Blurb: Have patience and learn the lay of the land to take a call-shy gobbler.
As we sat in the predawn light, Bo Pitman, one of the owners of White Oak Plantation in Tuskegee, Alabama, whispered, “I’m just going to give that tough tom one soft cluck and a yelp.” The Ghostbuster Gobbler had talked to the timber since just before first light. For three days, Pitman and I had chased the Ghostbuster over White Oak’s 28,000 acres as this mature bird gobbled well from the roost and kept on gobbling until we called to him. Although we’d seen him several times, whenever we set up an ambush, the smart tom would take a different route.
The Ghostbuster, one of those legendary call-shy turkeys, had survived for at least 2 years. His elusiveness had earned him his name. If you went to him when he gobbled or called to him, he would vanish like a ghost. But when a gobbler screamed 100 yards from you, every instinct in you would tell you that you needed to let the bird know your position. As soon as Pitman gave one call this day, the big gobbler shut up again.
When day broke, from our stand in a small stretch of woods with a hardwood field on one side and a creek on the other, we watched the bird strutting and drumming on a limb over the creek through our binoculars.
We decided we still had a 50/50 chance of getting the Ghostbuster if we simply waited. By 8:00 a.m., a flock of eight hens had formed beneath the gobbler’s tree. Without saying a word, the old gobbler took off and landed right in the middle of them, which gave him a moving protective armor.
Pitman and I watched through our binoculars as the Ghostbuster fed on acorns with his hens and bred them. Although I had an extreme case of fanny fatigue from four hours of sitting, Pitman advised quietly, “We’ve just got to wait the Ghostbuster out. Anything we do now except wait will be wrong.”
We knew that to successfully hunt a call-shy gobbler, patience and woodsmanship had to become our most important allies. From the information Pitman had gathered on this tom, he realized if we called to or tried to reposition ourselves on the bird or moved even the slightest, we never would get a chance for a shot.
Out in front of the strutting Ghostbuster Gobbler, the hens moved closer to where Pitman and I sat shoulder to shoulder, trying not to breathe. I already had my CVA Trapper on my knee. When the hens passed within 15 yards of us, the Ghostbuster stood out in the open – at least from Pitman’s vantage point. He whispered, “John, you better shoot the gobbler now.”
However, I only could see the Ghostbuster’s tail feathers sticking out from behind a tree. I’d cocked the hammer on the Trapper earlier when I’d spotted the birds at about 60 yards to keep them from hearing the click it made. I had my cheek against the stock and my head down. Then I heard a hen cluck.
“She’s spotted us,” Pitman observed quietly. To learn what had alarmed the hen, the Ghostbuster stepped out from behind the tree, took about two steps toward us and put his head up like a periscope. As soon as the bead on the end of my barrel intersected the place where the Ghostbuster’s wattles and neck came together, I squeezed the trigger. The sky filled suddenly with turkeys crashing into limbs and their wings beating the air, as the big birds fought frantically to escape into the sky.
The smoke at the end of my Trapper barrel kept me from seeing anything. But, I heard Pitman’s words, “Good shot, John, you got him.”
Although my legs had gone to sleep, Pitman rose quickly and sprinted to the Ghostbuster like a cottontail with a pack of beagles right behind him. He grabbed the turkey by the feet, lifting him into the air.
My watch reported the time as 11:10 a.m. We’d sat patiently and sometimes impatiently in that same spot since 4:45 a.m., the longest I’d ever waited on one turkey. But I considered the legendary, call-shy Ghostbuster definitely worth the wait. He’d defeated all the hunters in the area who had used conventional methods.
I recalled what the late Ben Rodgers Lee, five-time World Champion turkey caller from Coffeeville, Alabama, had told me two decades before. He’d learned from his vast experience of hunting call-shy gobblers: “There are some turkeys that you have to make a decision between calling to them or killing them. If you want to bag these toms, then you can’t call to them.”
The Squirrel-Tail Gobbler
Joe Smith of Uniontown, Alabama, and I sat on the edge of a greenfield, longer than its width, that went down the side of a steep hill. A logging road ran from the hill’s top to its bottom into a beautiful hardwood swamp. On the other side of the greenfield, the Squirrel-Tail Gobbler talked turkey as loud and as clear as you ever would want to hear.
