Carlisle turkey hunter Don Manning has been out after spring gobblers for a lot of years and like many other hunters he sees a special challenge in each bird taken.
Don has a story about every bird and remembers details. For Don, there is nothing like being in the spring woods before first light, waiting for his surroundings to come alive.
As Don tells it, the first sound is usually the Eastern Whip-poor-will followed by a chorus of small songbirds. Crows sound in the distance as darkness fades.
“The next sounds you usually hear or want to hear is a gobble, hopefully close to your location,” Don says. “There’s nothing like it, if you have never heard a gobbler sound off as daylight transpires, you are missing it.”
Don got his turkey this year. It was a “tough old bird” and one he won’t forget.
“I worked this bird three consecutive days and finally out-smarted him,” Don says.
The first day he located the turkey was the first Monday in May.
“I was at my tree at 4 a.m., and in the beginning of the season it didn’t get light until 6,” Don says. “He gobbled less than 100 yards from me. I made some soft clucks, then shut up. It pays to stay away from yelping, especially on public land. He gobbled two or three time, then just disappeared.”
In the same tree, same time the next day, Don heard the bird gobble near daylight not far from where it roosted the day before.
The turkey answered every call Don made. It was a signal. “I figured he was sneaking in on me, and he was,” Don says. “There he was at the top of the ridge, less than 35 yards away, but behind a blown down pine tree.”
The turkey was strutting and gobbling, but not moving enough to present a good shot. “The last thing I wanted to do is blow this. I let him go,” Don says. “In an instant he was gone, down over the edge. There was silence for at least 30 minutes.”
Then, the turkey answered to a few yelp calls from Don. The hunter decided to sneak over to the edge and saw the bird, at the bottom of the hollow, strutting and gobbling. Don watched him until quitting time.
The dance continued the next day, Wednesday. Same tree. Same time. Same gobbling. As darkness changed to light, the turkey was distant, but closing the gap, answering every one of Don’s calls. “He was coming.”
The bird gobbled over 50 times and then went silent. His next gobble gave his position away. The gobbler was up in the hollow.
“When he gobbled way up the hollow, I knew I could get him,” Don says. “I moved down the hollow and sat up in his strut zone. Put my decoy out and got ready. I made a series of yelps and he answered. I knew he would come into my setup, because it was his safe zone.”
Then the turkey was there. On the side of the hollow and all fanned out and heading toward the decoy. “It seemed like it took him forever to get to me, but he was coming,” Don remembers. “Strutting and gobbling all the way.”
The turkey stood at 35 yards, and then 20. Close enough.
“He was mine.”
The woods grew quiet after the shot rang out. Don’s 2017 spring turkey tag would be filled.
“This was a smart old bird and one that I will never forget,” Don says. “When you hunt every day like I do, getting in the woods at 4, the days seem to run together. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
In the turkey woods, the waiting and the work can be well worth it. I appreciate the time Don took to share his experience with us.
Contact B.J. Small at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @Arrows2010.