago. When we got there, I realized we’d forgotten an anchor for the boat. So I did what every big brother would do: I started fishing and sent my kid brother home to bring back something heavy enough to use as an anchor.

He returned a few minutes later lugging a giant chunk of firewood. Being the good brother that I am, I sat and watched him securely affix the rope to the hunk of wood. When he finished, I mentioned to him that while that oak stump was indeed heavy, it was heavy wood, and therefore not ideal boat anchor material.

I tell you that not because this is a fishing story, but to set the stage for a turkey story. It at least serves as a pattern of behavior, a point of reference, if you will, for figuring out how my brother once messed up a North Carolina gobbler beyond comprehension.

The truck had actually been loaded and ready for a trip west. My buddy Freeman, Kevin and I were headed to South Dakota for a date with some Merriam’s gobblers. Just before we left, I checked the weather. The forecast called for snow, wind and the type of temperatures I’d endured in Michigan for the past five months.

No way.

I love turkey hunting as much as anyone. But I have one simple rule: I don’t hunt turkeys in snow.
It was time for an audible. We were scheduled to leave at 8 a.m. We missed our departure by about 15 minutes and turned the truck in the exact opposite direction.

A quick Google search revealed that North Carolina’s spring turkey season opened in two days. So we rolled southeast. I’d never been to North Carolina, let alone hunted turkeys there. But, the season was opening, the forecast was good and we were going. End of discussion.

On the way down, we scoured maps and found a big chunk of national forest we were certain would be full of gobbling longbeards. We were wrong.

I’m sure there are plenty of turkeys in North Carolina. They just must be in areas other than where we hunted. The first morning dawned cool, clear and silent. Not a gobbler was heard. The second morning brought more of the same.

The third and final day was foggy and cooler. Again, no birds sounded off on the roost. Determined to make something happen, we humped farther into the hills. And, finally, a gobbler cut off a series of yelps. His response boomed, and I knew he was close.

Freeman and I dove into the nearest tree. Kevin dove as well into a tree of his own.

As I scrambled to get situated, I told Kevin to kill the bird when it came in. I had barely let a yelp slip from my mouth call when the turkey gobbled from less than 100 yards. When I could hear him fast-walking through the leaves, I knew things were about to get interesting.

The bird hammered five or six times as he closed the distance – 60 yards, 50 yards, 40, 30… I was expecting to hear my brother’s gun at any moment. I waited to see that North Carolina longbeard flop – and waited; and waited; and waited. At a distance of just 25 yards, the gobbler nearly blew our hats off with a double gobble of frustration. I nearly did the same.

I’m not sure what my reaction was exactly. I call it a simple lapse of recollection. Freeman calls it a fit of rage from a suppressed memory. I’ve been told it involved me throwing my hat at the back of my brother’s head chased closely by a string of low-breath profanity. -- Tony Hansen

Why wasn’t my brother shooting that bird? I finally dared turn my head enough to see just what Kevin was waiting on. What I saw defied explanation.

Kevin was locked on point. Cheek clamped to the gun, chest heaving, his eyes focused right down the barrel. And therein was the problem – the barrel was pointed in the exact opposite direction of the turkey.

I’m not sure what my reaction was exactly. I call it a simple lapse of recollection. Freeman calls it a fit of rage from a suppressed memory. I’ve been told it involved me throwing my hat at the back of my brother’s head chased closely by a string of low-breath profanity. I’m not sure whether it was the tossing of the hat or the tone of my voice, but my brother and that gobbler both swapped ends in a hurry.

Two shots were fired – both from my gun. Both at a turkey that was doing the head-bob trot as fast as it could go. Both shots missed.

After that, we gave up and spent the rest of the day fishing. We used waders. No anchor required. – T.H.

HOW I BECAME UNCLE BOB

Steve Hickoff (aka, Uncle Bob)The Eastern Kentucky mountain gobbler was one short truck ride, a dirt two-track and parking spot away so we went after it. My buddy T-Byrd had struck the hot turkey cold-calling from our base camp driveway while another buddy, JG, was reading a magazine in the bathroom.

When JG was done and had washed up we were off. A quick cell phone call to the property owner said it’d be okay if we worked the bird from his backyard – below where the turkey gobbled. We didn’t ask the next-door neighbors but they came calling soon enough.

After the shot that is.

We were pinned down and couldn’t move on the bird. He’d have to come to us and far. It all happened fast: JG leaned against the pickup truck, mouth yelping toward the passenger side door. I looked over T-Byrd’s shoulder, hiding and whispering encouragement.

The gobbler broke out of the high woods two basketball courts up a steep field. The bird strutted, gobbled to JG’s yelping then came rolling down the slope like a black rollercoaster car, doors open, gravity pulling it along so fast I thought the turkey would trip and plummet to its death.

Next came a little boy brandishing a machete, or so I said. “This is a genuine Japanese sword,” he corrected, drawing it from the sheath – threatening to protect his family. -- Steve Hickoff

“He’s coming!” I hissed but all three of us knew it. Down the hill, over a creek, up the near side hill and toward us it ran. “He’ll break right through the opening there,” I whispered to T-Byrd. Instead the longbeard crashed through multi-flora rose and got shot in the face for the effort.

