It has been suggested by wiser men than I that two can be a crowd in the turkey woods (Tom Kelly) and turkey hunting is a great one-man game (Kenny Morgan). And as there is a season for all things, I wholeheartedly agree that there is a time for a mano y mano matchup with the wild turkey. To me it does not have to be one or the other. I simply must have both some solo time and some buddy hunts. Except for the most misanthropic recluses among sportsmen and women, I would submit that any time invested in pursuit of wild turkeys with a friend makes one richer. There have been a good many tributes to huntin’ buddies and I only wish to further point out some of those merits. A good companion can share the load, impart wisdom, and add an element of safety. Two hunters don’t begin to even the odd against a wary old bird, it even creates some challenges.
Enjoying a successful turkey hunt is wonderful; sharing the experience with a friend is priceless. The best part of many grand turkey hunts is the brothers-in-arms bond created with a huntin’ buddy. This is especially evident at the climax of the hunt, where two is definitely better than one for an appropriate celebration. Upon a successful harvest, an impossible shot, or the execution of a perfectly brilliant plan, one needs a huntin’ buddy to celebrate with. Back-slaps, high-fives, and hugs generally require a party of two, lest one sustain an injury attempting these maneuvers alone.
Some support for the value of a huntin’ buddy is even manifested post-hunt. It is an unspoken, yet generally recognized fact, that turkey hunters are allowed a little embellishment to recognize their achievements. The fraternity of hunters is closely related to our fishermen brethren when it comes to ‘the one that got away.’ And there is an interesting phenomenon of how time can actually increase the size of our quarry. For instance, an emaciated gobbler taken at the end of the breeding season 15 years ago, while at his fighting weight, may balloon to 25 or even 30 pounds after years of reminisces! A huntin’ buddy certainly can keep us honest.
Consider a story of your exploits re-told or confirmed by a huntin’ buddy. Then attempt telling the same unbelievable story yourself, as the sole witness to “the story” and you will know disappointment. With no one to validate your claims of cunning or stealth, don’t be surprised when you see the darting eyes, smirks and uninterested yawns. Such hunting equivalents to the ole “I got a hole-in-one and take my word for it” might be considered half-truths, or if too elaborate, an outright lie! Yet when the turkey huntin’ buddy tells such tales of your magnificence, his words to you are like sweet honey dripping from his lips and as good as a sworn statement to others. No doubt, there are achievements of such grandeur accomplished by the buddy-less hunter that they are destined never to be revealed, lest the teller be tarred-and-feathered.
I am blessed when it comes to turkey huntin’ buddies, and have several such compatriots. They, almost as much as the turkeys, know my vices and virtues. They are certainly more forgiving than the turkeys. When I’m on my best behavior, I might even be claimed by some few as being their huntin’ buddy. I’ve introduced many friends to turkey hunting, and some have become bona fide buddies. My brothers, wife and children are especially esteemed. My father and his contemporaries that I grew up hunting with, and who mentored me, are venerated above all.
Randy Buren is a turkey huntin’ buddy of mine. Randy and I have shared some memorable deer and duck hunts, and each of us has been gnawed on pretty egregiously by the turkey hunting bug. We can hunt in each other’s company comfortably as equals, neither the teacher, both the student. We can appreciate the hunt, and not be pressured about simply filling a tag. The enjoyment is in the process itself, and when and if ‘the celebration’ does occur, it is a thing to be savored.
I recollect a hunt in which Randy and I made our pre-dawn trek to a pre-determined spot, enjoying the brief hike in the crisp, still semi-darkness. Carefully moving aside the leaf-litter, we settled against neighboring trees, sitting perpendicular to one another. I learned long ago there is value in being able to see your huntin’ buddy, considering safety and the nonverbal cues one can pick up on. Now was the time to let heartbeats and breathing slow, and to let the noise pollution from the walk in to fade away.
These moments to share the outdoors with both the creatures that rule the night and those that belong to the day are among my favorites. The steady peeping of frogs in wet ditches, the cacophony of owls and the mournful refrain of coyotes give way to the salutation of songbirds, a crowing pheasant and scurrying squirrels. Some hunts are enhanced with unexpected and delightful moments, and on this day that occurred when 2 whitetails were having a dispute on pecking order. They ran at each other and reared up on their hind legs to box with their forelegs.
Just before the rising sun melted the darkness, we were greeted by the eruption of a throaty gobble; the chorus most revered by turkey hunters. We were on a knoll facing a field enrolled in Iowa’s Conservation Reserve Program, meaning it was essentially grassland. We had a thin line of woods along an old fence row to our back to screen us, and to our immediate right was a wooded ravine. It was at the far end of the ravine to our front, maybe 300 yards, that the bird gobbled, right where he was expected to be. On this hunt, we were set up where we believed this bird wanted to be after fly-down. He was henned up, and his harem had the habit of feeding in the CRP field. We don’t often hunt with a blind, and there wasn’t sufficient cover near the bird, given the cover was all near the bottom of the ravine, and the bird would pitch down in the open field.
We were content to begin the conversation from our location, which we did by scratching out some tree yelps. Although we started with a long-distance relationship, our pleading yelps assured him of our amorous intentions. As is often the case, for the next couple hours we had a lot of promises made in turkey-tongue, but there were no commitments made. We sat and he stayed put with his hens, who likely didn’t appreciate our advances. Turns out that bird was so hot that if it would have been raining, there would have been steam coming off of him. He’d cut off our calls with a love-starved gobble. Randy and I alternated at calling, called at the same time, and at times just sat silent. The ground around me was littered with various calls…I will never be accused of being stingy with the number of calls I pack in.
Ultimately, Randy and I agreed on getting aggressive on our calls, as we were competing for his affections, after all. Finally the hormone-fueled gobbler noticeably began sounding off closer, and closer. Randy was on-deck as the shooter. I had tagged out and was there for the joy of the hunt and his company, grateful for another day afield with turkey call in hand. When the tom was within 50 yards we couldn’t see him due to the gentle swells of the terrain, but his gobbles could now be felt as well as heard. If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about! Randy abandoned his calls and shouldered his gun, and his slight nod gave me confirmation when the bird came into his line of sight.
As ungulates sport horn or antler and predators tooth and claw, so the wild turkey cock in the spring is resplendent in design. This bird was no exception, and his arcing tail fan rose over the hilltop, followed by his shimmering robe of feathers and vividly colored head. As when any wild creature falls to feed and clothe me, I have a momentary and respectful reflection. Randy shares my view of the right and responsibility of man to enjoy, but be a good steward of God’s creation. We both appreciate the hunt, are thankful for the life of animal that enriches ours, and can execute a perfect 10 on a huntin’ buddy celebration! My grandfather said once he was glad his grandsons were shooting game instead shooting up drugs. And I can’t imagine a high to compare to the thrill of the physical exertion, mental challenge and joy of success that comes from a successful hunt.
The weight of a turkey and the length of its beard and spurs are statistics that interest turkey hunters. My records show this particular turkey weighed 23 pounds and change in 2009 when harvested. I guess Randy and I have kept each other honest, so this bird never gained any weight in the intervening years. The spurs were sharp and the beard was long and thick enough. And the real measure of that hunt, and in others like it, was in the warmth of friendship, broadness of smiles, and depth of memories created. Those have aged pretty well and need no embellishment.
***The above is a guest post written by Brent Rogers. The content above remains the property of Brent Rogers, and www.iamturkeyhunting.com has the expressed written consent of Brent Rogers to post the article here.