One shot, two birds, four beards: A hunt to remember
As the sun rose on the freshly tilled food plot, it was everything I could do to stay awake. All the caffeine in the world couldn’t keep me awake after the sunup-to-sundown hunting schedule I had been keeping for the past two days. And yet, despite my determination, I had yet to put a bird on the ground.
My lack of success surely wasn’t due to a lack of game, as the mornings leading up to the South Carolina season opener had been filled with birds gobbling in the hardwood swamps. But, my confidence was fading. As I sat beneath a hickory tree with my bow in my lap, fighting off sleep as well as the cold, I was completely unaware of the events that would unfold in the following hours. I was about to experience the turkey hunt of a lifetime.
The opening day of the South Carolina turkey season brought with it a terrible cold front, and three days into the season we were still feeling it’s effects. Like previous days, the morning of March 22nd found Robert Hewitt and I shivering on the edge of a field in complete silence, hoping with all we had to hear a faint gobble, despite the conditions. We had left the cabin that morning with high hopes, knowing that the 20 mph winds had finally begun to subside. But, those hopes were beginning fade away just as they had the mornings before.
As the sun finally begun to peek above the cypress trees, we heard it. Deep in the swamp a tom had come down from his roost, letting out a beautiful gobble as he made contact with the earth. I looked over at Robert and noticed the smile showing through the edges of his face mask. “Did you hear that?” Robert asked. “Get psyched dude, it’s game time,” I hissed excitedly while quietly clapping my gloved hands.
We waited until 9:00, calling every 15 minutes, but despite our greatest efforts to seduce this tom, we could not coax him from the safety of the swamp. It was as if someone had dropped a weight on my chest, something that had seemed like a sure thing an hour before now felt a million miles away. We packed up our gear and headed back to the cabin.
By the time the grey walls of the hunting cabin were in view, we had already planned our next plan of attack. We loaded up and headed to the next farm only to experience the same results, and the farm after that was no different. By now, it was approaching 12:00 and I think the turkeys a county over were hearing my stomach growling. Luckily, Robert carted me down to a local store for a generous helping of fried chicken, collards, and rice with gravy. With stomachs full and pride recovering, Robert and I headed out again. The excitement was just about to begin.
Stairway to turkey hunting heaven?
After a painfully unsuccessful ‘spot and stalk’ on a brace of toms in a sour weed field, we once again headed for the cabin to draw up or final battle plans. We decided that our best bet was to head back to our original spot in the hickory trees and hope the birds were finally beginning to work their way out of the swamp.
As we turned the corner and approached a big pole barn, I noticed a large ladder leaning against a tree. “We use that to survey the property,” Robert responded to my inquiry regarding it’s nature. “Want me climb up and see if I can see anything?” he said.
I watched as Robert climbed the ladder perched against a massive long leaf pine. “There are 3 toms right behind us,” he exclaimed with a hurried hurried whisper. I headed over to a nearby thicket with our gear as Robert hastily placed our jake and hen decoys.
Once we were both hidden, I placed the diaphragm call against the roof of my mouth and tried to work the toms our way. The wind had picked back up by now and the birds were a good distance away, so we quickly realized we needed to be closer. Robert crawled to the corner and placed himself behind a group of pines. But, as I creeped in behind him, I still couldn’t see the birds. I decide to attempt a move that could make or break the hunt.
Binoculars, belly crawls and briars
Between us and the birds was an elevation change of about 2 feet which manifested itself in the form of a small hill in the middle of the field. I knew I would be able to see the birds from the other side of the field, but that would require belly crawling a distance of about 30 yards to an adjacent briar thicket. I slung my binoculars around to my back, grabbed my shotgun and hit the dirt.
As my long (and extremely awkward) crawl progressed, I looked back several times to see Robert stifling his laughter as he watched me flounder my way into the thicket. I picked the briars from my clothes and brought my binoculars to my face, seeing three red-heads bouncing for the timber. I fumbled with the diaphragm as I worked it towards my mouth, and the instant I let out a series of cutts and clucks, the birds did a 180. They could finally hear us.
I ripped off my glove and texted Robert. They were coming! I watched as his gun went up, with mine quickly following suit. I let out a soft ‘cluck-purr-cluck’ from the diaphragm and the toms headed for us at full steam. And, that’s when it happened.
As three beautiful long beards stepped in front of us, I leveled the red bead of my dirt covered Franchi on the middle bird. But, as I pulled the trigger, the rear bird picked up his pace and placed his head directly in line with the cloud of the #4 shot. My adrenaline level peaked as I watched the two birds flap their wings in the dust for a final time. I looked as Robert pulled the trigger on his Browning A5. But, as he shot, the last bird standing took a step backwards, barely avoiding the fate of his friend. We could only watch as he flew back into the swamp, leaving Robert empty handed.
Though one bird escaped, we instantly hopped up and closed the distance between us, hooping and hollering. After several shaky high fives and congratulations, I went to examine my quarry. The middle bird (the one I originally targeted) possessed 1-1/2” spurs accompanied by an 11-1/16” main beard and 6” second beard, while the second bird boasted a pair a 1-5/16” hooks with an 11” main beard and 7” secondary beard. Prior to this, my largest bird was a 10-1/2” double beard. With one shot, I had killed my two biggest birds, both of which possessed double beards! It was absolutely the turkey hunt of a lifetime.
Reflections on the turkey hunt of a lifetime
Nowhere are the fingerprints of God more evident than in the pursuit of wild game. And, each time I head for the woods, I’m reminded to thank him for the blessings he provides. While I would love to say that my success on this hunt was completely of my own doing, I must give the credit to the one who created me, gives me the ability to do what I love, and who provides the very game I seek.
It’s far too easy to become confident in our own abilities as hunters. But, we must remember that without God, nothing we do would be possible. To God be the glory!
– By Benjamin B. Graves
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