Photo by Lloyd K. Pruet
Though he’s put down roots in northwest Arkansas, Andy Brazle’s first turkey was taken in the mountains of New Mexico.
The mountains climbing behind the cabin looked more like a backdrop for bugling elk than gobbling turkeys, but long beards were what we’d come to hunt. A friend from church who didn’t have much more experience turkey hunting than I did had invited me out to his family’s cabin. We were supposed to meet his brother and one of his brother’s coworkers there and spend a couple of days cutting our teeth on mountain birds.
The four of us climbed a ridge that first morning, scouting as much as we were hunting, and it wasn’t long before we got on a gobbler. Evidently, the bird thought that we had eyes for his hens, though, because he’d gobble our direction and then usher them off the other just as fast as he could. After two or three rounds of that, we finally learned our lesson and went back to the cabin for a bite to eat.
We were still finishing up lunch when a gobble came from what amounted to the cabin’s back forty. The three other guys around the table immediately started lacing their boots and talking about heading back to the ridge. I slipped out the back door and started climbing.
Based on what we’d seen from the tom that morning, I figured I’d better get in as tight as possible before doing any calling and I thought I’d done just that, but when I yelped the bird we’d heard at lunch did exactly what that bird on the ridge had done. He gobbled back at me and then went the other way. I climbed after him but wound up pushing him further up the mountain. When I came to an avalanche slide, I figured it would either make or break me. If I could cross the open ground in front of me without being spotted, I might still have a chance. If not, I would have wasted three hours of afternoon and three hundred feet of elevation.
I made it safely across and tucked myself into the timber, stuck a diaphragm in my mouth and yelped once. A tom responded immediately and his gobble was still echoing when I heard another bird gobble. Then a hen answered from the other side of the slide. She must have just missed me making my move. I found myself between two gobblers and what must’ve been a straggling hen. I’d no more than put two and two together when one of the toms crossed my field of view on a dead run and disappeared.
I called once more and spotted the second tom just as he broke into full strut and stepped behind a pine tree thirty yards away. The bead at the end of my barrel was rock solid and turkey-head-high on the other side of pine, and I remember thinking to myself that I couldn’t believe my plan had worked. When the tom strutted clear of the pine tree, I took one deep breath and squeezed the trigger.
I’d forgotten to rack a shell into the chamber. I figured out what had happened a half second before the tom did, pumped one in, and rushed a shot without even sighting down the barrel. My plan had worked to perfection, but I’d failed to pay it off. All that climbing, all that waiting, all that hoping, all that praying – wasted.
I was still kicking myself when I realized I hadn’t seen the bird fly or run off. It was the obligation of a responsible sportsman, not the expectation of a hopeful one, that raised me to my feet and led me to the far side of the pine tree. To my surprise, that’s right where I found my first turkey.
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