Turkey Slam Day 4: Finally, a gobbler on the ground

We set up this morning on a field where gobblers had been roosting earlier in the season, full of anticipation mixed with fresh reality that turkeys – especially Easterns – can frustrate the best-laid plans.

Our concern wasn’t misplaced. No sunup gobbles, not even shock gobbles to the murders of crows gossiping above the ancient live oaks and towering short-leaf pines. Three different set-ups produced the same lack of action so we broke for lunch with apprehension creeping around the edges of our afternoon plans.

Vandy oversees one of the grand plantations of North Florida, managing the land primarily for wildlife. Quail, struggling everywhere across the Southeast, aren’t declining quite as fast on this place, where timber burned periodically and security cover is strategically placed to benefit deer, quail and turkeys.

But all that careful management can’t buy a gobble some mornings, especially cool, overcast mornings deep into the season.

Afternoons, though, can be redemptive. We headed back to a stand of timber where Vandy had seen a mature gobbler over the weekend, parking well back from where we planned to call so we wouldn’t bump a bird. We were fixing to yelp when we heard a gobble just a couple hundred yards ahead of us on the two-track road. We hurriedly staked out a hen decoy, pulled up face masks, got into position and returned fire. The gobbler responded immediately and sounded like he was moving closer. Then a jake sounded off. They were coming.

Then the turkeys moved up the hill, hidden behind a screen of gum trees and dogwoods. Videographer Chuck Sumner started coaxing the birds, which were gobbling every ten seconds. But they hung up, responding but giving no ground. It became a battle of wills, Chuck begging the toms to come closer, the longbeard wearing out his pipes with booming gobbles.

Little by little, the gobblers worked down the hill, slowly coming to investigate Chuck’s soft clucks and sharp yelps. Then both of them shut up and after the longest 15 minutes of this trip, a red head stepped into view, drumming like a beehive under a kettle drum. Slowly, gobbling every fourth step, he drew into range, and Shawn took every bit of pent-up frustration anxiety out on his crimson head.

We had our first gobbler of the Slam flopping in the red clay of north Florida. High-fives, thanks and congratulations preceded a photo session. We’re now back at Vandy’s house, packing so we can hit the road at dawn. We’re off to Oklahoma, tearing our way down Interstate 10 to Lafayette, Louisiana, then north on I-49 to Shreveport, around Dallas and then I-35 to Oklahoma City and the Chain Ranch. We’ll ride hard and fast, but we’re unspeakably relieved to be packing a gobbler.

We'll greet Thursday morning in the tall grass and hardwood draws of the Sooner State, hopefully with a Rio Grande gobbler thundering into shotgun range.
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- Andrew McKean_