By Bill Cooper
Every turkey hunter who has spent much time in the woods has had those days when absolutely nothing worked to coax a gobbler to within gun range. I, too, have experienced those frustrating days when it seemed the turkey gods were against me. However, numerous times over the years I have tried some wild, weird and whacky tactics, some of which were absolutely goofy, to successfully coax gobblers to their demise. I’m not suggesting that these tactics are for everyone, but they do make for a good story.
Better than five decades have passed since I took on the insanity of turkey hunting. I should have known that anyone not smart enough to realize that getting up at ungodly hours of the morning and traipsing over hills, hollows, swamps, rocks, mud and untold other hazards would be exposing himself to all kinds of mishaps in the wee hours of the morning. When you toss into the equation the likelihood of being totally humiliated by some old crusty gobbler, it makes one wonder why any sane man would want to hunt turkeys. Who knows. But, smart turkey hunters quickly accept the fact that life ain’t gonna be good in the turkey woods.
I have never claimed to be smart. That is why I am still chasing gobblers. However, I have taken great pride in the fact that I have, by hook or crook, occasionally outwitted, outsmarted and wound up becoming the undoing of some pretty crafty birds.
I’ll never forget the garbage can turkey. The morning began cool and clear. A big, full moon hung low in the sky, illuminating my way through the woods. I had roosted some birds the evening before and I felt confident that I could approach to within 100 yards without spooking the birds.
All went as planned. Just before wake-up time for turkeys, I whispered a few soft tree yelps and a couple of hens began softly calling back. The conversation grew to a competitive crescendo. I slapped my hands on my pants to immediate a fly down and cackled at the same time. That move punted things into high gear. The hens responded by flying down, whereupon they began a love serenade. A pair of gobblers bellowed from their roost tree to let the ladies know that they were there and paying attention.
All went well for a few minutes and then the gobblers went quiet. I had not heard them in an hour when a clap of thunder rumbled to the west. Both toms boomed in return. They had approached to within 75 yards of my position.
Rain began to pour and the lightening grew more intense. An old log cabin stood in the edge of a pasture just 100 yards behind me. I thought it would be wise to get out of the storm and seek the shelter of that old cabin. The gobblers continued to sound off every time it thundered.
By the time I reached the safety of the cabin, the storm had moved away from me a good distance, but the rain still peppered down. The thunder had calmed and the gobblers had gone quiet again.
As I made myself comfortable inside the cabin, I spied a pair of old aluminum garbage can lids. I had been pondering how I could duplicate the sound of thunder. There laid my answer, half buried in dried cow manure. Well, I figured any turkey hunter worth his salt wouldn't let a little cow manure stop him. In a matter of minutes I had the pair of lids partially cleaned and ready for action.
I laughed as I thought about using the biggest turkey call ever. I clanged the two lids together and then rattled them a bit for effect. The woods rattled with the echoes of the two toms thunderous response. I banged my lids again and the birds echoed back. They were coming.
As I rattled my garbage can lid calls again, I caught a glimpse of movement. I strained to see. Fans of two strutting gobblers appeared through the gooseberry bushes. I softly rattled the lids again, kinda like purring on a slate call. I saw the long necks of the birds extend in unison as they gobbled and broke out of the woods, less than 30 yards away. I eased my 12-gauge to align with the biggest bird’s head. When it broke out of strut, my garbage can gobbler became history. That proved to be a great victory. However, my attempt to sell garbage can lids as turkey calls, became my worst business adventure ever.
Many years later I had playing with a gobbler for four hours only to have it advance to within 75 yards of my position and then promptly strut its way back to a position well over 150 yards away. After that scenario repeated itself five times, I became disgusted with the whole event and threw my hat in the leaves. The gobbler sounded off for the first time in an hour. Having been coaxed back into the action, I slapped my hat in the leaves again. A booming gobble echoed through the woods, only closer to me.
I slapped my hat in the leaves repeatedly while purring on my mouth call to imitate a gobbler fight. The hard to get gobbler showed up ten minutes later gobbling with every step. When he cleared a bush 20 yards away a load of number 5’s in the face became the last thing that gobbler ever saw.
Perhaps my most harrowing experience with a gobbler came when a tom gobbled on the opposite side of the Bourbeuse River from me. I knew exactly where the bird had roosted. The river ran a bit high from rains the night before.
The gobbler gobbled again from its roost tree just over a hump from the river bank. I waited until almost fly down time before I made my first call. No answer. Next I called again while I simultaneously scratched a couple of discarded wing feathers in the sand and gravel at the river’s edge.
What happened next caught me completely off guard. That bird ran to the river’s edge on a short bluff 20 yards across the stream and gobbled. I fired quickly knocking the bird backwards. However, I could hear it running along the top of the bluff. Suddenly, the big gobbler pitched off the high end of the bluff, some 60 yards away and set sail across the river. Again, I fired quickly, but this time the gobbler folded up and fell right into the middle of the river. My gobbler began to float away.
I ran down the riverbank, stripped to my underwear and jumped in the river to swim after my drifting bird. When I grabbed the bird by one of its wings, it came to life pecking, scratching and flogging me.
I swam back to the bank, procured a sizable club and swam back to the flopping gobbler. The fight raged for several minutes before I won the battle with the old gobbler I dubbed “Battleship.”
The climax of the whole event came when I was hiking the 150 yards back up river in my underwear, soaking wet with a wet turkey with half the feathers beaten off of it hanging over my shoulder, when I rounded a bend by the edge of a field and ran into the landowner. “Bill,” he said, “I have seen some mighty weird things in my almost 7 decades on this earth, but son, I gotta tell ya, this is the darnedest funniest thing I have ever seen!”
I mumbled a lot under my breath as I continued my journey to my clothes.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.