Shafts vs. Shells
"Remember," he added, "I'd never shot a turkey before. It was amazing hearing the bird come to the call. Because other than ducks, and perhaps rattling deer, to communicate with a creature like that and know that it's coming-it's almost unexplainable. Then, out of nowhere, I could see his feet moving. I wasn't even sure it was a tom. But when I saw that lit-up red head, and the way he was focused on those decoys, I knew that we were in business. What really amazed me," he added, "is that even at that distance, he never saw me."
Meanwhile, I remained completely clueless as to what was happening. The bird had gone mute; I didn't dare move, and Ron was completely fixated on the opening with the shotgun up on his right knee. When the Mossberg 835 pump offloaded the Winchester Supreme 3-inch load of high-velocity #6 turkey shot, it almost bowled me over.
Bear in mind, Ron Ward is walking around-in this case, sitting-on an artificial hip. Having broken a hip myself, I know how tough it is to get up fast. But when that scattergun sounded off he bolted off the ground like the Million Dollar Man and raced into the clearing.
He beat me to the bird. And we did a high-five version of the "Happy Dance" that would've made even my old pal Reavis Wortham swell with pride. Meanwhile, McIntyre and Kyle had struck out.
The next morning, Ron and I set out in search of hogs. McIntyre dropped us off at two separate stands with corn feeders, after which we saw enough turkeys to fill a cattle truck. At about 8:00, Ron put a fat 150-pound feral porker on the ground. Kyle and Ross, meanwhile, were busy stalking the opposite side of the creekbottom that Ron and I had covered the evening before.
"When we got out of the bunkhouse, we could already hear the birds gobbling," Kyle recalled. "We got within a few hundred yards of the creekbottom, parked the truck in a concealed area and started heading for the trees. We settled in, put on our face masks and Ross started calling. Six different roosts talked back to us." Eckhardt focused on the nearest bird and signaled Kyle to follow him. "We got as close as we dared; about 250 yards away from the roost tree, and then set up the decoys," he continued. "It was a single in an oak tree, and he sounded like he was sitting in my front pocket. Unfortunately, he hopped out and flew across the other side of the creek. So, we worked back down to the only dry spot on the creekbed and crossed over again."
At that point, the duo heard another bunch of birds sound off around 400 yards to the west. "Ross would call," said Kyle, "and they'd answer. He'd call again; they'd answer again." Not a single, mind you, but several gobblers. One group, farther off in the distance and oblivious to the calling, were doing their own talking without being prompted. Given the excited nature of the birds and considering the sheer number of toms making the noise, Eckhardt and Kyle decided to zero in on them.
"We listened to the birds talk as we approached them,": Kyle said.. "When we were about 150 yards between two different roosts, we set up again. We huddled beneath a large mesquite tree that was fringed with some thick underbrush," he explained. "It was open all around us, but we were still well covered." With the sun at their backs, the two hunters had arrived at a near-perfect bring-'em-in scenario.
"I had heard about turkey hunting, about how it got your adrenaline flowing and made you shake like a leaf," Kyle commented. "But until I heard them answer that first call at such a close distance, I had no idea what to expect."
What he got was an eye-opening display of Rio Grande turkey behavior-a remarkable experience, especially for a veteran archer who had never before killed a gobbler and had nonetheless decided to take his first tom in the most challenging fashion possible.
"We were covered head-to-toe with Realtree Advantage camo," recalled Kyle. "The decoys were about 20 yards out, right in the open in a clear shooting lane. The birds on the left talked for a while; then the birds on the right sounded off. Then, for no apparent reason, they all shut up."
Kyle and Ross sat and waited. Finally, the first gobbler approached from around 150 yards to the left. Then another, and another, and yet another. Three of the four were in full strut.
"It seemed like it took them forever to get close," Kyle said. "Ross cut the calling to a minimum, hoping they'd see the decoys and come on in. When they got about 75 yards away, the three strutters broke away and moved in to around 20 yards broadside. They were behind the brush, though. Something had them rattled, so they stopped moving and locked up beyond the ground cover.
"The fourth bird finally came in, followed by another gobbler we hadn't seen before. He was strutting big-time. The non-strutting bird came in and pushed the rest out into the open. I pulled back, took aim, and then realized that the two birds were lined up like dominos. I didn't want to hit both at once, so I waited for the third. He walked past the pair, stepped into the open and I let fly on him as he quartered away."
The arrow, a 29-inch-long Easton XX75 2413 rigged with a 90-grain Puckett Gobblerstopper, entered the bird's right wing, went through its back and then passed through its neck-a perfect shot. "At that point, I saw something I couldn't believe," Kyle remarked. "When the bow went off, the other gobblers hopped around a bit. But they didn't leave. They strutted around for a few seconds and puffed up even larger. And then, watching the already-dead tom flop around, they moved in and pecked at him. Then," he added, "they commenced to tear into him like a pack of starved hyenas. All of them did it, but two of 'em got really carried away.
"We decided at that point that we'd better go get him. I was 10 yards away from the tree before the attacking gobblers realized I was there and headed for parts unknown."
The tom wasn't a long-bearded monster, but neither was he a half-grown jake. He weighed around 16 pounds, with a 6-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. He was also one of the most brightly-plumed toms I've ever seen, with feathers that glowed an iridescent mix of bronze, orange, red and blue in the soft light of the early-morning sun. Any gobbler taken with a bow is a trophy bird, however, and being that this was Kyle's first-ever, downed with a PSE Mach-8 compound set at 60 pounds, it was, he said, "a dream come true." A dream that many archers who have spent years trying hard have yet to experience.
Turned out Kyle isn't just a top-flight archer; he's also a very good actor. Ron and I walked in to camp, where McIntyre, Eckhardt and Kyle stood by the truck with faces that looked as if they'd just left a funeral.
"Do any good?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"Nope," Kyle responded. "We didn't even see a bird, much less get a shot at one."
"I can't believe it," added Eckhardt. "I just knew they'd show up this morning."
"Too bad," I answered. "But hey; we still have another day. Don't give up, man; you'll get one yet. Ron and I saw a bunch of 'em off our hog stands."
"Bozka," McIntyre said, "take a look behind you." There, dead as a hammer, laid Kyle's freshly-killed gobbler.
I will not-make that can not-relay to you what I said after that. Gotta give 'em credit, though. Those guys fooled me, and fooled me good.
It appears that we're going to be allowed the privilege of hunting on the Ingram's magnificent ranch again this spring. Let's just say that, aside from the usual pre-trip planning, I'm already cooking up some plans of my own. And they don't have anything to do with turkey hunting.
I'd tell you all about it, but they'll find out soon enough.
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