The five most bittersweet words in turkey hunting: Last day of the season.

I only hunted two states, but ended up hunting 30 of 35 days and it’s taken a big toll on my mind and body. I hear gobbles in my sleep and my knees and legs are going to be sore until the end of June. It was a good season. I called in a “first bird” for a friend’s daughter during the New York Youth Season in late April and then called in one other for a youngster a bit later (sadly, a miss). After shaking off an opening day miss, I called in and killed two in New England then took a nice bird after that early in the general New York season. I spent a number of days trying to call in birds for other friends to no avail. But it’s been a great ride.

Last Friday, the last day of our season, I decided to take the day off to try and kill my second bird. The prior three mornings had not been very productive but it was the last day. Anything could happen, right?

I went to a spot where I had heard five different birds at the beginning of the year. The morning broke beautifully with no wind and warm temperatures, but owl hoots, crow calls and yelps resulted in nothing.

Finally, I called from the road and heard a distant gobble. He wouldn’t answer again–I couldn’t even be sure that he was on my side of the road–but as is often the case with birds late in the year, I had to hit the woods. Then, as I worked up the hill, I heard not one but two toms. They were out in front of me a few hundred yards across a field and after a while began to answer every call I made. They weren’t moving my way, however, so I circled around the hill to try to get closer. My next calls brought double-gobbles from both so I set up quickly. An hour later, they still wouldn’t budge. I again moved up the hill carefully and now was on the same level as the birds. They hammered my next calls and my gun was up and ready. Yet another hour passed before they finally started to work my way. I could hear the gobbles getting closer, but still couldn’t see them when I heard walking to my left. I rolled my eyes in that direction to see three jakes standing 10 feet away looking for a hen. I let them walk past, started calling again and came to the realization that I suddenly had six gobblers in front of me.

I could finally see that the ones bringing up the rear were doing all the gobbling–and one was in full strut. I had a good rest and the safety was off. I pulled the trigger only to watch one bird fly off and the jakes go running. I watched intently hoping to see a flopping bird. I ran to the spot I last saw him–nothing. I searched all over and went back and paced it off. The distance was 42 yards. Further than I thought but nothing I haven’t done before. I was sick that I didn’t just let them keep coming and had screwed up my last chance of the season.

I stomped back to the truck, berating myself for not waiting a bit longer. I had waited two and a half hours to almost get them in range and then miss?

I drove off and road-called for the next hour before trying a spot where I hadn’t heard a turkey all year. I got out and called and amazingly heard a bird gobble just off the road. It was a dead-end road and I gathered up my gear so quickly that I’d completely forgotten to close my doors or take my keys. Here was a chance to make up for this morning’s miss.

I snuck along an old hedgerow to try and get closer. I set up under a pine in the shade to wait him out. He was less than 100 yards, but would only answer sparingly. After about an hour, I took out my slate and called as softly as I could. He went ballistic and finally started to break my way. At almost 11 on the last day (hunting hours ended at noon), I was going to get another chance. I was already smiling inside as I thought of the cool story I would have for my hunting buddies. As I saw him moving through the woods in full strut, I could see that he was an adult. As he stepped into the opening in front of me, I waited for him to clear a branch and then pulled the trigger for the second time that day–and watched him run off. As I stormed back to the truck, sweating in the 80-degree temperatures, I looked at my gun trying to figure out what was going on. I grabbed my scope and felt it and/or the mount move. At some point it must have come loose. A patterning shot when I got home confirmed the issue.

I hate turkeys. I’m never hunting them again.

Until next year.