By Bill Shetler
-- On May 19, 2008, after 36 years of spring gobbler hunting, my quest for a longbeard finally came to an end ... almost.
After missing my share of turkeys over the years and making some stupid decisions, you would think I would have picked up enough knowledge to be more successful. As the spring of 2008 approached, I decided it was past time for me to tag a turkey.
With a little Christmas gift money in my pocket, I bought an Outhouse Tent. A friend gave me a six-gallon bucket, on which I placed a swivel seat, and I adapted one of my video tripods into a gun tripod. I also had a folding chair with a backrest, and I confiscated a carpet from my neighbor’s spring cleanup pile. Add to that hen and gobbler decoys, and I was hunting in style!
Bill Shetler took his first Pa. buck (left) with a rifle in 1957. His first bow buck (right) was a handsome 10-pointer he took in 2007.
I shot my gun and knew it would do the job if I didn’t get too excited.
The first day of the Pennsylvania season came in on Sat., April 26. I managed to get up early — not as easy as it sounds for us retired guys — was in my tent before daylight. I called and called and didn’t see a thing. I got the same result on Monday, the next day I could hunt.
It rained on Tuesday, so I didn’t even go out. On Wednesday, I changed my strategy and climbed into my friend’s deer stand about 200 yards from my tent. I made a few calls and got an immediate answer from what sounded like a mature gobbler. I saw him twice, but he remained too far out for a shot.
We played cat-and-mouse for more than three hours, and I think he was just as frustrated as I was. We both finally just gave up.
I found out later that a friend apparently shot that beautiful bird the next day about a half mile from where I encountered him.
The frustrating part is that I had scouted the area and had made up my mind to set up my tent right where that gobbler had strutted his stuff for three hours. I’m still not sure why I opted to set it up 200 yards from there, but I moved it to where it should have been.
I hunted that location for a few days and had a few deer stop by for close encounters, but no turkeys. Needing a change of pace, I moved yet again.
With the last week of the season approaching, I had yet to fire a shot, so I began to take home a few items of gear out of the tent with me after each hunt. On May 19, I got my decoys out of the tent and placed them along the path that leads to the car. That way I could just pick them up and go after the hunt.
I got into the tent and opened the front and right-side windows — I don’t know why I left the left side zippered up.
I sat down and made a few calls and then opened up my Bible to read a chapter or two. Just a few seconds later, I heard a turkey just outside of the closed left window.
I slowly unzipped the window and looked out. Sure enough there was a tom about 15 yards away at the decoys. It was a jake, so my first thought was to let it go and hold out for a longbeard. The longer I thought about it, though, the more I realized this was probably going to be my only chance at a bird.
By this time the bird was beginning to think things weren’t quite what they should be, and it was slowly heading out. I took what I thought was a very good 30-yard shot, but to my surprise the turkey took off. I fired again, and the jake dropped and didn’t move.
I had just harvested my first spring gobbler! And I was even more happy when I walked up to retrieve my bird and realized the beard was a bit bigger than I first thought. Six inches isn’t enormous, but it’s not tiny, either.
As I admired my prize, I couldn’t help thinking that something didn’t look quite right.
When I took it to a taxidermist, the gentleman told me I had taken a rare trophy: a bearded hen.
I harvested that bird in the same area where I harvested my first Pa. bow buck in November of 2007.
My son Bryan, an excellent turkey hunter, smiled and told me I have the dumbest luck. Well, I’m 80 years old now, and I just hope my luck keeps going.