By Steve Kofahl
The 2008 spring turkey hunt rolled around with a 3 year gap since my friend Ron cooper Jr. had harvested a turkey. We would be hunting together on our vacation and had decided, if a single bird came in , he would have first crack at him.
I arrived at his fathers farm the morning before our opening day to try and figure out where the birds were roosting and their travel route. As the hint of light in the came that morning , so did the thunderous sound of three different groups of turkeys. One of which was really close to the house. Not wanting to disrupt their pattern , I quickly made my exit from the woods before they had a chance to fly down. I went back to the house and could still hear the birds gobbling, even after fly down. I could tell the birds were traveling east , after they hit the ground. That evening I went back out to confirm that they were still roosting in the same spot. As darkness fell and the sound of a hoot-owl broke the silence, the gobbling sound that I wanted to hear followed. Now all we had to do was come up with a plan on how to set up on these birds. Jr. arrived and I told him of my scouting effort and we began a plan of attack.
Opening morning came and we were set up about 150yards east of where they were roosting. We thought this was far enough away that when they flew down they would be grouped up by the time they got to us and we could score on a double. When daylight came, I gave a few soft tree calls to let the gobblers know they had a sweet sounding hen in the direction of their intended route. Jrs. Eyes lit up as the sound of several gobblers made their presence known, right where I told him they were.They sounded off too many times to count, but with each time, our anticipation grew. We readied ourselves in anticipation of the fly down by getting comfortable with our guns steadied on our knees. I gave them a fly down cackle with the slapping sound of my hat on my leg to let the boys know I hit the ground and I’m ready for courtship. Moments later, like a 747 jet coming in for a landing, a lone , anxious to be the first one there gobbler, came in for a landing right in front of us. He had our location pin-pointed, as he started walking straight to us. closer and closer he came. When he got to within 20 feet, I figured I better tell my buddy to take him and not wait for the others to show up. Right when I whispered , “take him” , I seen 3 more coming in for a landing. With a big ol’ longbeard at 20 feet , that’s a gimme, right? Wrong! As I heard the resounding boom of a three and half inch magnum going off , I seen his bird running off as he followed up with 2 more shots not ruffling a feather. The other gobblers that had come in for a landing also were gone in flash. A long pause of silence was broken with my buddy saying “ I can’t believe I missed”. Instead of high-fiving and celebrating a successful opening morning , we mulled over what happened and my buddy spent what was left of the morning beating himself up for missing. Later that morning we were back at the house and I asked my buddy, “ what do you think a pro would say?” He looked at me wondering. I replied “ I’m no seasoned veteran but I’m not really a rooky either.” “Did you pattern your gun before the season?” Followed by a big NO! Ok . So I found some turkey head targets and set him up outside at the same yardage of which he shot at earlier that morning. His pattern barely clipped the upper right corner of the paper, leaving the head of the turkey unscathed. I made the adjustment on his rear sight and told him to aim at the lower neck instead of the head. The next shot destroyed the target. Now your ready to hunt turkeys. This was a valuable lesson learned the hard way. That evening we went out to roost some birds and was surprised to find that group of birds from the morning hunt were back in the same spot.We tried the same set-up the next morning, but they flew down and went the other way. That wasn’t surprising after the run-in they had the morning before with us.
That night my hoot-owl call gave us the location of a group of gobblers that we hadn’t hunted yet. This is where our next morning efforts would be. The birds were gobbling good, but not at my calls that morning. They stayed in a valley for over an hour, gobbling from time to time. I told Jr. I was going to try something different. I gave a series of fighting purrs and they went nuts gobbling every time I did it. Two jakes broke away from the flock and circled around to my left and started coming in. They got to within 40 yards of me, offering a shot , but I opted to pass on it as to try and let them get to where we both had a shot. That chance never presented itself , and they retreated. A few more fighting purrs coaxed three longbeards to come in and see what all the ruckus was about. They followed the same route the jakes did. And again one offered me a 40 yard shot, which I passed for the same reason as before. ( I should have smoked him.) The three gobblers went up on the side of the hill and hung up there cautiously looking down in the flat where we were poised motionless. The tense moment was broken when a coyote came by and stopped right in front of the three longbeards. So there we sat, playing stare-out with three gobblers and a coyote. The gobblers didn’t spook, which amazed me. They were no more than ten feet from each other. As the coyote looked down at us , the only reason he wasn’t going after the turkeys is that he was thinking about where he stood on the food chain at that moment with us being there. With that he trotted off and left the three gobblers standing at attention looking in our direction. I gave them a couple of soft clucks trying to influence them to come down to us and they slowly turned and started going up the hill away from us. I told my buddy ,”lets throw the lead at ‘em” One…..two……B-BOOM!!! They scattered in every direction without a feather touched. I guess I under-estimated the yardage. I thought we could reach them, but apparently not.
