Article Date: Wednesday, April 25, 2012
By my brother Robert Martin, Jr.
It was a still cold morning in south Alabama and turkey season had been underway for about two weeks. The location is a 10,000 acre hunting lease just outside the town of Elba in Coffee County. The lease is composed of swampy hardwood stands adjacent to the Pea River scattered here and there amongst sandy soil pines, palmetto, and saw grass. Even in early spring, the temperature at midday is near 100 so we always hope to complete our hunts by noon.
My brother Jim and I had hunted the property for years and subsequently had tagged the more difficult turkeys with fanciful names such as: Roy Rogers (big spurs), Romeo (over fifty hens), and my brother's favorite Houdini (escape artist). Of course, most birds that are named die of old age but not always. As all experienced turkey hunters know, a lease with a lot of named birds usually offers a tough hunt!
We had awoken early as both Jim and I did the night before a hunt. I never ever needed an alarm clock to awake before any kind of hunting. We both dressed in silence breathing the early morning into our thoughts of the hunt to come. Lacing up my snake boots I wondered what the morning would bring. I just hoped they were gobbling. You may think you know the perfect conditions for a gobbler to sound off in the spring but time and time again you'll be proven wrong in the turkey woods.
Anticipation drives us to the porch and our first feel of the morning air; cold, moist and still. We see stars high in the fading night sky and nodded "perfect" to one another. My breath was visible in the morning air and I reminded myself to clean my glasses before the hunt began. We both stood by the jeep breathing deeply taking in the cool fresh air then, by hidden signal, we both clamber into the narrow stiff seats and got underway.
The ride to Plot 20 was something like a ride in the plains of Africa described by Peter Capstick as a bone crushing rattle of a lifetime. Of course, this is exacerbated by the fact that my brother only knows one speed behind the wheel of his jeep and that is 'petal to the metal'. I often wondered why more wildlife didn't run from us as we blast by rumbling along like a some camouflaged tank or why I didn't receive a concussion from hitting my head on the roof so many times. By the time we arrive at Plot 20 I am, needless to say, ready to get out and enjoy the morning woods.
Any irritation or anxiety I felt after the ride is immediately taken away when I close the jeep door and a turkey gobbles in response over my left shoulder. I turn to Jim and see he is pointing with his finger in the direction the call had come. Without a word we move quickly into the hardwoods surrounding Plot 20.
The plot itself is an hourglass shape covering about 65 total yards from front to back and about 30 yards at the widest point. Chufa and red clover cover the far end and a few rows of corn on the other. Hardwoods of Oaks and Maples surround the left side and a stand of thick young pines bordered the other. The problem with Plot 20 is the thick understory in the hardwoods combined with the thick pines on the other side to make it almost impossible to hunt anywhere but over the plot proper. The gobblers tend to loaf in the thick areas out of view where shots were difficult, to say the least. And, of course, the gobbler we heard initially that morning is roosted in the hardwoods at the back of the plot. The most difficult place he could be to approach him. Of course he is.
Jim and I quickly move to two nearby trees and set up with our guns on our knees. We were adjacent to the plot facing the thick brush with a very limited shooting zone. I load my gun and, holding my breath, try to hear the gobbler over the rising crescendo of the other woodland feathered creatures awaking to a spring morn. I must say, that is one of the most enjoyable parts of spring turkey hunting for me, sitting quietly and watching and hearing the spring woods come alive with hundreds of birdsongs overlapping one another. It is quite spectacular to witness.
After a short period of excited stillness, Jim and I begin a slow gentle series of tree calls that were answered quickly by the gobbler. As he is still in the tree, we tried to be patient until he had flown down, but as we love to call, we start soft yelps and clucks that are all answered quickly. It wasn't long until we heard wing beats and we really began calling with zeal. To say Jim and I like to use the "cut" call would be an understatement, we love to use the cut. Being the excited hen call, we both consider it the most fun call to emulate. Often, we combine our cuts to what we call "Fire the Bird" to excite the gobbler in hopes he makes a mistake. It often works.
Once on the ground, the gobbler hesitates just out of our sight behind a fallen log then walks briefly into view. The dabbled early morning rays of sun plays across the gobbler's breast making it look coppery metallic through the brush. We didn't call as he is so close, about 40 yards. As quick as he was there he was gone. We hammer him with another round of cuts and he appears once again so we got quiet again. The happens several times as he walks back and forth looking for all the hens making all the racket. As the gobbler retreats once more, Jim points to the underbrush indicating he had heard another gobbler make a call.
Soon, a second gobbler appears and Jim and I begin purring softly bringing both birds around the fallen log and into range. Then, both birds put their heads up and walk back around the log once more! Once out of view, Jim and I hit them again with the cut and here they come again, this time gobbling as they walk towards us. They kept this up for almost an hour coming in and out but not quite coming in close enough for a shot.
By this time, the day is beginning to heat up and the warmer I get the worse my glasses fog. I had forgotten to coat my glasses with an anti-fog spray in the jeep! I could see turkeys moving over my glasses but not clearly. There was no way I could move, so over the glasses it would have to be. What else had I forgotten? I wondered to myself for a brief moment. At last, both turkeys seemed to feel more comfortable about looking for us and step close enough for a shot. Jim and I have always gone on the premise that whoever is sitting on the left will shoot the left bird and the person on the right shoot the bird on the right, and as I was on the left I beaded down on where the neck meets the breast and pulled the trigger of my 12 gauge. The turkey dropped like a sack of rocks, however as I raised my head above my barrel I saw Jim aim and pull the trigger producing a loud click. He'd forgotten to load his gun when he set up!
The second turkey, having witnessed his buddy go down, pecked at his companion a few times and with confused excitement even spurred the carcass. All the while, Jim is loading his gun and I'm whispering to him that I'm going to shoot the second turkey any second. (I actually pulled the trigger once but had put the safety on so the gun wouldn't fire.)
Finally, Jim loads his gun, shoots, and the second turkey drops in its tracks. We both drag ourselves up and approach the turkeys that now lay still next to each other. We briefly speak about the fogged glasses and unloaded gun and end up laughing loudly about the entire hunt. His gun unloaded and my glasses fogged could have easily been enough to undo our hunt in some negative way. To this day, we have always taken the extra 60 seconds to make sure we have everything ready to go!
The turkeys weighed in at 19.0lbs with 11 inch beard 5/8 " spur and 18.5 lbs., with 10 inch beard and 1/2 " spur. We judged them to be two year old brothers who lived in the periphery of Plot 20 around the more dominant Romeo who, as far as I know, is still living today with his harem of 50+ hens.
With a new spring season dawning in the weeks to come, I anticipate the sights, sounds and smells of the turkey woods. It's a place my brother and I can always share between us as we did with our father who taught us the love of the outdoors. It's a place that speaks of humility, renewed faith, and fair chase. I invite everyone to enjoy the turkey woods at least once before they die. Just maybe you'll be lucky enough to enjoy an Alabama Double Play!