“Oh man,” somebody said as the neighbors came rushing out – one house over near a suspicious looking tool shed. It appeared trouble might rain down on us.

Longest in the tooth of our gang of three, I spoke first – to the silver-haired gentleman wearing Wildcats blue and white basketball sweat pants and thrift shop matching top. We got friendly as I chain-mailed sweet nothings about ‘Cats hoops coach Calipari. I laid it on thick too, just as one of the Bluegrass State’s own might, not that I am. One down, two to go.

Next came a little boy brandishing a machete, or so I said. “This is a genuine Japanese sword,” he corrected, drawing it from the sheath – threatening to protect his family. I told him how cool it was and won him over too. I think.

His mother arrived next, frowning. “Remember T?” I volunteered abruptly, introducing our turkey killing bud. “He’s sure grown up hasn’t he?” I offered.

“My I haven’t seen him since he was a little boy,” she beamed. And so on. And so forth. “His Uncle Bob sure is proud of him,” I closed, speaking of myself in the pretend third person. She bought it – we were home free, so to speak.

And the tool shed? You guessed it: Meth lab. They arrested the guy not long after “Uncle Bob” flew back to his real home in Maine. – S.H.

LIFE OF A GOBBLER GUIDE

Will BrantleyI was a turkey guide once, for two days. As a senior in high school who cared about very little outside of hunting, the idea that someone would pay me to call turkeys was inconceivable. But the offer was there from the start-up outfit a few miles from home. Fifty dollars, cash money, tax free, per day. Plus tips.

My first two clients had traveled in together, and neither of them had ever killed a turkey. Both of them had a short list of special needs. Frank had struggled with a knee injury for years and said it gave him some trouble on occasion, mostly during strenuous walks. Porter weighed a solid 325 pounds, and that, too, gave him trouble on occasion, mostly during strenuous walks. As a gangly cross-country runner, run-and-gun hunting, with an emphasis on run, was my hunting style in those days. I don’t know that I’d ever taken a walk that wasn't strenuous.

Frank and I hit the woods before dawn the first morning. Birds were gobbling but henned up. We sat down to two different turkeys that morning that worked, but ultimately drifted away. After a midmorning lull, a gobbler sounded off to my box call, maybe 300 yards away. When I checked him again, he cut me off with an eager gobble. Perhaps his ladies had left him. I rushed Frank forward several quick steps to set up when he suddenly groaned and crumpled to the ground.

“It’s my knee, man, just give me a minute,” he said. I nodded, figuring he’d be able to work the cramp out in short order. But it was far from a cramp. Frank rolled up his pant leg and his knee cap was sitting several inches from its proper place. 

“Good Lord,” I said, feeling a little faint as I watched him work the runaway patella back into its proper spot. “Does that happen a lot?”

“Usually only when I run,” he replied, fighting back tears. It took him 20 minutes to stand up, and by the time he did, the gobbler had long since disappeared. I carried Frank’s gun back to the truck while he limped along behind me. Thinking about that knee still gives me the willies.

I hunted with Porter the next morning, and we struck a gobbler before daylight. He was roosted on the edge of a green field on top of a hill, and I assumed that’s where he’d fly down. Indeed it was, but Porter’s pace for reaching the green field was less than urgent, and so we missed our chance at killing him there. But no worries. The bird was still hammering by the time we closed to within working distance.

I glanced ahead at Porter, expecting to see the gun on his knee. Instead, the Browning lay on the ground at his side, as did his camouflage face net. Porter seemed relaxed and quite indifferent to the turkey. Before I could protest, his hand shot toward his mouth, and a plume of smoke bellowed from the poplar tree. -- Will Brantley

It turned into the classic longbeard chess game, with us operating inside 100 yards of the bird all morning, and him answering our every note. We repositioned half a dozen times, and each time I said, “time to move,” I could see a bit of angst in Porter’s eyes. The gobbler, obviously with hens, seemed to be slowly moving his way into a creek draw, and I suspected if we could just get ahead of him, we’d kill him.

Finally, with a ridge to screen us, Porter and I made the move, scrambling 150 yards in a big half-circle, crouching and mo ing fast. I pointed at a broad poplar tree and Porter’s ample ass crashed at the base of it. I curled up in a tangle of honeysuckle and waited in silence for a moment. Odds are we’d spooked him, but if we’d pulled this move off, the gobbler was ours. I yelped three soft yelps, and trailed off with a sharp cut—the turkey roared from 60 yards in front of us. We’d done it.

I glanced ahead at Porter, expecting to see the gun on his knee. Instead, the Browning lay on the ground at his side, as did his camouflage face net. Porter seemed relaxed and quite indifferent to the turkey. Before I could protest, his hand shot toward his mouth, and a plume of smoke blossomed from the poplar tree. He turned toward me and spoke at plain volume. “That’s it, dude. I’ve had enough of this bull____.” He took a deep draw from his cigarette. “Let’s go back and get some breakfast.”

And with that, the chess match with the gobbler, as well as my days of turkey guiding, were over.  – W.B.