Spring Thunder

The Gobble, Long and Loud

There are few things in this life that compare to the feeling one experiences while sitting in the predawn of an April forest at the base of an ancient oak tree. New life is beginning to emerge from winter’s harsh grip. Songbirds begin to fill the air with their morning chorus. The smell of the buds and blooms delights the senses. Then, just as the sun shows her first hints of rising, the stillness is split asunder by the gobble of a long-beard on his roost. His roll call is soon echoed by some hens and a few other subordinate toms. Your heart begins to pound and the excitement swells with you. This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. The rest of the morning is spent fixed in a battle of wits with the wily long-beard, trying to counter his every move and stay 3 steps ahead in order to stifle his best efforts to evade you and escape. Finally, you conjure the perfect ambush and, if you’re lucky, he will come waltzing in. He’s parading himself in full strut, putting on the performance of his life. However, the one thing that makes this experience more memorable and addicting than anything else is the very same thing that aroused the excitement within you in the predawn; the gobble, long and loud. Spring thunder.

It Began in a Whirlwind

Last season was my shortest, albeit most memorable, ever. It was filled with twists and turns and close calls, along with two big, beautiful long-beards hitting the turf. It began in a whirlwind on my first hunt the day after opening day. I was optimistic and strode into the darkness of the morning to my first setup. It was overcast and slightly damp but the temperature was moderately warm-excellent conditions. However, the morning chorus was unusually quiet, and as the morning pushed on without a single gobble my confidence waned. Nine-thirty came and went and I was just about ready to abandon my hunt when I heard a deep gobble sound off in the swamp to the east of my position. I then began conversing with him, answering his thunderous bellows with sweet purrs and soft clucks and yelps until he strode into the field about 300 yards below me. He was a fully mature tom with a long distinguished beard and a beautiful full fan.

He waltzed and strutted, putting on a show for my decoy. Once he perceived his new girlfriend was unimpressed by his performance he began his approach, right into the teeth of my ambush. I sat at the top of a large hill planted in winter wheat that slowed its descent into the swamp where the turkey had first answered me. I nestled myself on the field’s edge in a small depression under a maple tree that had broken over and fallen.  A small maple and a few saplings stood in front of me, with the wooden ridge top at my back. His approach continued until he sank below the crest of the hill below me and I lost sight of him.

Deafening by the Closeness of the Gobble

After fifteen minutes of agony without knowing the bird’s position, I clucked three times and was deafened by the closeness of his gobble. He had silently slipped in to seven yards. My heart raced within me and my focus became laser sharp. As he began his final dance around my decoy, I trained the bead of Stella Mae (my trusty old Remington 870) on his crimson waddles and impatiently waited for my moment. After what seemed like an eternity, he stretched out his head just far enough to allow me to fire a shot without fear of ruining any meat.  I seized it. My anxiety then turned to elation as the bird collapsed into the fresh winter wheat, thus closing the book on my biggest bird ever. His beard measured ten and three quarters inches and his spurs were an inch and a half. A very good start.

Chasing Thunder Again…

A few weeks later I found myself chasing thunder again, this time with my buddy Eli in search of his first bird. We set up on a ridge top that had just been logged which provided an excellent vantage point for us to look and listen. When that spot offered us no gobbles, we began to run and gun. With the silence becoming deafening, we only needed one gobble to renew our spirits. Deja vu was beginning to set in for me but I banished it from my mind to focus on the task at hand. Finally we decided to give it one last shot because it was getting late and we both had to go to work. We set up on a wooded ridge across a deep ravine from a gas pipeline that we hoped would house a gobbler. Only a few rounds of calling were enough to prove our suspicions and across the ravine we heard a bird sound off.

This was the first wild turkey gobble Eli had ever heard. Watching his face light up was worth the entire trip for me. However this moment of catharsis was short lived; we still had work to do. The chase was on. The bird was strutting in the gas line and wouldn’t deviate from it. Unbeknownst to me, there was a creek in the ravine that the bird simply refused to cross. When we came to this realization, we abruptly pulled an about face and retreated to the wheat field behind us.  There, we trotted down the wood line and around the ridge where we set up on the same gas line we saw the bird on earlier and began calling. It didn’t take very long for the bird to respond to our call and he began his approach.

