Hunting wild turkeys is often an exercise in frustration and disappointment, which is why turkey hunters cherish those few times when everything goes according to plan.
This past Tuesday morning was one of those times for me and Paul Schmitz. And with South Florida’s spring turkey season running through April 12 and the season in the rest of the state continuing through April 26, there is plenty of time to experience a magical hunt of your own.
As the sun’s first rays brightened the sky over a patch of woods in Collier County, we heard at least four different male turkeys gobble from their roosts in the pine trees around us. Hearing a tom turkey gobble is always a thrill, and it heightens the anticipation that you might actually get to see him approach your blind as you imitate the yelps, clucks and purrs of a hen turkey.
Male turkeys gobble to attract the attention of hens during the breeding season, and hens go to the gobblers. But like some users of dating websites, some toms want to meet as many ladies as possible, and they’ll go to the hot-sounding new hen not suspecting that it might be a hunter with a 12-gauge shotgun.
Paul, a financial adviser from Coral Springs, and I had scouted the previous afternoon and heard several birds gobbling just before and after they flew up into their roost trees for the night. Based on the location of those gobbles, the next morning we set up in the dark about 150 yards from the birds, under the overhanging branches of a small oak tree.
When the first gobbler sounded off, the others followed suit. Over the next 15 minutes we heard dozens of gobbles, including several that came in response to the yelps and clucks that I made on a Primos Clear Cutter wooden box call. Box calls have a paddle that you drag across the side of the box to produce a realistic yelp. The Clear Cutter also has a thumb groove so when you tap the paddle with your right hand, it makes a single, sharp cluck before it’s stopped by your left thumb.
I got a little nervous when a real hen started yelping in the woods to our north and a gobbler enthusiastically responded to her. But when I yelped on the box call again, a gobble sounded across from us, which was encouraging.
Five minutes later, Paul saw a turkey walking along the trail 30 yards in front of us. Before I could look over, he said, “There’s a second bird.”
The two mature gobblers walked up to my jake decoy, a Hunter’s Specialties model that imitates a juvenile gobbler and enrages older toms that think he’s trying to get in on their fun. One of the gobblers started strutting, puffing out his body and fanning his tail feathers to show the decoy who was boss and also impress the hen whose calls I had been imitating. Meanwhile, the other gobbler, acting as a true wingman, kept looking for the mystery hen.
“Tell me when,” Paul whispered, but the gobblers were so focused on finding their new girlfriend, they were completely unaware of our presence. I told him to enjoy the show as they came within 12 yards of our blind, at one point standing side by side.
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When the birds got several feet away from each other, I told Paul that I was aimed at the gobbler on the left and asked if he had a clear shot at the tom on the right. He responded, “Tell me when,” and I whispered “Go!” We fired at the same instant and both gobblers flopped to the ground. It was 7:25 a.m.
“We got a double!” Paul said. “Man, they’re both dead as a doornail.”
The gobblers, which had sharp, curved, inch-long spurs on their legs and 9-inch beards hanging from their chests, were so close when we shot that it would have been easy for us to cleanly miss them. Paul, whom I have hunted ducks with for many years, is a great shot and has yet to miss a turkey.
I have missed my share of gobblers, so I got some Federal Heavyweight TSS shotshells. The 3-inch shells are loaded with relatively tiny No. 9 tungsten pellets. Federal’s Tungsten Super Shot is denser than lead, so the shells pack a lot of power, even at long range. Having all those pellets also provides a lethal pattern on lovesick toms that come within first-and-goal distance.
As we admired our birds, Paul said, “That was too easy.” But I reminded him that turkey hunts like that make up for all the ones when you never hear or see a gobbler. It’ll also be a hunt that neither of us ever forgets.