The morning of May 5 brought clear skies and mild temperatures to my corner of Iowa, and I was itching to get back into the turkey woods again, after a 2-week layoff following the hunt for my first bird of the year, back in our 2nd shotgun season. We’re allowed two gun tags for spring turkey hunting here in Iowa, and of the 2 one must be for the 4th and final season, for reasons I have never heard explained by the powers that be.
Being strongly averse to rising early in the morning, I elected to set my alarm for 6 am, and then hit the woods after fly-down. Since it was a weekday when most of the competition would be at work, I elected to go to a public land spot where I had long wanted to kill a gobbler. The property had produced a number of close calls over the years, including missing a big longbeard two seasons prior, but I had always seemed to be snakebit there.
I pulled into the deserted parking lot a little after 7 and set off into the woods as the rising sun painted the just-emerging maple and oak leaves with shades of gold. I walked about a ½ mile into the timber before stopping to call for the first time, knowing from past experience that calling close to the parking lot is usually a waste of time on public land. The first series of yelps did not produce a response, so I kept going, stopping to yelp a few times every couple hundred yards or so. My destination was a ridge overlooking a large oak flat that often held birds, and I had almost reached it when I heard a faint gobble from somewhere off in the distance. I cut loose a few loud yelps on my go-to long-distance aluminum pot call and received an answer. Still, could not tell exactly where the bird was, so I eased up to the top of the ridge and tried again. This time the far-off gobbler was joined by another, much closer bird, somewhere down on the oak flat in front of me. I quickly scanned the trees around me for a good spot to set up and chose a large oak tree with a deadfall in front of it which acted as a sort of natural blind.
After settling in, it didn’t take long to ascertain that the distant tom was way down in a big valley on the other side of the oak flat, and was most likely a lost cause. But the closer gobbles were only a few hundred yards away, and it sounded like there might even be more than one bird. My first few series of calls brought immediate responses, and it sounded like the bird or birds were moving closer, but then they seemed to begin to lose interest. So I started switching calls, looking for something they’d like, but without much success. The occasional gobble would ring out, but they didn’t seem to be answering anymore. Finally, I got to one of my three wingbones, which I rarely use, and mostly carry for emergencies. That was the ticket, as they – by now I was certain there was more than one – started responding again, and began working their way closer. The birds got to within 200 yards, then hung up, and a stalemate ensued. I would call, they would gobble, but wouldn’t come a step my way. I knew the area quite well and didn’t think there were any obstructions that would prevent them from moving my way, so after about 30 minutes I was getting exasperated. Finally, I’d had enough, so decided to make a move.
I eased back over the ridge until I was certain the turkeys couldn’t see me and started looping around one side. The open oak woods didn’t offer much cover for trying to sneak up on anything, but I knew there was a small ditch on the far side of the ridge that I could use for cover if I could get there. I made it to the ditch and followed it as far as I could, until reaching the point where I had to climb out in order to keep moving in the right direction. At this point, I figured I was still at least 150 yards from the last gobbles I’d heard, but at least I was now on their side of the ridge. I elected to stop and call just before reaching the top of the bank above the ditch, but before I could get my wingbone out of my pocket the toms gobbled again, but they sounded much farther away. I cut loose with a little wingbone music and received silence in reply, tried again, the same result. I was standing there a little despondently, trying to figure out a new plan of action, when I heard what I thought was a hen putting just over a small rise in the ground, about 100 yards in front of me. That was followed immediately by a loud commotion that sounded like several turkeys running in the dry, crackly leaves.
I figured I had somehow spooked part of the flock I’d been hearing, and almost started to jog up to the top of the knoll to see if I could catch a glimpse of them, when a red head popped over the hill in front of me, followed immediately by two more! I froze in consternation because I knew that standing in the middle of the open woods without any cover near me was a recipe for disaster. But thankfully when they lowered their heads they disappeared behind the rise in the land again, and I could drop to my knees and scramble several feet backward until I was up against an oak tree. I just had time to raise my trusty 870 and steady it over one knee before they came trotting over the hill, headed right for me. At this point I was not certain what kind of birds were coming in – the gobbles I’d been hearing all morning had sounded a little choppy at times, like jakes – but the first bird in line was a nice long beard, and he was determined to be first to the party. He came trucking right toward me, beard swinging from side to side, while I tried to make myself small against the oak. While he was coming in, I heard a loud spit-n-drum from beyond the rise and saw a fan pop open, so I knew there were still more birds coming but was focused on the one at hand.
He paused at about 40 yards, and I almost shot him, but just as I was about to squeeze the trigger he kept coming, and I kept tracking him with the gun muzzle. Even in the heat of the moment, the thought popped into my mind, “This bird is like a kamikaze – I’m going to kill him, or he’s going to run me over!”. Finally at 25 yards, he started to slow down, and finally stopped and started giving me the old hairy eyeball, so I centered the bright fiber-optic bead on his glowing head and sent 2 ounces of #5s on their way. The gun boomed he dropped like a stone, and turkeys took off in every direction behind him. There were at least 5 or 6 different birds, a mix of jakes and toms. I will never know what made that flock suddenly reverse course and come right to me after essentially disregarding my calling for the previous 2 hours, but I’m not complaining. Sometimes the unpredictability of turkeys is bad, and sometimes it’s good.
When I looked at my watch, I saw that the time was 9:35 am, only 5 minutes later in the morning than when I killed my first turkey of the year, two weeks before. This bird would then tip the scales at 20 ½lbs, with 1 1/8” spurs and a 10 ½” beard. A nice 3-year-old tom. After snapping some photos, and stopping to enjoy the beautiful day for a while, I loaded the bird into my pack and set off on the 3/4+ mile walk back to my truck. The hard part of the hunt was just beginning, but it was a small price to pay for such an awesome morning in the turkey woods.