Sometimes it actually helps to be a bit on the stubborn side, especially when after an old gobbler.
But spending time never guarantees success, especially in the turkey woods.
And when we finally score, we say with conviction, "Ah persistence. We were perseverant, or we were tenacious."
Really, we were stubborn.
But a subtle, light calling pattern should be right up front in the stubborn turkey hunter’s tool belt and within easy reach, especially at the end of the season.
I remember one bird should have been dead the first time.
The steep north face of the hill would be called by most a mountain. The steep slope was the domain of Maidenhair fern, Mountain maple (striped maple), and a few Olean conglomerate rock outcroppings. And above it all strutted a tom turkey.
To make a long story short, we dropped over the northern lip and half slid and scrambled down to a lower bench. A rain-laden front was moving in from the south and its wind gusts had been rocking the treetops since dawn. We hadn't heard a gobble.
Not the best day to hunt turkey.
Instead of quitting though, we decided to hunt the lee side of the hill, there at least we could hear when nothing answered.
Halfway along our descent we spooked a hen.
Now this was just after dawn and it was our learned guess that maybe she was on her way to hook up with the tom, being just off the roost.
One slight yelp on the mouth call brought out a loud and immediate gobble from down towards the bottom the ravine.
My hunting buddy and I gave each other that immediate hard look.
Eyes locked while faces were hidden by camouflaged facemasks. That look that spelled one thing. The tom was close, and ready to come in.
We both scrambled for trees and set up on, about 30 yards from each other.
One more call and a quick gobble told us the bird was coming in on the run.
Imagine his big black bulk; red, white and blue head, and heavy beard dragging through the umbrella-shaped May apples.
And all of a sudden, there he was.
Thirty yards away and starting to puff up, that is, go into "display," or strut. That’s when a gobbler drops his wings, fans his tail, and tucks his red, white, and blue head back into the mass of feathers.
My safety clicked off, I was right on him with the 12-gauge shotgun resting on my knee in the classic turkey shooting position. My partner up the hill was exactly the same.
Now I had tagged one bird earlier so I waited for him to shoot (in NYS you are allowed two toms per season,) expecting any second and steeling my nerves for his sudden gun blast. "Shoot, shoot, shoot."
Just the wind above.
And the bird was not stupid, saw us, spun, "putted" a couple of times and dropped back over the lip of the bench. As he did, I let go with a shot, a split-second too late.
I said, "Why didn't you shoot?"
He replied, "I was waiting for you, he was closer to you!"
I sprawled on the brown beech leaves laughing at the sky, "But I was waiting for you to shoot! I already have one beard, I couldn't shoot a bird right in front of you!"
"We should have talked about it."
He said, "It's going to take all day to get over that one!"
The tom was a dandy that either of us could have shot, but we were each waiting for the other to shoot. That bird had two shotguns trained on his head at no more than 25 yards and lived to gobble another day.
To make a long story shorter, the next day we tried again to get him. We called him up the ridge from his roost and he gobbled on top, but wouldn't come in. The old tom led us on a wild goose chase, down the slope, across the bench and halfway down through the lower woods.
After a few days rest, we went back again and were on the bench at daylight with resolve. This time whomever has the shot takes it!
We didn’t kill the turkey, but we sure talked the if-and-when next time to death.
So we were ready this time.
The bird was working back and forth, gobbling up a storm. And all of a sudden, the sound every turkey hunter hates to hear: "Yerch, yerch, Yerch." Another turkey hunter had moved in.
Not only did the other turkey hunter crowd in, but he cut us off, moving downhill between us and the old gobbling tom, no more than 100 yards away.
Not only is this poor sportsmanship to crowd in on other callers, but it is also dangerous. In heavy foliated woods, that kind of behavior is a setup for an accident.
We could tell by the loud calling, occasional snap of sticks by heavy boots, that the game was soon to be over and the bird would be flushed to sail on outstretched wings away down the valley.
We just shook our camouflaged heads.
Never needed to say a word.
Sure enough, the bird shut up.
But the other hunter stayed there, pounding on his call.
We headed the opposite way until we couldn’t hear the racket any more.
The last day of the gobbler season that year was Memorial Day and this stubborn turkey hunter had to have one more duel with the old tom if he was still above the ground.
Couldn't go anyplace else, even though there were a couple other gobblers that just begged to be hunted too.
Well, sure enough, the old bird was right there at dawn, right where he was supposed to be on the lip of the bench, and gobbling his fool head off.
But as before, the other turkey hunter moved in too, coming in from the west.
You have to hand it to him, he was a stubborn turkey hunter too, but his aggressive calling technique wouldn’t work on that bird that day. Sometimes when working a bird, a subtle, patient, calling pattern is the better strategy when pounding on the call just doesn’t work and won’t bring him in no matter how many times we stubbornly run the striker over the box call.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.