Jim Zumbo - Everything Outdoors

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Spring Turkey Season Over in Most States Leaves Me Reminiscing of Crazy Hunts in the Turkey Woods

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Wanna laugh? Shake your head in disbelief? With the 2016 spring turkey season over in most states, and still open in a few, I thought I'd offer a few funny stories of my past hunts.

strutting turkey

"Where's Linda?" I asked outdoor writer Bryce Towsley as my cameraman and I walked into a bar in the Mexico City airport. We were supposed to meet up with Linda and Bryce in the bar, and then we'd continue our journey on a hunt for Oscellated turkeys in the Yucatan Peninsula. "I don't know where she is," Bryce said. "Maybe in jail." Linda Powell was the PR Chief for a firearms company, and she, Bryce and I were hoping to collect turkeys, and film the hunt for my TV show. Bryce explained that apparently the extensive and complicated paperwork that Linda had filled out for the firearms had been questioned by airport security officials. They took her away for more questioning. We had no idea what was going on. Finally, Linda showed up, not exactly smiling, and said the guns had been temporarily confiscated. She'd be able to pick them up on the way home. Evidently the outfitter who arranged the hunt hadn't provided all the necessary information. We flew to our destination, and happily learned that the hunting lodge manager had firearms that Linda could live with. The hunt was successful. Each of us collected Oscellated turkeys. And Linda got the guns back when we returned home.

I was sitting on a ridge in the Black Hills National Forest, calling to a gobbler across a deep canyon. He was a long way off, and I needed my binocs to see him. He was hot, gobbling and double gobbling to my call. This went on for at least a half hour, and then the bird fell silent. I looked for him with my binocs but he had evidently walked off into the timber. Game over, I hiked higher up the slope, making my way to my truck. For no reason I stopped and looked back at the canyon. I was astonished to see that gobbler flying straight to where I'd been calling from, landing a few yards from where I sat. When he landed, I was in the open and about 80 yards away. I'm sure he saw me, since he disappeared in the brush and wouldn't respond to my calls.

This story is unbelievable and absolutely true. I was just about to park my pickup deep in the woods when my companion spotted a flock of turkeys 200 yards downhill. Our only option was to sit tight. We were caught in the open, off the road, and there was a grassy meadow between my truck and the turkeys. We stood out like a sore thumb. The birds were agitated -- gobbling, cackling, fighting, and making quite a show. Two longbeards took turns strutting and fighting. All we could do was watch. There were no trees close by to hide behind, and no way to sneak closer. There was no way to get out of the truck unseen. I couldn't figure out why the truck didn't spook the birds. Suddenly a hen began walking toward the truck, followed by another hen and a longbeard. As they continued, I was dumbfounded. These were wild birds deep in a forest, several miles off a main logging road. I figured they'd stop any second but they came on, now 100 yards away. I was hunched down over the steering wheel, peeking out the window. I couldn't move since the birds were on my side of the truck. I told my pal, who was across from me in the passenger seat, to open the door carefully, ease out, and crawl alongside the truck toward the front. My buddy did so, the turkeys were 20 yards away and I kept whispering (loudly) to my friend to just stand up and shoot over the hood. My pal couldn't hear me or see the birds, and had no idea where the longbeard was. Finally I saw the hen cluck and start running. Still no shot. My friend didn't understand what I was whispering and tried to crawl around the front of the truck. The longbeard was off to the left, running off with the hens, and my friend couldn't get a shot within range. That big tom managed to live another day. I'm still amazed that this happened.

The late Charlie Elliott was a beloved southern gentleman who, in his day, was one of the top outdoor writers in the country. From Georgia, he was southern editor for Outdoor Life magazine and hunted extensively around the world. During a turkey hunt with Vin Sparano, who was editor in chief of Outdoor Life, Charlie and Vin sat together while Charlie did the calling. According to Vin, Charlie, who was in his 90's, very slowly drew a box call out of his hunting vest, carefully removed two rubber bands that were around the call, and made exactly six hen yelps. Then he put the bands back on the call and put it in his vest. Fifteen minutes later he fished the call out, removed the bands, made six calls, put the bands back on the call, and put it back in his pocket. This happened every 15 minutes for three hours. They had heard only one gobble that morning, and that was just before they sat down. Vin was ready to leave after the first half hour, but out of respect for Charlie, he said nothing. Suddenly a longbeard appeared, Vin was in shock, but was able to raise his gun and kill the bird. As they say, patience is often the most important part of hunting.

I was sitting in a blind in Florida with my cameraman, and a longbeard suddenly appeared from behind the blind. The camera was rolling, the tom was spooked, and I took a shot at 11 yards at the fleeing bird. I missed cleanly. The cameraman, who was not a hunter, was surprised. "How could you miss the bird at that distance," he said. I showed him. I set up a target at 11 yards and shot at it. The pellet group was about the size of a softball. I shouldn't have shot, of course, knowing the shot pattern at a close range, but it was one of those hunting moments when your brain exhibits little or no logic.

While hunting with a friend, who wasn't much of a turkey hunter, we made a quick blind with branches and he laid out a square of cloth beside him. He wanted to do the calling. On that cloth he laid out a dozen calls. We'd heard a gobbler sounding off from his roost tree about 300 yards away when we sat down, and he went silent. For the next two hours my friend tried every call, believing that one of them should work. When no turkey showed up after each call, my companion increased the volume and frequency of the call and never letting up. No tom showed up. I don't think any turkey in the country would fall for that strategy.

While hunting turkeys in Texas for my TV show with Linda Powell, a pair of longbeards came to the call. Linda, being PR manager for a firearms company, always defers to the writer, letting him have first shot. I killed one of the longbeards, and instead of running or flying away, the second longbeard jumped on his flopping companion and beat up on him, cackling and carrying on. Linda ended the one-sided battle with a clean shot. We had a double, all in the space of a couple minutes.

In Florida, Christina Holden, who works with me extensively on disabled veteran hunts, was hoping to get an Osceola subspecies, which would give her the Grand Slam. We were with outfitter Danny SantAngelo, who has worked with us on many veteran hunts. He invited Christina to try for a bird. We were in an orange grove, and because there's little cover under the trees, I waited in the pickup while Christina and Danny went after a bird. I heard a shot a while later, and was thrilled, believing Christina had gotten her slam which was a great achievement. Imagine my disappointment when they showed up empty handed. I figured she'd missed. They let me suffer for a few minutes, and then Danny walked up a row of trees and came back with a tom. Lots of backslapping and hugs followed. Christina registered all four subspecies with NWTF and learned she was the only woman in Maryland to have taken a grand slam in the US.

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