Take the Jake
by Sarah Smith Barnum - Thursday, May 12, 2016
Courtesy of NRA American Hunter
The turkey woods are the one place where I’m just part of the tree—if I sit still long enough. An unassuming turkey might stumble upon my clearing, and as my camo blends into the surrounding foliage, mistake me for the tree. And if the stars align, he’ll get close enough for the bead of my shotgun to perfectly align with the all-American colors of his head.
It’s been years since I shot my last (first) turkey, and I’ve had quite a few hunting endeavors since then. When you spend years trying to kill another turkey, and continually fail at it, you start to think you’ll never get another shot. Turkey hunting is the biggest mind game there is. When you spend enough time not seeing anything, you might just psych yourself out when you do. You might take some shots and miss. You might aim and never shoot. You might spook the birds when you move, or worse yet, they spook you. All manner of things can go awry, and about half of it is internal.
Last year I visited a small town outside of Montgomery, Alabama, where I met Becky Wood of Outdoor Women Unlimited, who put on the hunt with her fabulous OWU team. An effervescent individual who is extremely passionate about supporting women in their outdoor pursuits, Becky and I clicked instantly. She linked me up with her ex-husband, turkey hunting fanatic and expert guide, Johnnie Wood. We busted our butts trying to find a bird, but the thunder chickens wouldn’t cooperate. We heard a single gobble on the entire hunt, and didn’t see a thing.
This year I drove down to Alabama for round two with zero expectation (outside of seeing a great group of people and spending time in the woods). I figured if I got some meat to fill the freezer, great—if not, so be it.
I arrived to the hotel close to 9 p.m. and immediately went to bed. My wake-up call was set for 3:15 a.m. because we had an hour drive—Johnnie was again my guide—to a place I was told was swimming with birds. I had forewarned everyone that I was having some foot troubles—I had almost cancelled the trip—but I was determined not to let that stop me.
As fate would have it, this time around we heard plenty of birds, and that meant copious amounts of walking. On the roost the turkeys were silent, but around 7 a.m. they were up and they were loud. When we spoke they returned the call, and we set up a few different times on different birds trying to get them to come in, but not one made the final steps into view. By the end of the first day it was turkeys: 1; Sarah: 0.
On the second morning we went back to the same private property and set up after hearing one far-off-bird gobble from the roost in a spot that we thought would have us intercepting the hordes on their way to breakfast or brunch. That same bird kept gobbling faintly in the distance, and then another bird off to my right gobbled a little closer. Then another bird that sounded like it was right behind us gobbled. And then in a matter of seconds, with the sun still hidden but its light slowly spreading, a whooshing noise filled my ears. A turkey had just left the roost, followed by another and another, and another. Perhaps memory has a tendency to exaggerate, but it sounded like an orchestra of turkeys rushing to the Earth. If I thought I’d felt an adrenaline rush before, I was wrong. The realization that at least three or four turkeys were in close proximity to me was staggering—good thing I was sitting down.
About 10 minutes later I heard a familiar sound—as if a human was walking up on us. A minute after that, a hen’s head popped up from around some scrub. There’s nothing I love more than watching a turkey, regardless of gender, pop into view because you know you’re going to get a show. This time around, the hen was with two jakes, and for about 30 minutes they made a nice big circle around our decoy, staying a good distance away. Johnnie was calling and the hen was clucking away at us, but they never came close enough for me to get a shot, and to be honest, at this point I was still holding out hope for a full-grown gobbler—silly me.
After the trio made their way around, they decided we weren’t of any interest and went off to their breakfast engagement. We waited and called to see if we could pick up any of the other birds nearby, but we were unsuccessful. At this point, the disappointment had started to set in and my expectations were brought back to the reality that I may not get a bird this year. We met up with the other ladies and their guides for a quick lunch before heading back to the field and heard all the stories of, “Close, but no cigar.” Everyone seemed to be in the same boat.
That afternoon we headed out one last time. This time we went to a different property that we had permission from “The Judge” to hunt. Just knowing we were hunting the Judge’s land made me feel as though justice may be on my side.
As fate would have it, another hen and two jakes put on a show for us that afternoon. I put my pride aside and decided it was more important to have some meat for the freezer than to have a big beard or long spurs. I needed to put the bead on his head and prove to myself that I wasn’t cursed and that I could un-psych myself out. And when an opportunity for a perfect shot with the perfect setup presents itself, you do what the moment requires of you and perform to the best of your ability. I shot that jake square in the head, and he went right down. I got my meat, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Courtesy of NRA American Hunter