“You better call to him, Joe, and let him know we’re here,” I suggested quietly.
But with a smile, Smith whispered back, “No, sir, I’m not going to call to that turkey, because that’s what everyone else has done who hasn’t killed him.”
As the turkey gobbled without moving, I insisted, “Joe, don’t you think we should try to close the distance on the gobbler – particularly if we’re not going to try to call to him?”
Smith grinned back and answered, “No, sir, that’s what everyone else has done who has attempted to bag that ol’ Squirrel-Tail Gobbler.”
We held our ground and listened to the tom talk to the timber. When I asked Smith why he’d named the turkey the Squirrel-Tail Gobbler, he answered, “I’ve spotted that smart bird with a beard as thick as a squirrel’s tail a bunch of times for the past 3 years. Since I already know everything that won’t work to take that turkey, today we’ll let the Squirrel-Tail Gobbler move to where he wants go.”
As the tom came closer, I decided he either would move through the bottom and its hardwoods, or he would walk the road at the top of the field.
“Joe, don’t you think we should either set up at the bottom or on the top of the field?” I questioned. “The bird’s getting close.”
The Squirrel-Tail Gobbler moved to less than 100 yards of us, gobbling about every 30 seconds. Then he started going up the hill.
Smith whispered, “Stay low, and get to the top of the hill before he does.”
We reached a small patch of sweetgums just at the edge of the top of the hill and waited there on the Squirrel-Tail Gobbler, which had quit gobbling. For 20 minutes, we sat motionless without hearing a turkey sound.
When I told Smith I thought the tom either had gotten with hens or seen us move, Smith answered, “No, he’ll be here directly. Get that smokepole on your knee, cock the hammer, and be ready to take him.”
We hadn’t called to this turkey all morning. Smith had explained earlier that the turkey was call shy and we couldn’t call if we wanted to keep up with him. We’d have to “outhunt him.”
Another 20 minutes passed. I became more discouraged. The weight of the Trapper seemed to have grooved a crease in my knee. When I told Smith I didn’t believe the Squirrel-Tail Gobbler ever planned to move in our direction, Smith replied, “Yes, sir, he’s coming – just sit still.”
Thirty minutes later, Smith whispered, “There he is. I told you the Squirrel-Tail Gobbler would come down that road.”
The turkey strutted and drummed as he walked to the road at the top of the field. Any hens in the field or the hardwood bottom below could see the Squirrel-Tail Gobbler. He soon let out one of the most thunderous gobbles I’d ever heard that seemed to shake the ground.
Mesmerized by the thick-bearded gobbler, I had to break out of a stare when I heard Smith whisper, “The road dips down about 20 yards from us, and then the turkey can’t see us. Go ahead, make your final adjustments, and aim for the dip. Then when the turkey comes up out of the dip, you can take the shot.”
As Smith had predicted, the Squirrel-Tail Gobbler vanished into a dip in the road. I moved slightly, put my cheek against the stock securely and aimed straight down the barrel.
When Smith asked, “John, are you ready?” my heart beat so fast it almost made my camouflage shirt jump. “Ok, John, I’m going to make that turkey come up out of the dip so you can shoot him.”
I heard Smith scratching in the leaves beside me. Immediately I spotted the white crown of the top of the gobbler’s head and heard Smith say softly, “Better shoot him.”
But I held my shot until the tom had come fully out of the dip in the road and looked straight at us before squeezing the trigger on my CVA Trapper. The Squirrel-Tail Gobbler went down in a pile of feathers on the road.
When you hunt call-shy gobblers, you can’t call them in like you do other turkeys. Woodsmanship, patience and a thorough knowledge of what the turkey likes and where he likes to do it all will enable you to bag a gobbler like this. You have to hunt a gobbler that won’t come to a call like you do a deer that hunters have shot at and missed several times. You have to live with him until you learn all you can about him. Then, you must wait and pray that he’ll make a mistake.