Oak Duke: Old Tom was bushwhacked

Oak Duke

Sounds like the title of this column came straight out of a scene in a Western novel, or maybe clipped from one of the old cowboy movies we used to watch. (Some of us still do.)

The tom in this story isn't a "horn-swagglin', mangy, sidewinder" or a gunfighter dressed in black - it's a turkey gobbler.

But then experienced turkey hunters mutter those kinds of words, and even worse, after dripping with perspiration, frustration, and exasperation during a springtime gobbler hunt.

An experienced turkey hunter came into the office near the end of the regular season, with the tired look of an obsessed gobbler hunter.

Not much to show for his efforts so far in the turkey woods but trophy-sized bags under his eyes. (That's one result of too many 4 a.m. rises.)

But he still had his camo on, and it was late afternoon.

This usually means one thing when a hunter shows up here at "the paragraph factory." He had something he was proud of in the back of the truck and wanted a picture.

But every turkey has a story - and you have to hear the story.

And the story is about Old Tom.

This bird was one of those certified un-callable gobblers.

Here, we have a bumper crop of turkeys. Matter of fact, just about everyone said, at the start of last season, "Never seen so many hens, or heard so much gobbling. ..."

Should be a great season, right?

The more, the better, right?

Well, not everything works out like we figure it will in the turkey woods. As a matter of fact, the contrary is the norm.

Here, this past season, there were many hens, and likewise many, more than ever, 2-, 3- and 4-year old toms, dominant gobblers.

So the setup of the story is that the boss birds had plenty of girlfriends, seemingly all he wanted to handle.

Back in the old days, 20, 30 years ago toms would run down one side of a hollow and up the other if they heard a hen yelp.

Those days are long gone.

Nowadays after they hear our calls, sure, they might answer.

And sometimes the reply could be downright excited, "Come on, baby!" But certainly and more usually they were only paying us the courtesy of an obligatory gobble.

"Hello, nice hearing from you. Bye, bye. Maybe some other time."

While we walked to the turkey hunter's truck he said, "Uncommon turkeys calls for uncommon tactics."

The hunter explained, as he told the story, that he had noticed a couple toms displaying in the late morning, impressing their girlfriends in the corner of a small meadow. And try as he might, he couldn't get them to budge.

Day after day, he would call and call, they would gobble and strut, but wouldn't come closer or leave the corner of their field.

But he had a tree stand in that corner. After all, it's where he shoots deer when they pass by right? What's the difference, turkey or deer? We don't HAVE to call a deer in with rattling antlers or a grunt tube.

And we pass shoot ducks. We don't HAVE to have decoys. Right?

Well, that morning found him in his deer stand. And sometime in the late morning, he first saw a tom run across the field to the corner, overlooked by the hanging deer stand. Then a few hens came out of the woods, and behind them, the big, old tom.

You know the rest of the story, as they say.

The big tom came sauntering across the field; and the shotgun eased around one of the trunks of the big maple tree and just barked once.

Nice tom. Weighed in at just shy of 20 pounds, 9-inch beard, spurs a good, solid inch.

But old Tom was bushwhacked.

There are those of us who might second-guess the turkey hunter, saying that's not the way to do it. The sport of gobbler hunting in the spring is to use calls and call them in, and if one is shot by any other hunting tactic, it is not kosher, not sporting, not playing by the rules, not much different than "limbing a bird," which is shooting a gobbler out of a tree before it flies down.

And then there are others who would say, "Good for him." He hunted the bird, fair and square. So what if he didn't use a call. He tried. That didn't work, so he used another tactic."

"That bird won't taste one bit better if it had been called in."

But I'm not so sure.

Some say, bushwhacked turkeys taste a bit like crow, no matter how you cook them.

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