In Search of Tom A Virginia Turkey Hunt

It was well into the third week of the Virginia fall turkey season when my buddy Olaf called; we decided to cut out of work early Friday afternoon and head towards his family’s farm in Fauquier County.  Olaf had been bitten by the turkey hunting bug since the season before, when he bagged his first gobbler with a bow, and has been obsessed with turkey hunting ever since.   

We got down to their farm late Friday afternoon, and as we got out of the car, we were greeted by Olaf’s family.  They told us that they had seen a couple of big turkeys down by the pond that was located just about 200 yards below the barn.  We rushed into the house and put on all of our camo gear, but by the time we got back out of the house, the birds had already begun to move up into the field behind the barns with some hens.  All we could do was sit and watch them work their way up to the woods and fly up to roost.  At least we knew where they were.  Even though we did not get to unleash an arrow, it was still an incredible sight to see on a cool fall evening.  After it got dark, we walked backed to the house where we found an incredible meal prepared by Olaf’s dad. 

We got some good footage of the turkeys from a trail cam that Olaf had set up a few weeks before, and we thought that one might have had a double beard, but it was hard to see in the pictures or video.  As soon as we stepped out of the old farm house on Saturday morning, we could hear thunderous gobbles beginning to erupt all around us.  We set up on the tip of a finger of the woods that jutted out into the field next to where the birds had come up to from the pond Friday night.  I started in with some soft yelps, to get their attention; as it got close to fly down time, I pulled the fly down call out of my bag of tricks.  A fly-down cackle is a good call to use to let gobbler know that a hen is on the ground.  As odd as it sounds, I always wait to use this call until I know the toms are on the ground.  It’s been my experience that a fly-down cackle often works best if the gobbler is already on the ground before you call.  Otherwise, a lazy tom may stay on the roost; waiting for what he thinks is a hen turkey to come to him before he flies down.

Soon after I made the fly down call, birds started running down from the ridge above and into the soybean field.  It was difficult to tell if they were toms or hens, but one bird in particular was very easy to make out.  This big tom landed towards the middle of the field and immediately went into full strut, puffing his chest out for all to see.  Through my binoculars I could clearly see not one, but two, nice, thick, long beards that were probably close to ten inches.  My heart pounded as I realized that this obese gobbler might be the biggest bird that I had seen in a few years.   

I let out a few yelps on the mouth call, and he broke strut and started trotting towards us.  He slowed down a bit, looked around, and started then to strut again; eventually, he worked his way over to our left to meet up with the second tom that had flown in right next to us, but had remained hidden behind a patch of bamboo trees.

As if this weren’t enough to focus on, the hens had moved to our right, and we were in the perfect position; toms to the left, hens to the right, decoys in the middle, and our bows nocked and ready.  I started in with some clucks and purrs on my glass slate call, and was immediately rewarded with ear drum, bone shaking gobbles.  It was clear that both birds were very close and coming even closer.  I put my call back in my pocket and grabbed my bow and got ready. 

By this time, both toms were now clearly in sight, and I was astonished at how fat they looked in full strut at 40 yards.  Everything was going just as planned; they were working their way towards the decoys that were 20 yards in front of us; when, suddenly, one of them stopped and raised his head nervously, and began looking around for signs of danger.  I thought at any moment he would turn and run, and that the other big tom would scurry off into the woods.

At that moment, I made a split-second decision.  I thought that they were no more than 35 yards, a shot I believed I could make.  I settled the sight pin on his body and released the arrow.  It felt like I swallowed my throat, when, to my bewilderedness, at the moment I released my arrow, he flew to the other edge of the field and sprinted into the woods, no worse for the wear.  I couldn’t believe that I had just shot right over top of the turkey.  I had blown my shot at possibly the biggest bird that I will ever see.  I was in complete disbelief. 

I had made one key mistake that morning.  I normally use my range finder to determine the exact distance from the decoys back to where I’m sitting, so I can better judge the distance when I cannot get to my range finder, or don’t want to make any excess movement.  I obviously forgot to do that, because I later ranged out to where the toms were, and it was 20 only yards.  Devastated, I had no clue what to do next, until we heard gobbles coming from the field at the top of a huge ridge.

It was quite a hike up to the top of the ridge to get to the field, but the sound of the gobbles getting closer and closer helped push my mind off the burning sensation coming from my thighs and calves.  As we neared the top of the road, sweat had soaked through all of my clothing.  As we got closer to the field where we thought they were, we decided to crawl the last 100 yards, or so, in case the birds were in sight of the entrance to the field.  It turns out the only thing that spotted our approach was a herd of horses who had escaped from a neighbor’s farm.

