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story.lead_photo.caption The author used all of these calls and a few others to persuade this gobbler to cross a ravine on opening day of spring turkey season. - Photo by Bryan Hendricks

Never underestimate the power of a nap.

Turkey season opened in disappointing fashion Monday. As usual, I barely slept, and I rose with a sore throat and chest congestion. It was cold outside, which exacerbated my discomfort, but I would not allow it to bench me for opening day of spring turkey season.

Wearing a vest full of callers, I made the long walk to my favorite hunting spot. Sunrise arrived in a wash of crimson, and I marveled at the shattered rays swirling in the mist. A line of pine trees cleaves light into a V. Picture a rock concert at Barton Coliseum back when smoking was still allowed in public venues, without the distinctive odor, of course.

Last year, I called in a gobbler down one of those light shafts. It was one of the most beautiful things I've seen, and I longed for April 10 to follow the same script.

We all know that turkey hunts never follow the same script. Each is a separate act in a long play, and that's why they are all so memorable.

No turkeys were about that morning, however, and I dearly wished I called up as many gobblers as crows.

At 9 a.m. I drove to town, fueled my truck and grabbed a bite of breakfast before returning to camp.

It had turned windy and warm, and I was drowsy. With the truck windows closed, I reclined the seat and dozed. I woke at 1:40 p.m., and I was so discouraged that I considered going home. I had missed the magic 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. window when hens return to their nests and leave gobblers unattended to search for new mates.

"It's too late and too windy, and I feel lousy," I thought. "Maybe tomorrow will be better."

Tomorrow would not be better, nor would Wednesday. My schedule was packed, and I couldn't return until Thursday. I remembered a hunt here in 2013 when I called up two big gobblers and killed one at 4:15 p.m.

"I'm here," I thought. "Let's hunt."

I returned to my morning spot and discovered that the deep woods were relatively calm. It seemed to be the kind of place turkeys would seek in windy conditions.

I laid out my usual array of callers, which included two Eddie Horton (Camden) box calls, two slate calls by Grant Westmoreland and David Taylor (Sheridan), and a Premium Game Calls (Dierks) diaphragm. I believe in using Arkansas calls for Arkansas gobblers, but I also had a little can call from Tennessee. It looks like a hollow snuff can with a cedar block that scrapes against the rim of the can. It's unconventional, but it makes wicked purrs, clucks and yelps.

I played them to no effect, and then played them again 15 minutes later. A gobbler replied close behind me. The risk of repositioning was too great, so I stayed still and hoped the bird would walk in front of me.

Those were the opening moves of a chess match that lasted slightly more than one hour.

The bird went long silent after that first gobble. The silence initially unnerved me, but then I calmed and my head cleared. The bird was probably standing behind me looking for a hen. Any sound would betray my position, and the gobbler would stare until I moved and spooked it.

My experiences in that situation usually involved a bird moving in quietly and announcing its presence by spitting and drumming. If that were the case, I would hear it stepping through the crunchy forest litter.

I sat silently for about 15 minutes and decided the bird had moved away. I said a little prayer for success and then repeated my litany of calls in an attempt to sound like a flock of hens.

The bird gobbled, but it had veered to an opposite ridge about 200 yards to the southeast. I continued calling, and the gobbler answered each call aggressively.

And then I saw him. He was in full strut descending the side of the ridge, fully illuminated in the bright afternoon sunlight. Lord, he was beautiful.

Inexplicably, the gobbler pulled in his feathers midway down the ridge. He stood erect, scanned my ridge and abruptly reversed course.

He continued gobbling, but he was leaving. It was time for the secret weapon. I pulled two finger yelpers from a pocket and made a fighting purr. The gobbler howled and reversed course again.

Dang it all, the gobbler really wanted to be on that opposite ridge. He went back and forth, bellowing at my every call, but he refused to come across the void.

The gobbler's interest ebbed, and he drifted away again to the southeast.

It was time for the double-secret weapon. I used a deep-toned Horton box call to produce a gobble by quickly scraping the lid both directions across the case. Eddie Horton himself showed me how to do it, but I'd never used it before.

It grievously offended the gobbler, but he still refused to leave its ridge. I cut off a gobble with a mouth cackle. I did it again, and again, and again, and again. A quintuple gobble. That bird was hot, and the impertinent hen was too much for him to abide.

The gobbler descended the ridge and headed straight my way. To my surprise, a second gobbler accompanied him.

They were in no hurry. They picked at little morsels as they zigzagged down the hill, interrupting their noshing to scan my hillside. I was anxious to speed them up, but a little voice stilled me.

"The Good Lord's got this, buddy. Stay out of the way."

Eventually they disappeared in the ravine separating the ridges, but they didn't reappear.

I've seen this before, and I fought panic. They might follow the ravine either direction, and I would never see them again. That same little voice said, "Do it now!"

I pursed out a soft yelp with my diaphragm. The gobbler thundered, still below the rim. The bass rattled my insides. I lifted my Winchester SX3 and waited.

Seconds later, the bird cleared the rim. At 3:18 p.m., the Winchester brought down the curtain on this superb act.

The second bird sprinted back up the hill, wings outstretched and "putting." As I suspected, it was bigger than my bird, but I felt it unwise to play favorites.

My bird sported an 8 1/2-inch beard. Its spurs were ¾- and 7/8-inch. I didn't weigh him, but he felt like 50 pounds at the truck.

Only then did I remember my sore throat, and I felt too happy to care.

Sports on 04/15/2018

Print Headline: Opening act

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