I didn’t have to be at work until 10:30 that morning and had decided to work a hard-wood ridge-line about 500 yards from a logging road where I typically parked. I made my way to the ridge in complete darkness that morning with the goal of bagging a boss tom that had been working the crest of this ridge since the beginning of the season. He had proven to be a formidable old bird – cautious, calculating, and of higher intelligence than most. On numerous occasions I had called him to within about 70 yards, but he would never close the distance no matter how sweet I yelped, pretty I purred, or seductively I clucked. Even my most deadly call – scratching in the leaves had proven ineffective.
This particular morning, however, he was completely quiet. In fact, I had not heard a single gobble – in spite of the fact that it was a beautiful morning – calm, cool, and clear. I remember glancing at my watch and it was exactly 9:17. It didn’t look like I was going to get any action at this spot so I began contemplating where to go next – since I still had about an hour to hunt. I remembered some recon a friend had recently given me that he had consistently seen a nice tom in a food plot on a logging road on his way out at about 10:00. I decided I had might as well sit on this food plot since it was on my way out anyways and I still had time to hunt.
I parked my truck on the logging road about 400 yards from the designated food plot – plenty far away so as to not spook any tom no matter what approach they took. I got my mask, gloves, vest and trusty Winchester and made my way to the edge of the food plot. I had no longer sat down with my back against a good-sized sweet gum tree when I looked up and detected motion at the other end of the food plot – about 100 yards away. Sure enough, right on cue, this tom made his appearance.
I was beginning to think that this might be one of the easiest and fastest hunts I had ever had. I had just sat down, hadn’t even called yet, and here he was making his way into the food plot toward me. Well, apparently this old tom didn’t have to be at work at any specific time and loafed around feeding – barely moving. He proceeded to scratch and peck, looking around every now and then, but was making little to no progress toward my location on the other side of the food plot. I waited patiently as over the next 20 minutes or so he had moved to within about 60 yards.
At this point I remember looking at my watch and thinking to myself that I have five minutes before I need to leave for work and that I needed to decide to either take a long shot at this tom or try to back out as quietly as I could – saving him for another day. It was a tough decision, but I remember thinking that this is the very reason I was loaded with $12-a-round 3.5-inch magnum titanium turkey loads. Decision made! I was going to take the shot!
I aimed as carefully as I could at that perfect spot just below the waddle and squeezed the trigger. The tom immediately fell over. No flopping, no kicking, no nothing. Wow! These titanium loads are awesome I thought to myself – worth every bit of $12 a round. I sat there carefully watching the tom for about a minute – you know, just in case, right. Well that bird continued to lay there motionless and in my head I was congratulating myself and thanking my friend for the recon.
I then lay my shotgun down and started walking toward my prize. Yeah, I know what you are thinking. You’re right – not the pinnacle of my turkey hunting decision-making repertoire. I was about half-way toward the tom when he suddenly jumped up and started trotting, then running, out of the food plot into the rows of planted pines – down-hill towards a hard-wood bottom. I remember deciding that I was too far away from my shotgun to go back for it, so I went in hot pursuit of this long-beard which was quickly about to get out of sight.
At first, I was running behind the turkey but then he switched rows in the planted pines. I slowly gained ground on him until I was side-by-side with him, staring him down – eye to eye – he in one row of pines and me in the adjacent row. I then looked up and saw that he was headed toward a briar thicket and that if he made it to that – he would be lost. It was now or never. I had to make my move. I looked at the pine trees and carefully planned to dive over from my row of pines to his at a specific spot where one tree was missing in the row. As soon as I hit that gap in the row, I planted my right boot firmly into the ground and dove over on that bird, grabbing him by the neck.
This hunt had now regressed to hand-to-hand combat. I held his neck tightly with both hands, but he still had enough energy to almost pull away. There I was – hanging on to this tom’s neck for dear life. I thought of the lock-blade pocket-knife that I always had clipped to my right-hand back pocket. The problem was that I wasn’t sure I could hang on to his neck with one hand while reaching for my knife with the other – so I rolled on top of him, pinning him down with the weight of my body, while I reached for my knife.
Well, I got that old tom that day, but I absolutely assure you that I will never, ever, under no circumstances whatsoever, ever lay my shotgun down while approaching a tom – ever again.