We glassed for the gobblers and found that the turkeys were on the opposite edge of the field.  I decided it would be best to stay on our side and attempt to call them to us, rather than take the chance of spooking them while trying to get closer.  I set the decoys out, and we melted into the brush a little ways from the edge of the field.

I threw out some sweet sounding yelps from my slate call, mixed in with some clucks and purrs.  I was answered by double gobbles, and watched as two toms began making their way towards us.  I threw in some KeeKee calls to see if I could get any more to answer.  After about five minutes of calling, we saw two white heads bobbing just on the other side of the hill.  The white heads soon materialized into two great looking long beards.  My heart started its usual dance as the pair looked towards the decoys and went into full strut.  They continued to work closer to us, but hung up at about 60 yards as turkeys all too often do.  They didn’t seem to like something about the decoys, and leisurely skirted past us, never coming closer than the 60 yards, no matter how much I pleaded with them.

Monday morning happened to be a holiday, so we had off and decided to stay at the farm an extra day to hunt.  We started on the opposite end of the farm where we had watched birds go to roost Saturday night.  We set up in the field where we expected them to fly down to, but that apparently wasn’t on their itinerary for the day.  They proceeded to fly down in the exact opposite direction into a cut power line and worked their way feeding up the ridge instead of moving our direction.

At this point, I was pissed, and was convinced I was going home empty handed.  We were unsure what our next move was, but figured that a weak plan was better than no plan.  We decided to head back up to the bluff in the hopes that there would still be a lonely long beard wandering around up there looking for the rest of the flock.

We were both pretty tired and worn out from hiking all across the farm, so we decided to take the Bad Boy Buggy half way up the bluff road and walk the rest.  As soon as we killed the engine on the cart, we heard another engine; it was the drone of a tractor working the very soybean field that we were headed towards.

We both had a sinking feeling that we were doomed, but as the tractor made its way to the far edge of the field and grew quiet, we both heard gobbles from the opposite end of the field.  We decided to go ahead and try our luck.  We glassed the birds in some open oaks a little ways off of the field, and set up on them.  I was able to coax just two gobbles, and a whole lot of hen talk, before the crowd went silent.  It was clear that the hens were not about to let some newcomer steal their boy from them, and moved off with the tom in toe.

I was even more pissed now, as we were once again at a loss as to what to do next.  In the meantime, the tractor had left after he finished pulling the soybeans.  A big part of me hoped that the turkeys would return, now that it was quiet, to feast on what the farmer had just left behind.

About that time, we heard a gobble from the corner of the field where the tractor had been working.  We decided to work our way around the edge of the field to where the bird was and try to be as inconspicuous as possible.  As we were about to crest a small rise in the field, Olaf put out his hand and stopped me dead in my tracks.  He had somehow spotted a tom fanned out in a corner of the field that was less than 100 yards away.  Thank goodness for his good eyes: two more steps and that tom would have busted us for sure!

We backed down the hill a ways and tucked into the woods.  Three yelps on the mouth call were answered quickly by a deep roaring gobble.  I slid the slate glass call from its pouch in my pocket, thinking this big guy was going to need some clucks and purrs to convince him to come in.  As I did, I let out a few more yelps on the mouth call and about jumped out of my skin when he let out a gobble that reverberated through me.  I realized he had already closed the distance more than half way and would be visible any second now. I set the slate glass down, and it was now “go time.”  This time, I remembered my range finder and I knew exactly what distance I was shooting. 

Just as I was about to draw, the big beautiful tom appeared in full strut, not but 20 yards away and pounded out two more gobbles.  I was in awe at how beautiful he looked in full strut, but quickly came to my senses as he stretched his neck out in search of the hen who had enticed him over with her sweet words.

I squeezed the trigger on my release, the arrow quickly found its mark in the bird, decapitating the bird and the big tom collapsed.  Olaf was the first to let out a hoot, and we commenced with back slapping and high-fives with giant smiles on our faces.  We marveled at the big tom lying in front of us and talked about how it had been such a roller coaster of emotions during the last day and a half of hunting.  The tom was a great bird with a ten inch beard and two inch spurs.  It weighed more than 25 pounds, though I didn’t get an accurate weight.  He was a great bird by anyone’s standards, and he tasted just fine.

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