It was still early, so we decided to go to the west end of the farm where we heard some gobbling prior to our 3 and a half inch magnums bringing a silence to everything within hearing distance. As we neared or destination, the resounding ping…….ping…..ping of a construction crew driving piling for a new bridge , halted us in our tracks. They were only 4 or 5 hundred yards away from us. This could go on all day, I told Jr. So , what do you want to do he asked. Well maybe the sound will push some turkeys in our direction. Since we’re almost there, we might as well try it for it a little while. I sat on a log under my deer stand while Jr. nestled into a tree next to the 4-wheeler path. The rhythmic ping seemed to be in our back pocket. Not exactly the serenity you would expect while being in the turkey woods. I looked over at Jr. and he was sanding his slate call. I figured he was going to wait for lull in the construction noise and give a few calls. When the silence came I looked over at him and he looked as if he was relaxing to take a nap instead of making a few calls. My diaphragm call was in my mouth and ready, so I belted out a series of my best yelps. The sound of two gobblers in unison erupted across the creek from us, not 60 yards away. We both sprung into the kill mode. With our guns up and ready, I heard Jr. say, “there they are.” They had come up to the edge of the creek to look for that sweet talking hen. I couldn’t see them for a couple of big trees were in the way. A Few seconds later they walked the edge of the creek-bank where I could see them. At this point, I was the only one who had a shot at one of the longbeards cause Jr. was behind me. Turkeys do not like crossing barriers like a big creek. I couldn’t see this situation getting any better because of that. I also had passed up two opportunities earlier that morning, trying to get a double kill. My better judgment took over as I eased the safety off and waited for the one I was focused on to reach a clearing. When he stepped into the opening , my fiber-optic sights were settled on his lower neck. With the Squeeze of the trigger, that flopping sound of a downed bird was a sound of success. I turned and gave Jr. a thumbs up and he whispered to me,”wheres the other one?” While my bird fluttered around , I gave a few more calls with no response from the second gobbler. He was nowhere to be seen. I looked back at jr and he was going down in his sights. Seems the other one had went down the creek and crossed over to our side. I didn’t want to turn around and possibly spook him. So I kept my eye on my buddy to watch his reactions. Jr.s eyes shifted over to me , and with his trigger finger , he motioned for me to give a call. I gave a few soft sweet yelps and a long pause followed. Again he motioned for me to call again. A few moments later, I seen him settle into his sights. He took the shot and I quickly turned around to see his bird flying away.Another miss. It didn’t take long to realize the shot was further that he thought. I went and retrieved my bird from across the creek. He was healthy 2 year old that tipped the scale at 20 pounds and sported a 10 ½ inch beard with 1 inch spurs. After a few high fives and congrats on my part, I was headed back to the house with my trophy strung over my shoulder. Jr. decided to slip up the hill to the back 40 and try hunting there for a while. I had a wonderful long walk back, stopping from time to time to rest and take few pictures of this magnificent bird. It was another beautiful early spring morning I’ll never forget.
Jr. spent the next few hours on the back forty with nothing more than the recollection of the five shots he had taken so far without ruffling a feather to keep him company. That night we went out to try and roost some bird for the next mornings hunt. We found ourselves sitting on a log by the lake looking down behind the dam just before dark. The trees hadn’t leafed out yet, so our view was spectacular to say the least. “There’s a turkey” Jr. whispered. Sure enough, across the valley, on top of the next ridge, was a lone gobbler looking for a tree to roost in. A moment later he ran down the hill towards us and took flight in our direction. He landed in a tree in the valley below us. With 20 minutes of light left, we sat motionless so we didn’t spook the bird. Soon we heard the leaves rustling in front of us. 6 deer fed on the hillside in front of us, not 20 yards away. Then the leaves were rustling behind us. We thought it was more deer and they were getting very close. Being careful not to spook anything, I slowly turned my head maybe an inch and looked out of the corner of my eye to see 2 turkeys within 10 feet of us. The flapping of their wings felt like we were under a helicopter taking off as they flew into the trees next to us to roost for the night. Now we have to stay a little longer so we don’t spook them. After three days of turkey hunting, the ol’ rear end is getting mighty sore from sitting for hours on end. This made the task of sitting still a tough order. We managed to wait till dark and slipped out of there without spooking anything. We spent the next couple of hours talking about which birds we were going to go after and where the best place to set up on them. We decided that we would go after the first gobbler we seen. I thought the single bird would be easier to call into gun range. We slipped in behind this bird and set a hen decoy out by 5:00am. By 5:15 am there was gobbling all over the farm, making us wonder if we made the right choice. When daylight broke, I started out with some soft yelps to let our feathered friend know of our whereabouts. After a while of silence, it was obvious that he had flown down and was on the move. His next gobble was to our left. It sounded as if he was headed away from us, so I cranked it up a notch and gave him the excited hen yelps. His next gobble was closer and made us realize he was coming in to investigate. Jr. turned and positioned himself in the direction of the gobbler. I gave a few sharp clucks and decided not to call anymore as to play hard-to-get. He gobbled again, much closer than before. After a minute of silence, Jr. whispered “there he is.” He was coming up the 4-wheeler trail we had come in on. I was looking right over my buddies shoulder, down his gun barrel at the hot gobbler. I could see there were some twigs in the way of his shot. The bird got to within 20 yards and went behind a tree as he was going to go in behind us. One cluck from my diaphragm call and he made an about face and took the two steps toward the hen decoy that was needed to give Jr. the shot. The next few moments can only be described as sweet redemption. After 3 years and 6 missed shots without tagging a bird, he finally redeemed himself with a 20 pound gobbler that had a 9 ½ inch beard , with 1 1/8 inch spurs . High fives, and congratulations were exchanged. He thanked me for going out with him and do the calling, which I was more than happy to do. It was a vacation both of us will never forget.
Special thanks go Ron Cooper sr., who made this all possible