My heart began to pound as the bird drew closer and closer, gobbling every ten yards or so. Just as we thought this turkey had breathed his last, the tide began to turn. At sixty yards the bird hung up, strutting in circles and eyeing our decoy. At long last he had decided that he had seen enough and swiftly departed. We were a little disappointed but filled with a new resolve and an updated game plan. Eli would return to that gas line the following day and set up seventy five yards downhill from our position. The next morning I patiently awaited a phone call detailing the hunt and around 8:45 my phone rang. He killed that bird which bore an eleven inch beard and an inch and three quarters spurs, a magnificent specimen for his first turkey. I couldn’t have been more proud.

One Last Shot to Get it Done

The last bird encounter of the season came just a week before my wedding, which signaled the end of my season. One last shot to get it done and I couldn’t think of a better partner than my younger brother. Little did I know that the series of events that were about to unfold would make this hunt the most exciting and nerve wracking hunt of my entire life. We had gotten the drop on a few birds that had been roosting in a tall stand of pines just south of the swamp which delivered me my long-beard. Early that morning we took to the woods and set up on the south side of the swamp in a hedgerow directly in the bird’s predicted route of travel.  There, we waited. In the dawn’s first light we heard the first notes of the turkey’s morning symphony. Instead of the pine stand that we thought housed the birds, the hardwoods to the north began erupting while the pine stand lay quiet. We decided to sit tight and call, and it appeared as though our patience was paying off as a gobble sounded off in the swamp. As it drew closer our excitement grew but I soon became overzealous. The bird was approaching but had waned, and I thought he had “hung up” in the swamp. So after a little convincing, my brother and I picked up and moved silently through the swamp to set up closer to the bird.

I quickly realized my blunder when the bird gobbled again, this time in the exact spot we’d just been sitting. I felt terrible and was kicking myself for not remaining patient, but now wasn’t the time to pout. The gobbler had began to move toward a gate to the east which provided the perfect setup for us to cut him off in the pinch point. We then ran down the wood line on the opposite side of the bird, jumped a creek, and dodged thorn bushes until we reached an abandoned hay wagon just beyond the gate the bird was headed toward. My brother set up under the hay wagon while I placed the decoy in the gateway. I set up across from him on a fence post that had been reclaimed by a swamp hedgerow. For an instant, I thought that my blunder would be null and void, because the turkey was swiftly approaching, gobbling every three steps. I could see the excitement growing in my brother’s face and he readied himself for the shot. However just as we thought that the coffin door was about to slam on this bird he stopped and began to strut about 80 yards away.

Then, for no reason at all, he about faced and began to retreat through another hedgerow into a wide open field up the hill. As soon as he disappeared from sight, we hit him with a few more calls and he turned and started sprinting back into our setup. My brother had to swivel on his seat and get around on the bird.  The turkey must’ve caught him because he kept running into the swamp behind me. With nothing left to lose, I hit him with a fighting purr and he slammed on the breaks behind me. He then began to approach the sound of the call and I could see my brother’s look of disbelief. The bird had managed to walk up to the fencepost I was resting on without seeing me. He was six inches away.

I sat frozen, trying hard not to breathe let alone move.I could hear his wingtips dragging the grass and when he gobbled, my chest vibrated and the hair stood up on the back of my neck. He then paraded down the fence and hopped over it at seven yards from me. I sat paralyzed, for any movement would betray my position. It was at that point we locked eyes and he raced directly at my brother, between where he and I sat making a shot impossible. I was helpless to do anything but watch; just as the bird reached a mere ten feet from my brother he took flight, bounding over the hay wagon. Garret then leapt from his hiding spot, nearly hitting the bird with his gun barrel. This disoriented him and by the time he was able to draw a bead on the gobbler’s head, he disappeared into the hedgerow, never to be seen again.

The Perfect Close until Next Season

We stared at each other completely dumbfounded, neither of us able to quite comprehend what just happened. We walked back to the truck in relative silence, both of us just trying to absorb the morning. We both knew we had just witnessed something amazing that we both will never forget. Although the bird would live to see another sunrise, this hunt was the crescendo to an amazing season. The perfect close until next season, when we could once again enter the forest in the splendor of the April predawn, chasing spring thunder.

To follow along on Dalton’s adventures and hunts you can follow him on IG https://www.instagram.com/dwbowhunter12/

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