Friday, February 11, 2011

"The Congressmen"

February does something to me.  It happens every year, for whatever reason, right about now.  I start thinking turkey, and I can not get them out of my head.  I break out the calls, get the vest down, make sure the camo that is old and bleached from too many washings is still good enough to wear, and call my daddy to see what he's caught on the cameras.  We have a rule we started several years ago, you get one turkey and no more.  This was done because we saw a drastic drop in our turkey population on daddy's place some years back.  I'd like to blame Hurricane Katrina, but I think it was much more than that.  I think the turkeys were already dealing with a disease and predation, both of which plowed head long into that hurricane and thousands of acres of timber loss, creating an imperfectly, perfect storm.

Long story short, one bird apiece.  If you take a guest and they kill a bird, you're done.

As it happens, the first year Megan and I were married, I had killed my one down on daddy's place pretty early.  After that, I started going down to my father-in-law's place on the Bogue Chitto River.  We call the camp simply and affectionately, "The River".  I love it down there, never more so than the spring crawfish season...well, maybe Christmas holidays, but that's another story.

The morning I met "the Congressmen" was one of those spring mornings that make you glad you woke up.  It was brisk early, but not cold.  The dogwoods were starting to bloom, as was the honeysuckle.  Walking out to the truck, I couldn't help noticing there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  Just a picturesque morning that no long bearded turkey could resist gobbling too.

And, they didn't.

I'm a big believer in just allowing the woods to wake up versus hooting up a storm in order to get a bird to gobble.  Maybe it's superstition on my part (or stupidity), but I feel like it does more harm than good most of the time.  So, I just sat and watched the river bottom come alive.  Shortly into my wait, a lone turkey gobbled across the river.  The best I could tell he was roosting very close to the water's edge.  Then he gobbled more and more - single gobbles, double gobbles, and just a whole mess of gobbling.  It didn't take long for me to figure out there was more than one bird making all that racket. How many I couldn't tell as they were so close together.  Possibly, these loudmouths were in the same tree.

A hill bird hunter by birth, I learned a very valuable lesson on this day.  That being, water ain't no step for a river bird.  In the hills of south Mississippi, I've seen birds hang up on rain swollen branches of water that are normally dry.  Over the last several years of hunting on my father in laws place, I've watched turkeys walk out on sand bars, fly across the river, mill around, only to fly back later that day.  A river bird is just not affected the same way by water as the turkeys I grew up hunting.  Up until this particular morning though, I had no clue.

As it happened, after a few hours of constant gobbling (and, I do mean constant) and very little movement from the birds, I had had enough.  I got up from were I had been sitting, and started slipping through the woods.  I remember telling myself the birds were probably on the edge of a little field just on the other side of the river.  Figuring and ciphering in my head, I realized I could walk out on the sand bar on my side, slip up to the bend, and peak over the saw briars to get a better look.  What I saw when I peaked over was a sight all turkey hunters hope to see - four big, long beards in full strut.

To be honest, I was at a loss as to what to do.  The birds were on the other side of the river, out on a sand bar that was several hundred yards long.  This situation wasn't going to allow me to get any closer.  I told myself I'd just wait them out, and when they went off in the woods, I'd swim the river, get on the other side and try to get around them...never happened.

After watching these birds gobble at each other for what seemed like forever, I decided to take out a slate call I had turned for the season and give it a run.  It sounded like crap, I knew it, but I still wanted to "play" it.  What happened next, if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it.

I slid that "bodoc" striker across the slate a few times, making a noise very much similar to a mule that just stepped into an electric fence - YEEEOWP, YEEOWP, YEEOWP.

The single hen that was still giving these gentlemen the time of day broke camp, took off running down the bank towards me, and flew across the river, landing basically in my lap.  Without even realizing what was going on, I looked up and all four of those gobblers were following suit.

If you've ever seen photos, watched video footage, or hunted Atlantic brant, you know the sight I was seeing.  These turkeys were inches above the water, flying single file, decoying hard to the hen that gave up on them.  I remember thinking, "I outta shoot the sucker flying over the water" but I didn't.  When the birds pitched onto the sandbar, they all immediatedly started strutting and gobbling - about 10 ft away from me.

The gobbling shook my lungs inside my chest it was so loud.

Now, you may be asking yourself, "why hasn't Justin shot yet?"

Well, I only say this because I'm used to screwing, I don't mind a little self-deprecation when appropriate.  Truth of the matter is, I attempted to shoot when the first bird hit the ground...but, I had forgotten to take my safety off.  Yep, in the heat of the moment, the mighty hunter yielded a flacid killing iron.

Then, I had to wait for one of them to turn around.  They were strutting with their butts looking at me.  It was all very embarrassing.

But, a little bit later, one finally did, and he met his end.  Mercifully I might add.

That morning when I got to my in laws house, I retold the story to my father in law, leaving out that whole "safety part".  I mentioned to him that I could only guess those gobblers stood around all day, yelling at each other, getting nothing accomplished.

His response?  "Sounds like a bunch of congressmen."

I couldn't help but laugh.

1/4 of the "Congressmen" and the now retired worst sounding call in history

Hope you enjoy, have a great weekend everyone! Justin


Keith said...

If I could only be so lucky as to own the second worst sounding call in history...great story man! Think one of us should right about your first bird or how about "Pink Eye"? Just food for thought:)

Justin Harrison said...

I'm gonna let you do the honors on each of write it, it's posted :)