They were henned up for sure, but worked to the calling . . .
It was my first spring turkey trip of the '09 season, having flown south from snowbound Maine. Destination: a back pasture where a big flock of Osceola turkeys likely roosted. Or so I hoped. Glass half full, and all that. I made my way through the cricket-black, pre-dawn pasture, my flashlight initially dogging the dewy ground to avoid cowpies, culverts, and cottonmouths. Mission accomplished.
So far. You guys know the deal. I didn't want to get too close at first, nor listen too far from where they might be. I owled with my voice to locate the group, and brought in two real barred owl specimens, silhouetted against the crescent moonlight, birds that landed in the oak above me, joining in the locator call chorus.
S-I-L-E-N-C-E. Nothing doing. Not yet at least.
Not long after though I heard the soft yet raspy tree yelping of a hen. Still mostly dark, I slinked down the fenceline toward the bird, found a good place to set up where three palm branches hung over the field edge. I was well inside 100 yards of the roost.
Comfortably sitting now inside the drooping palm fronds, I softly called with a mouth diaphragm and slate at the same time. That initial hen answered with a raspy return I now recognized, and many others chimed in.
Where were the gobblers? You might be thinking the same thing. I waited, listened. A crow passed by, cawed. A gobbler hammered back, no more than 50 yards off my left shoulder, if that. I softly called some more, and three gobbles echoed my way.
We were in business. They gobbled some more. I stayed silent, then called a few minutes later. They gobbled back. I shut up.
As fly-down time arrived, a burst of wings approached, and landed to my left: a half-dozen hens in a cluster of soft clucking and yelping. One even kee-keed. They stood there, looking lost. Round 2, a big hen sailed off the roost past us and into the center of the field. Was she onto to me? Maybe. Hope she doesn't mess this sweet deal up, I thought. I still didn't call with turkeys just to my left at maybe 20 yards max. Would you have?
Didn't think so. I wouldn't wait long for action. A whoosh of wings to my left, a dark form sharply banking toward me, and a gobbler landing 15 steps off my position. The gobbler stopped, head juking as I sized it up, then swiftly moved toward the field hen.
At that, I softly clucked and yelped to bring the turkey back. The longbeard wheeled and returned to his fly-down position in front of me. Looked my way. That's when the Florida tom heard me cluck a final time to get its head up. Sweet seconds passed, and I pulled the trigger. One down, many to go . . .
This never gets old.
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Steve Hickoff is Realtree.com's editorial director and turkey hunting editor. 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.