Last week I killed a turkey that weighed less than 10 pounds. I feel better just getting it off my chest, even knowing how other grizzled old outdoorsmen are going to look down on me for doing it. What can I say?… I was hungry.
A flock of 10 or so young turkeys flew across the river before us while we were fishing in mid-afternoon. I had my shotgun with me and I got out and walked slowly down the bank expecting they would go through the fringe of timber out into a nearby field. Instead, they all were sitting on a fallen log down the bank about a hundred yards or so. Young turkeys aren’t too smart and I could have easily killed two or three with one shot as they stood there on that log, gawking at me as I sneaked along the woodland edge.
I picked out one and dropped it, then stood there and wondered why I had done it. They looked to be a brood from a late hatch, maybe as late as early August and there wasn’t a big one in the bunch. The one I killed was a juvenile gobbler. Honestly, he just made one good meal.
On Saturday I looked out behind my back porch and the wooded lawn was full of turkeys, big ones and little ones and medium ones. In the unmowed grass and weeds we jokingly refer to as a “lawn” and in nearby woods next to my place there were probably 40 turkeys in one flock, including a few mature gobblers. I could have stepped out on the porch and shot one of them, but I didn’t. I went out the front door and snuck down into my woods and tried to call them to me.
On the way, I flushed a young gobbler behind my pond. I don’t know what he was doing down there all alone, but I’ll bet he felt like an outcast. I set up in a very good place and began to call and in 20 minutes or so I watched those turkeys walk past me just out of range, the whole bunch of them. It began to come to me that I might ought to be thankful that I got that one young turkey. What a sight it was. I have never seen so many up here on Lightnin’ Ridge.
Sunday afternoon I was sitting on my porch watching the squirrels and birds all in a panic about winter coming on, upset because my place has very few acorns. The big white oaks growing next to my porch, which generally pelt my roof for a month and a half each fall with big acorns, have none this year. The walnut trees have no walnuts and every hickory nut that fell in August is gone. Here at least, it looks to be a bleak winter if you eat acorns. It shouldn’t be so bad for me, as I eat fish and venison and small turkeys and if it comes to it, I will eat some of these local squirrels.
It was pretty chilly and I didn’t sit there long. I figured I could go in and watch the football game and take it easy and nap a little, or go out walking through some woods, admiring the beauty of fall, enjoying the crisp, still autumn afternoon, wasting my time trying to call in a turkey. I chose the latter. About 5 p.m. I was sitting at the edge of a tract of woods a couple of miles away, alongside a small grassy field where turkeys like to feed late in the evening before they fly up to roost.
I often call turkeys by mouth, having learned to imitate them years ago. I started out trying to sound like an old hen trying to regroup a brood. I had no confidence at all, the woodland was quiet and still and the little green field empty. Then suddenly I saw the back of a wild turkey in the far edge of the field, moving through the grass. Behind it, a turkey head stuck up high to see where that hen was he had heard. I figured they were jakes from an early spring hatch, because they were obviously pretty good size. I called again, a little quieter and watched them move down the little slope, about 200 yards away. Soon I could see three mature gobblers.
I got excited, scrunched down as low as I could against that tree trunk and called enticingly. Mind you, I called in a manner that seemed enticing to me. I can’t say if the gobblers thought it sounded that way. After all, it ain’t spring and they ain’t matin’.
But for some reason, that biggest gobbler, now in the lead, came right for me. At a time like that, you know that he is hearing your call and coming to it and you figure you must be doing it darn good. In the back of your mind you also know that maybe it isn’t your calling at all, maybe he just wanted to roost in the tree you are leaning against.
I am not a patient sort and if they had kept coming at a good pace I would have waited until they got within 30 yards. But they stopped about 40 yards away and with a three-inch magnum, you figure you ought to be able to drop one at that distance. As I lifted my barrel, that front gobbler, which looked to be the biggest one, lifted his head high and the afternoon stillness was broken by the blast of my 12-gauge. It dropped him and one of the other two flew down and lit beside me, running off only fifteen or twenty yards away.
I headed home about as happy as you can get, with that gobbler, which sported spurs sharp as locust thorns and a twelve-inch beard. He weighed 22 pounds. When you add 22 pounds to 10 pounds, you end up with 32 pounds, which is just about as good as killing two 16-pound jakes. Someday I will write a magazine article about fall turkey hunting and give the details of killing that big gobbler in the spectacular forest edge where October frost had painted a never-to-be-forgotten picture. When I do, I won’t mention that 10-pound poult I shot last week.
There is always the problem of deciding what to do in late October, because there’s some really good topwater fishing along our streams with buzz-baits and the last week of October might be the very best time to hunt deer with a bow. The next couple of weeks are also great times to hunt squirrels and in my area they are plentiful The woods here in my part of the Ozarks was about as pretty as it gets, for 10 days or so we had one of the most colorful fall displays as I have ever seen.
I hope many readers of this column will listen to my new outdoor radio program on Sunday mornings, from 8 to 9 a.m. It’s on KWTO radio, 560 AM. It is a call-in program, so listen and call in with your opinions, questions and observations concerning the outdoors. You can listen while you get ready for church. This Sunday I am going to give a recipe for persimmon pie and talk about catfish, white-tailed deer and fishing in the fall. Please turn on the radio and join me.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613 or check out my website, www.larrydablemontoutdoors.blogspot.com.