That first long beard
By Dennis Jensen
Correspondent | April 27,2014
A long time ago in some big turkey woods not that far away, I sat up against a great bull pine, looking up at the stars, on the first morning of May.
I had made my way, in the dark, up an old skidder trail, turning westward just after I crossed a noisy little stream.
In those days, I would set out an hour or so before the first hint of day made any attempt to make itself known along the rocky, steep ridge.
Using a flashlight now, I found the short strand of orange tape, tied to a sapling. Just beyond that little tree, the ground had been cleared of leaves in front of a big pine, a place I had located a week earlier while scouting these woods.
As I poured a cup of coffee from an insulated jug, I heard the distinct call of a barred owl. Off to the east now, the first glimmer of light came up, across and over the big ridge.
Now the excitement began to build. I pulled five shells and a hen decoy from the old backpack, paced off about 30 steps and set the decoy out.
Out of the backpack came light gloves and a head net, all in camouflage. From my turkey vest, I set out a box call and a slate call, then opened the top of the small container that held a diaphragm call. These items were set besides me.
I could now make out the individual trees in front of me, loaded my 12 gauge shotgun and leaned it against the side of the pine tree, safety on.
This was my third or fourth year of spring turkey season and I had gained a good deal of confidence, with perhaps three jake birds (1-year-old toms) to my credit. But I still was looking forward to my first long beard (a tom turkey 2 years old or older).
Just as dark gave way to partial daylight, I removed the owl call (for more than 20 years now, I hoot like a barred owl using my vocal cords) and cut loose with a series of “hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hooah.” That barred owl that welcomed me earlier came right back with an answer and, after a pause of perhaps 10 seconds, I called to him once more.
The plan, of course, is to get several owls going and that works, at times. Sometimes, the call of the barred owl gets toms to gobble and that gives a turkey hunter a fix on where the bird is located.
But on this morning, no toms answered and my barred owl companion apparently lost interest in what I had to say.
After about an hour, calling from time to time, I picked up my gear and set off for a small field, located a short distance from a field that stretched for hundreds of yards. I set out my decoy, then tucked myself about 10 feet into the woods.
Using the box call, I cut loose with a series of soft yelps. Getting no response, I turned up the volume. I sat, poured myself another cup of java and was quiet for about 10 minutes.
Then, just like that, off to my right, below yet another ridge, came a sharp gobble. My guess is that I had managed to get that tom’s attention. He probably gobbled back but at a distance that was beyond my hearing range.
I slipped the diaphragm call into my mouth and let loose with only three soft yelps. He answered right back, maybe 150 yards away. He was coming in and there was no reason to offer up yet another yelp.
I sat, my gun up on a big log in front of me, and waited. About five minutes went by and then, just off to my right, I could see a big red head coming up, bobbing back and forth as he came. He was coming into the field, but kept up tight to the woods edge, on my side. I could see his long beard swinging as he came in. He fanned out, now about 30 yards from the decoy, but very close to me.
I waited until he came to the gun, offered up a very soft yelp and his head came popping up. At only 10 yards, I squeezed the trigger. He tumbled to the ground and lay dead still.
It was my first long beard and he was a beauty, weighing in at 20˝ pounds, with a 9-inch beard. I tied my turkey tag around one leg, lifted the bird over my shoulder and set out for home.
Later, I cut the fan, salted it down and put it aside. That full fan still graces one wall of my basement.
(Note to readers: May 1 marks the opening day of spring turkey season. Be careful out there. Hunt safe.)
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