After my initial success hunting turkeys locally, I began traveling to my friend Roger’s hunting camp in Pittsfield. He had hunted deer there for many years with the owner. When he passed on, Roger bought the property from the family.
It’s a real hunting camp that’s weather tight, with indoor plumbing and hot water, far from fancy but kept very comfortable by a large cast-iron wood stove. He has 20 acres himself and, because of a long and close relationship with a few neighbors, has hundreds more to roam surrounding the camp.
You might wonder, why travel for a hunt when you can pursue the same quarry in your own neighborhood? The answer is the camaraderie and atmosphere of a true hunting camp. The pursuit of wild things can almost be secondary to the socializing of a small group experiencing life under very different circumstances than at home. There are usually four of us at turkey camp and, as a bonus, two like to cook.
After the food, add in a couple of fingers of Gentleman Jack, then, after more gab, climb into your sleeping bag in a warm loft on a comfortable mattress. There isn’t much more needed to make your day, regardless of the outcome of a hunt.
This one began with some doubt.
Roger had come up from Cape Cod early to do some work around the camp and also scout for birds. (I usually bring a tank sprayer and poison to keep the carpenter ants at bay.)
Even though turkey sightings have been few, we are always optimistic.
The early morning found Roger, Steve, and myself having coffee and putting things together for the day. Tim, the chief chef, would be arriving after midday.
Steve was to head down the road to a neighboring property.
Roger would walk to the end of the cornfield that begins right behind the camp and set up just inside the tree line with the fake turkeys 25 yards away in the open field.
I chose the grass field next door, separated from the cornfield by a thin hedgerow of trees and brush.
The grass field is 50 yards shorter than the cornfield. The hedgerow ended about 30 feet shy of the woods, creating an opening called “the barway” between the two fields. I imagine that at one time a gate was in place there.
I walked into the grass field and along the woods line about 75 yards and set up my decoys, one hen alone and the other hen and young male (called a jake) in a breeding mode. I placed my low-slung turkey chair just inside the tree line, making sure I had clear sight of the decoys.
I knew Roger was in the same position as I was, although 50 yards further back due to the longer cornfield.
Roger and I have a genuine rapport no matter what we are hunting. If there is only one target, neither of us cares who takes the shot. We both just enjoy being there and witnessing nature in a way most folks never know exists.
Roger must have been calling, but I could never hear him, as this was long before my new hearing apparatus. He has a tender-sounding call named the Lucky Clucker, and if a tom is around, it’s almost a certainty he will hear a response.
I was busy scraping my slate call and occasionally trying the mouth call while attempting to ignore the tickling sensations it causes.
I was closing my eyes between sounding off, as for some reason I was feeling sleepy.
At one point during these mini siestas, I sensed something happening. I immediately was alert and quickly looking in all directions. I saw a flash to my right and, within seconds, two very large toms stormed into the decoys at full speed and an unbelievable scene took place. Both mature toms were pecking and kicking with their spurs at the jake decoy with reckless abandon.
They knocked it off the stake and would not quit beating on it. “How dare you breed our girls in our own territory, you young whippersnapper?” I waited for the two toms to separate somewhat. Although shooting two a season is legal, I did not want to take the chance of only wounding one of them.
Finally there was space between them and I pulled the trigger of the Winchester 12-gauge Super X2. It was over quick. The other tom turned and ran about 10 feet, then stopped and turned back, inexplicably heading for his dead buddy and beginning to kick him like they had my decoy. It was surreal.
I looked down at my gun and saw that the 3 1/2-inch empty shell had not cleared the mechanism and was jammed by the bolt against the edge of the chamber.
I worked on it and made some noise, but the second tom was still beating on his dead pal and did not seem to notice.
I finally cleared the empty hull and the bolt slammed shut with a jolt, but the bird still didn’t detect anything amiss.
I lined him up and put an end to it.
It was an unbelievable series of events that I will never see again.
Roger came around the corner and told me that the toms had been walking up on his side of the hedgerow with two hens. When they arrived at the barway and saw my jake decoy, they left their girlfriends and made a beeline for my setup.
Tim arrived after lunch and cooked the four breasts for supper. A before and after Gentleman Jack was a more than appropriate ending to an extraordinary day.
(Robert H. Oberlander lives at Hunter’s Landing in Walpole.)