Final-Day Turkey Hunt Proves Golden
Dawn’s gray light blurred the small monuments marking my Aunt Mona and Uncle Terry’s buried ashes on the hillside above their former home.
I paused my climb, whispered them a “G’morning,” and turned to survey the silhouettes of northeastern Richland County’s oak ridges. Pulling the wingbone call from my turkey vest, I slid its lanyard over my head and listened.
Elk and deer hunters call such sites “glassing knobs” and my Marine Corps buddies call them “OPs,” or observation posts. This site overlooks a vast area that’s fun to study with binoculars and a spotting scope, but pre-dawn turkey hunters aren’t there to watch.
We’re more interested in hearing distant gobbles amid the chirpings of robins, orioles and cardinals. I’d as soon not see a gobbler on far-off fields or hillsides as daylight creeps in. If things go well, I won’t see the big bird until seconds before pulling the trigger some time later.
That, however, requires the benefit of many steps, lots of luck, quiet cover, and a talkative tom that betrays its location. Once it gobbles, I hope it keeps talking to mark its presence as I close the gap and find a nearby setup. And then I hope it keeps me apprised as it closes on my ambush site.
Few gobblers honor all three wishes, of course, but miracles happen. And so I stood quietly beside the gravesites, awaiting more daylight. I finally raised the wingbone call to my mouth and sucked air through pursed lips. The resulting yelps carried far in the humid, 68-degree air, pleasing my ears.
A gobbler yelled back from the south, across the highway. I smiled in the dawn’s yielding darkness, now so full of promise. I couldn’t pinpoint the tom’s whereabouts, so I pinched my lips around the yelper again and repeated myself. The gobbler shouted back, as if saying: “I’m right here! Over here!”
I retreated down the hillside to cousin Peg’s driveway, yelped another false promise to the tom, and set off for his hillside when he answered. After covering the half-mile in about 10 minutes I ascended the woods, pausing below its crest near a saddle where turkeys and deer often cross the ridge.
The tom kept talking, so I crept closer, settled against an oak with a trunk wider than my shoulders, and unpinned the sling from my 22/410 Savage 24S-E over/under. After opening its breech, I slid a Federal TSS load into the shotgun’s chamber. I’ve long carried a 10-gauge shotgun to hunt turkeys, but switched to the .410 this year when hearing tungsten pellets make it deadly.
Besides, that over/under is my oldest gun. I found it under the Christmas tree in 1970, two weeks shy of my 15th birthday. And it’s at least half the bulk of my 10-gauge, and shorter and quicker to point.
I called once more with the wingbone, and then scratched some purrs and clucks from my old aluminum-faced “slate” call. A gobbler hollered back before its buddy cut him off, making me smile behind my camouflaged facemask.
“I take back everything I wrote two years ago,” I thought. After hunting the final week of Wisconsin’s 2018 turkey season, I declared it wrong to open the season in mid-April, a week later than “normal,” which extends everything beyond Memorial Day. I never heard a gobble during 2018’s sixth hunting period, and thought it futile to hunt turkeys so late in May.
Even so, I hunted Memorial Day in 2019 and shot a gobbler before sunrise on the ridge beyond my aunt and uncle’s ashes. And here I was in 2020, hunting the last day of the final week-long turkey season, with two gobblers hollering for me to join them.
Instead, I yelped once more with the wingbone and waited. A hen answered about halfway between me and the gobblers. Hmm. Had another hunter cut me off? When the hen called again, I decided it wasn’t a hunter. The clucks were brief and subdued before going silent. Hunters are rarely so subtle.
The gobblers hollered again, moving closer. I practiced cocking the shotgun’s hammer, reminding myself how to set the trigger silently. Minutes later I heard a gobbler’s spit-and-drum routine, and pictured it strutting for the hen’s approval. Ten quiet minutes followed, and then a gobbler yelled from farther east.
They had retreated. Should I wait or pursue? I gathered my gear and sneaked their way, calling occasionally. I sat again after inching closer and coaxing a response. The tom gobbled again beyond view, spit-and-drummed, and resumed moving east.
I stood once more and pursued farther east and downhill. And then I sat once more, and again the tom gobbled from beyond view before moving off.
I stood, repacked and followed dutifully. We repeated our lines, and moved farther east and downhill yet again. Soon after I paused my sneak 10 yards from a basswood tree with two pheasant-back mushrooms squeezing from a scar 5 feet up the trunk. When turning my gaze downhill, I froze. A gobbler crossed an opening 75 yards away. I sat when it passed behind brush, and called with my wingbone.
It shouted back. As we awaited each other’s next move, another gobbler crossed into view, and then another. “My” gobbler soon followed. The trio wasn’t heading directly at me, but the hill’s contour suggested they were taking the easier uphill route.
Five minutes passed before I spotted a tom retreating. As my hopes faded, a tom’s head and red wattles bobbed into view above fallen limbs 20 yards away. Its clucks and moves suggested it was nervous but not alarmed.
When it reversed course, I pressed my face into the gunstock, aligned the sights and fired as the tom’s beard, neck and head cleared the obstacles. The tom collapsed, death-flapping its wings while tumbling downhill.
Yep. The late season’s final-day hunts are pure gold.
Patrick Durkin used his .410 shotgun to bag this Richland County gobbler on the final morning of Wisconsin’s 2020 turkey season. — Patrick Durkin photo