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Wise gobbler can frustrate best of hunters

More than 50 years of pursuing the wild turkey gobbler in the wonderful lands between the levee and the Mississippi River have convinced me of one thing: Never get yourself hung up on one particular gobbler and waste half the season trying to bag him. I'm talking here about a gobbler that gobbles his head off in answer to your call and then, for reasons know only to him, takes off in another direction, often still gobbling his head off.

Most of us have done that, finally giving it up as a bad job to find a bird that will respond and wind up on the meat pole.

Sometimes you run into one that listens to your call, answers just as he ought to and then flies down exactly 180 degrees away from the spot where you were calling. Once I encountered a bird like that on the old original Miller Point Club. He gobbled his head off every morning at dawn from a clump of trees in the middle of a natural flat. No matter which side I went to him and set up to call, he always flew down some other way rather than to me.

I engaged the help of my friend Joe Terney. We tried to surround the gobbler, but in spite of our good calling, he found a way to fly down the wrong way. After wasting a week, we gave him to some other poor hunter who wound up with exactly the same result. As far as I know, the gobbler finally died of old age. To my knowledge, no one ever killed him.

Perhaps the worst turkey of this nature that I ever ran into was on the Burke Club back in the early days after a group of us purchased that fine land and made it into a club. On opening morning I heard the old turkey start gobbling almost in the dark. I hurried to him, finding him roosting in a clump of big hackberry trees right smack in the middle of one of the rather clean draws common in lands along the river.

I took up my stand about 150 yards below him on the south side of his roost and began giving him my best shot from my trusty Tom Gaskins box. It must have been good. He answered by double-gobbling and kept it up until good daylight. Then, when he was supposed to fly down right in my lap, he took off in the exact opposite direction and walked off north, still gobbling his head off.

The next morning I decided to fool him. I took my stand on the north side of his roosting trees. Although he answered every call, he took off directly south and walked off, again still gobbling. After that I tried every known direction, but he always went the other way.

Then I had a real nasty thought. My dearest friend and hunting buddy, Pete Leird (also a sort of left-handed brother-in-law, since we married sisters) showed up to hunt. I told him about the bird and instructed him to take a stand on one side while I took a stand on the other. I also told him to call, using his most seductive calls (of which he was most capable, having twice won the state calling championship at Carthage, Miss.).

As he had every morning, that old bird woke up the redbirds with his gobble. I could hear Pete calling, offering that old bird delights that would have embarrassed Casanova. All the while I stayed quiet as a mouse. Well, as I rather expected, that bird finally tired of gobbling and sailed down right at me, landing not 20 steps away. Before he knew it I had, in the words of Nash Buckingham, "reduced him to possession" with a load of copperized No. 4 shot.

Then it dawned on me that I had cheated and killed a gobbler that I in no way deserved and had used my best friend to make it possible. Pete was there, admiring this ancient old bird with an 11-inch beard and spurs like razors almost 2 inches long. I tried to show some admiration, but all that I felt was a sneaky sort of shame.

As fate would have it, Pete passed on much too soon, leaving me with a sense of guilt and the loss of my very best hunting buddy. After quite a few years I still miss him and regret that I never got up quite enough nerve to tell him how I had cheated him out of that memorable bird.

I wish that I had been man enough to put him in the catbird seat and had him bring down that bird instead of me, but it's too late now. I'll just have to live with one of my more selfish memories.

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