If you’ve been turkey hunting for a while you’ve heard the myths: Turkeys will never walk downhill. Turkeys will never fly across a river. Toms will never leave a hen. Turkeys will never _________ .
Except when they do.
This is why you never say “never.” And if you do say “never” it’s sure to bite you on the backside so hard you never—I mean, you know better than to say it again.
My most memorable turkey hunt is a perfect example.
I had only been hunting turkeys for a couple years when I convinced my wife to go with me. We bought her a tag, we had her sight in and get used to a shotgun—a slick little Brown BPS 20 gauge, and she was all ready to go on her first turkey hunt.
We had secured permission to hunt a small section of private land in northeast Iowa. It had a decent population of turkeys and we were the only ones with permission to hunt that spring. The property was bordered to the south by a river and the landowner lived on the far end, which gave us enough room to run and gun for a morning.
The landowner just had one request. “One of the Toms running around out there is almost completely white. We get a kick out of watching him so let him be. But there are plenty others out there!”
The morning came and we were leaving the truck and sneaking along the tree line just as the first gobble cut the morning silence. We stopped and listened. It was the first time my wife had heard this in the wild, not on video. I could see she was smiling underneath that camo facemask. We moved closer as gobbles were met with more gobbles.
Light began to break on the horizon and we got set underneath a big oak tree right along the river bottom, did some light calling and waited. Then we could hear the telltale sounds of birds flying down, and my heart sank.
One by one we could hear birds flying down and assembling on the wrong side of the river. In just a few minutes we were left alone in a turkeyless forest. The sounds of gobbles got more and more distant. Game over.
We sat a little while longer then moved to the far end of the property, hoping a lone bird had somehow escaped notice. Nothing. She was getting bored and the super-early alarm was starting to take its toll. We started walking back to the truck, following the riverbank and hitting some calls hoping something would respond.
And wouldn’t you know it, something did. The gobble was distant at first so we froze, called again and the gobble was much closer. He was on the wrong side of the river, but he was coming.
Being the “experienced” turkey hunter that I was and “knowing so much” about turkeys, I told her we should sit down, keep calling, see if we can’t get them out into the open so they could put on a show for us. But that’s about the most we could expect because turkeys would never—ever, fly across a river.
We set up against a big tree literally 10 feet from the water’s edge. Me, being a typical male and eager to impress my wife with my calling prowess, popped a diaphragm call in my mouth and started yelping and cutting for all I was worth.
The incoming bird gobbled, then gobbled and gobbled some more. He gobbled so many times I’m surprised he had time to catch his breath. Then some movement across the river caught my eye. There he was. He was big, and beautiful in full strut and almost pure white. He was the Untouchable Bird. But he had a buddy. They got as close to the riverbank as they could, looked across and gobbled.
I started yelping, they both gobbled again, they both strutted, then gobbled some more. They both put on the show I was hoping for and we enjoyed every minute of it. Then Mr. Untouchable did the unexpected.
Untouchable hopped onto a downfall. He looked down, then looked across the river at us, looked down again and started doing this little “happy feet” tap dance that told me maybe…he was going to….uh-oh…
“Get your gun up—he’s coming!!” I said in a bizarre half-whisper, half shriek.
“You said they would never…”
“Forget that—he’s coming!”
Sure enough the bird took a big leap off the downfall and flew just inches across the surface of the water straight for us. How he did not see the whites of our eyes—probably the size of hub caps, I’ll never know.
He hit the ground, broke into full strut once again and now six feet from the end of the 20 gauge, let out a screaming gobble that should have blown our hats off. This is the bird we could not shoot, now close enough to club over the head.
Then I looked across the river. There was his buddy, on the downfall, doing that same tap dance.
“Okay…here we go,” I said to her.
“I’m ready!” she whispered.
The buddy jumped and made the same straight line directly for us. But when he got about 20 yards away he veered to our left. Which should have been perfect, right?
Well, if you shoot right handed it would have been. But my wife is left eye dominant. I had her set on the wrong side of tree. She tried to move on him, but with two mature gobblers less than 10 feet away, you know how well that worked out. Gone as if shot out of a cannon. Game over. All because somebody told me I’d never be able to call a turkey across a river.
I will never say never again.
Except when I do.