Tale of a hard-gobbling, public-land tom that lived next to a highway — and maybe still does
He was a jake when we first met. It was April 24, 2016, and he came in dogging the steps of an eager-to-die 3-year-old. The big gobbler answered my first call, then crossed a valley at the speed of a forced-march. He paused behind a tree at 70 yards, just long enough for me to point my gun in the right direction, then closed to 25 in less than a minute. All the while, the acolyte jake was zig-zagging along behind, shadow-gobbling and acting every bit the goofy adolescent.
When I pulled the trigger on the big boy, the jake launched into a steep, climbing turn, changed his mind, fell out of his chandelle like a rock and ran away. But when the downed bird started flopping, the younger one came racing back, gobbling nonstop. He lost no time jumping on his boss, pecking, flogging and raking with his nubby spurs.
I watched the show for a while and learned two things about his gobbling. First, he was remarkably full-voiced for an immature gobbler. Second, he was inordinately fond of double gobbling. Every other utterance, it seemed, was a double or triple gobble. After five minutes with no sign of a let-up, I shooed the jake away from my now-rumpled gobbler. He reluctantly walked over the slope into a nearby hollow. As far as I could hear him down through the spring woods, he gobbled. Double gobble. Gobble. Triple gobble.
The location is a sleeper public-land spot, close to a small community and a busy state highway. I had always held it in reserve: It rarely gets hunted, it’s only a few miles from home, and it always seems to hold a bird or two. So it came to pass that, halfway through the second week of the 2017 Arkansas season, and after having my butt handed to me on numerous hunts, I went there blind.
There was only one bird gobbling, but every other utterance was a double or triple sequence. Hello turkey, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.
He was roosted within 100 yards of where I’d watched him flog his mentor almost exactly a year before, and I set up against the same tree I’d used then. After giving him a couple sleepy tree yelps, I shut up and let him gobble all he wanted to on the limb. He pitched down in my direction. As soon as he hit the ground, he cranked up again. I yelped and he quickly closed the distance until he was just the other side of a little tater knob of a hill, close enough to shoot as soon as he stuck his head up.
It’s hard not to feel smug when you’ve got a hard-gobbling turkey in shotgun range, and I didn’t even try. A half-hour later, though, the edges of my grin were beginning to lose their curl. I hadn’t called to him for 15 minutes. He was still racking off single, double and triple gobbles, and he was still a no-show.
Then the volume and the direction of the gobbles changed abruptly, and in a minute or two I saw him walking through the woods 90 yards off. He dropped into the head of the hollow he’d retreated to the year before, and as soon as he was out of sight, I took off to get ahead of him. I was too slow, though, and he was headed up the other side of the hollow before I got where I needed to be. We played follow-the-leader until a little after 10 that morning, when he got sore-throated or something, and shut up.
It rained hard the next two days. I went out during lulls on both afternoons and tried to raise him, but all I succeeded in doing was getting soaked both times.
The last morning (April 24, coincidentally) dawned perfect: clear, still, cool. I figured he’d be talkative, but he gobbled twice on the roost (both singles) and twice on the ground (both doubles). I stayed until noon, never heard him again, and left for Missouri.
Life went on, some turkeys died, and pretty soon it was 2018. I decided to hunt the Multigobbler on opening day. My wife, Jill, and I had already had a good season, with kills in Hawaii, Texas and with our 11-year-old grandson during the Arkansas youth hunt. But once again, the Multigobbler wasn’t buying what I was selling. He started gobbling across the hollow from where I’d worked him the year before. I hustled over there, but I was feeling my age by the time I got there.
I’ve always been a counter; it’s an annoying habit I can’t shake. Thus I know he gobbled exactly 217 times between first light and 6:45 a.m., when he finally left the limb and sailed all the way across the hollow I’d so recently struggled to cross. He lit within 50 yards of the tater knob where I’d met him two years before and spent the next hour strutting and gobbling while I hunkered helplessly just below the rim of the hollow. I couldn’t get on the flat with him because he was too close, and I couldn’t call him into sight because I’m not a good enough caller. It ended poorly: I tried a sneak, he saw me and left.
I hunted him twice more in 2018 and never to my knowledge got closer than 200 yards.
Life continued, more turkeys died and 2019 came. It was late in the season before I tried for the Multigobbler, and 30 minutes into gobbling time without a sound, I started to believe he hadn’t survived the intervening year.
When I finally heard him, he was far, far away – almost too far to locate. But I sorted it out and closed in as fast as I could. He’d abandoned his old haunts and was now roosted along a power line right-of-way right beside the busy state highway. He was nearly a mile from the tater knob and the hollow. By the time I got there, he was on the ground in the power line cut, but his numerous double and triple gobbles left no doubt about his identity. And he still didn’t want to play. After gobbling at me and every other sound for an hour or so, he walked away along the power line and disappeared.
The next morning, I was there at first light. But he was in the head of a hollow a half-mile north, on the other side of the nastiest cedar thicket in the Ozark Mountains. I didn’t think I could circle around in time before fly-down, and you couldn’t have forced me through the middle of that thing with a bullwhip. So I fell back to Plan B, and dang if it didn’t produce a nice mid-morning gobbler on a mountaintop 15 miles away.
Flushed with success, I returned to the Multigobbler the next morning for the final day of the Arkansas season. Playing a hunch, I didn’t go to the distant hollow beyond the cedar thicket, but instead set up near his roost of two days before. I hated the setup; the highway was so close that the lights of passing traffic lit me up like strobes through the trees.
But I’d guessed right. When he started gobbling, he was less than 75 yards away, on the edge of the power line cut. There was a perfect landing zone 35 yards off my barrel. Once again, smugness set in. Hello turkey, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.
So, what did the Multigobbler do? After his usual serenade of singles, doubles and triples, he pitched out due south, sailed across the blacktop highway, barely avoided being hit by an 18-wheeler, and lit on the opposite road shoulder. He gobbled once, then walked into the woods and shut up.
Now even more time has passed, more turkeys have died, and 2019 has become 2020. I’ve been thinking about the Multigobbler. Has he survived another winter? If he has, he’ll be a 5-year-old, and his spurs will be something to behold. But he’ll also be even harder to kill, because, well, he’s a 5-year-old.
The best thing to do, whether he’s dead or alive, would be to forget about him. Life is short, and turkey seasons are shorter yet. But I’ve already given him 10 days of my life, and you know how it is when one gets under your skin. What’s another day or two?