PAWLET — We like to think we know what we know but, sometimes, especially when it comes to the behavior of wild animals, we get educated. And yet, there are times when logic tells you, hey, you might be on to something.
I thought I was on to something on the eighth day of the spring turkey season. In the short span of two mornings, no fewer than 11 young tom turkeys, all of them either looking on at the two hen decoys I had set out or simply strolling by, saw the objects of their affection but did nothing to suggest, “Well, hello there. Let’s get together.”
I have killed a few jake birds (1-year-old toms) over the years and their behavior can be downright perplexing. I have had them literally run into my decoys, so excited they seemed. I have had, on two occasions, seven jakes come in so close to the decoys that they nearly touched them. I have had jakes gobbling like crazy before they came in.
But not up here, high on two sprawling, green fields surrounded by tall hills and an old rustic deer camp where we flopped, dead tired, each night at about 8:30.
What was going on? There can only be one explanation: There was, somewhere out there, one very dominant tom, one that had clearly established just who he was, many weeks earlier. Dominance is the rule when it comes to turkeys and there must be one heck of a dominant tom somewhere around here because these local birds were not only reluctant to come in, they seemed terrified to do so.
So shortly after three more jakes came near, then strolled away, I took a break of sorts, reaching for the bottled water but always aware the bright bottle could betray my place, I turned my head back, lifted the cold drink, shielded with my head mask and took a long, deep drink. Then a shot boomed out, just above me, maybe 500 yards away. I was certain it was my oldest son and spring hunting companion, Dan.
I glanced at my watch. Eight a.m. Then, a thought ran through my head. It said, “Dan just shot the boss.” I can’t explain that thought; it just happened.
Situated on a steep ridge and tucked just inside the woods, Dan told me the bird came in from behind, gobbling back to the soft yelps coming from my son’s slate call. The tom then swung around the edge of the field, gobbling about a dozen times as he closed in. It was clear this tom was eager to breed but not so eager that he would approach a hen (decoy) up close as solitary toms often do. (It is a fact, most of the time, a tom gobbles back to a yelping, eager hen and it is the hen that goes to the tom. Of course, this rule is broken many times in the turkey woods or the spring kill would be meager at best.)
But this tom had experience. Most of the time, when you get a mature bird in close, say, by about 75 yards, it will approach the decoy closer and closer, trying to get some kind of mating response. But not this boy and credit should be given to Dan for waiting for a good, killing shot, rather than taking a long, risky shot that could either miss or injure the bird.
The tom then swung around, crossing a line of trees that separated two big fields, then took a good look at a second hen decoy. Still, this gobbler was not convinced that breeding was in the mix and, to Dan, the bird appeared to be heading away. Now in killing range, Dan brought his shotgun up and came away with the tom of a lifetime.
To put things into perspective, the greatest tom, scoring wise, I ever shot was in 1991 when I tagged a gobbler that scored 62-2/8. Back then, Fish & Wildlife awarded what is called a Vermont Trophy Award Program plaque and that award sits on a shelf in my study.
Dan’s tom scored 68-4/8 … bettering the old man’s gobbler considerably. And I could not be more proud.
Contact Dennis Jensen at email@example.com.