A Pennsylvania Longbeard

 

He was coming down the rise 50 yds to my right in full strut, fixated on my decoy setup.  A full season of frustration and anxiety was about to become pure elation.  As he made his way to the decoys, I slowly slid the safety off and hunkered down behind the BSA 4×32 scope on top of my customized Remington 870.

 

The Pennsylvania Spring Gobbler season for 2007 began not unlike the 24 seasons before.  I was out until dark the Friday evening before, on a neighboring farm known to hold a good turkey population.  Pulling into the parking area along a tractor road, I watched eight longbeards across the field feeding toward the roost site.  After locating a good spot within 100 yards of the roost site, I went home to prepare for the coming morning.

 

The alarm went off at 4 am opening day, April 27th.  After much anticipation resulting in a long sleepless night, I got up and made breakfast while waiting for my friend Eugene to arrive.  One look out the window at the light rain falling told me today was going to be a difficult day.  Eugene arrived and we drove to the farm and parked by the old barn.  After making my way to the chosen spot on a wooded point where three fields join together, I placed my two decoys at 30 yards, while Eugene decided to sit on the top of the ridge just below the barn. 

 

Just before sunrise, I pulled out my HS Strut 360 slate call and made a couple of soft tree yelps.  The morning stillness was immediately broken by several gobblers answering from all points of the compass.  Softly calling again, they immediately answered. By the sound of the gobbling they were still on their roosts.  After several minutes of this racket the woods became silent again, except for the sound of the rain striking the leaves from last fall.  We sat through another hour of silence before Eugene decided to quit for the day.  I decided to move to nearby State Game Lands for some running and gunning.  As shooting hours came to an end at noon I heard a couple of gobblers, but saw nothing the rest of the morning,

 

For the next two weeks I hunted in the morning before work, but didn’t hear or see any gobblers.

 

Each day for the last week of the season I took a half day vacation from work to hunt. The weather cooperated and the birds responded.  On Monday several gobblers answered my calls and came into the field, but they would not come into my comfort zone of 40 yards.  On Tuesday a gobbler answered from the old spruce tree at the top of our property. He started right at first light and sounded like he was pacing back and forth at the top of the ridge.  I had all but given up on him when his last gobble came from 25 yards to my left behind a screen of green briar. Thinking he would move from the green briar to the decoys, I put the call away and got the gun ready.  He had other ideas however, and appeared in a position where I could not get the gun on him.  The old gobbler must not have liked the decoy set up and returned to the top of the ridge.  Failing to call him back into range, I broke off the hunt and left for work.

 

The rest of the week produced no sightings or gobbling.

 

The last day began at 4 am just as it had on opening day; except for clear skies and comfortable temperatures.  I hit the snooze bar a few times too many and realized that it was already shooting light.  Skipping breakfast, I grabbed my gear and went to my opening day spot.  I placed three decoys — a hen and a jake/hen mating setup — at 30 yards from my position. After waiting what seemed like forever, I began a series of tree yelps and elicited a gobble from the next ridge.  Calling again he filled the valley with boisterous gobbling.  He continued to answer me for about the next half hour, but didn’t seem like he was moving toward me at all. I contemplated moving to his ridge when he gobbled in the valley between us, and this told me he was headed my way.  Calling to him again produced no response.  The silence continued for about 30 minutes before he double gobbled 100 yards to my right.  My heart began to race as the gobbler approached, and I continued calling to him. As he crested the slight rise at 75 yards, his head and neck reminded me of a little red periscope. I slowly raised my gun into position as he continued to move to the decoys in full strut; spitting and drumming as he marched.  At 50 yards I released the safety and prepared to collect my prize. At 35 yards he entered the field of view, filling my sight picture with a wondrous display of color. When the crosshairs settled on the base of his neck, the Remington roared and the old gobbler dropped where he stood.

 

After fifteen frustrating days of hunting during the two month long season, my excitement could no longer be contained.  The jubilant shouting could be heard for miles.  I admired his 11 inch beard and one inch spurs for several minutes, before hoisting the 17 pound behemoth over my shoulder and making the long satisfying walk back to the truck.