Turkey hunting can be so easy. An hour into opening-day morning of the 1999 Georgia turkey season and Michael Mayfield was sitting with his back to a pine tree watching over his gun barrel as a longbeard strutted steadily toward him – and the bird was already in range.
The tables, however, were about to be turned.
Michael Mayfield, 30, of Braselton is well-known and successful in the turkey-calling circuit over the past seven years and is currently a member of the Team Realtree local pro staff. He’s been hunting since he was a kid and killed his first deer at 10. His first gobbler came at age 14, and he has been a turkey-hunting addict ever since.
On opening-day morning, Michael was hunting on an 875-acre tract of family-owned land in Oglethorpe County. The tract, purchased three years earlier was part of the old Hogan Plantation. A creek with about 138 acres of thick swamp surrounding it nearly splits the property and the rolling hills and ridges rising from the swamp are covered with mixed pines and hardwoods. From the air the land looks like it has measles – because of the 49 food plots that have been planted in a variety of wildlife foods.
“Most of the plots are in several different types of clover,” said Michael. “We have also planted rye grass, grain sorghum, Japanese millet and browntop millet.” Most of the plots are small, in the 1/4- to 1/2-acre range, but one millet field is about eight acres in size. The tract is excellent turkey habitat.
The “easy” opening-day gobbler continued to sashay in four steps at a time. The bird had a full fan and a swinging beard.
“This is a dead bird,” Michael thought. “I”ll give it four more steps.”
As he watched, a hen turkey burst out of the woods onto the woods road behind the gobbler and ran up the road in Michael’s direction, past the strutting gobbler before darting back into the woods. The gobbler didn’t seem to notice and closed to within 35 yards. Michael decided to end the perfect opening morning hunt and squeezed the trigger.
Incredibly, the bird helicoptered into the air and flew out of sight, untouched by a load of Federal premium No. 4s.
“I figure I shot 18-inches over its head,” said Michael, who apparently didn’t have his head down on his shotgun and the error caused the tight pattern from the turkey gun to fly high.
“I blew it,” said Michael.
There are no easy turkey hunts.
Michael credits his dad, Hartwell, for getting him started hunting. His dad’s turkey calling wouldn’t place in a calling contest, says Michael, but if its got feathers his dad can call it in. His father has killed a turkey on 19 of 20 opening days, he said.
Michael takes an active approach to turkey hunting. When he hears a gobbler sound off nearby he moves on the bird. “My dad will sit down and call and make the bird come to him,” said Michael. “But I like to cut the distance to remove as many obstacles as possible. You don’t always know what might be between you and a gobbling bird. There might be a fence or a ditch or some other obstacle.
“Cutt and run,” Michael calls the technique. “I will make an excited cut, and when the bird responds I will try to cut the distance in half and do it again. To the gobbler it sounds like a hen coming in a hurry.
“The closer you can get without bumping the bird, the better. If I can get within 100 yards of a gobbling bird, you can put an X by his name – he’s gone.”
Later in the morning, Michael set up near a double food plot on a big bird, a gobbler with a distinctive-sounding, gobble. But the big boy was traveling with several hens and a jake and Michael saw only a glimpse of the bird.
No luck on opening day.
Round 2: Saturday, April 3, 1999
As the sky began to light up on the second Saturday of turkey season, Michael was calling for his pastor Tim Strickland of Braselton. At daylight the two hunters were standing at the same intersection of woods road listening. Michael made a few barred-owl calls.
“I use a 1-note owl call, not the whole “who-cooks-for-you” call,” said Michael. “If you make the long call a gobbler might sound off when you are half-way through and it’s harder to pinpoint the direction.”
Michael’s owling brought no response, but because you get no response does not mean there are no gobblers in the area, he said. He had scouted the area and had seen the evidence of a lot of turkeys – scratching, feathers, strut marks as well as turkeys. Despite getting no response, he figured there were turkeys in the area, they just weren’t talking and he and Tim pulled face masks down and set up.
“I always tell people to point their left shoulder (if you are right-handed) in the direction you think the bird will come from, and have your gun up,” said Michael. “That way you will have the widest range of fire.”
Michael began to make some short fly-down cackles and soft yelping as the two hunters watched the woods that were muted gray from fog hanging all the way to the ground.
“If there isn’t a lot of calling activity I am not so aggressive and I scale back my calling to match what they are doing,” said Michael. “I just want them to know there is a hen in the area.”
Twenty minutes later, 25 yards away, the black form of a mature gobbler that had come in silently stepped out of the fog. The bird, however, was hard to Tim’s left. Tim is left- handed and he was handcuffed, unable to turn on the bird.
The gobbler three-quarter strutted closer and closer but did not gobble. Michael had put a Feather-Flex decoy in the road and the bird moved toward it. Finally it was just 20 feet away.
“Kill ‘im,” Michael whispered.
“How?” Tim whispered back – his gun was pointed in the wrong direction.
“Choke him!” Michael said.
Tim finally tried to draw on the bird but could not get on it. The shot scattered leaves and rattled off branches and the gobbler flapped into the air and escaped.
Two misses in just over a week.
Later in the morning the old gobbler Michael had heard on opening day sounded off from the double-food plots. The deep-throated rattling gobble left no doubt in Michael’s mind that this was the big boy. Michael and Tim moved on the bird and set up, but the big boy was with hens and they could not get him to work to calls. This was the dominant bird in the area, said Michael, and his presence is likely the reason the first gobbler had come in silently – afraid he’d get whipped if the big boy knew he was in the area.
Round 3: Sunday, April 4.
“I haven’t hunted on Sunday in years,” said Michael. “But that morning I got up, packed my church clothes and went back after that gobbler.”
He returned to the area where he had missed the bird on opening morning (see Map No. 1) and before he could owl, he heard the distinctive gobble of the big boy sound off near the doublefood plots.
Michael was up and on the move down the logging road, cutting back toward the swamp and setting up near the “strutting intersection.” Year after year, he said, gobblers come to this sandy spot to strut.
By the time he was set up the bird had gobbled 20 times on its own in response to owls and crows. “He was putting on a show,” said Michael.
Michael set up at the strut-marks intersection and listened. The tom had gobbled repeatedly, and Michael had not heard any hens calling – decidedly a good sign.
Michael figured the bird was on the ground and he made some yelps. The bird responded, but did not cut off Michael’s call. “If they cut you off, that usually means they are on their way,” said Michael. “If they pause before they gobble, that usually means they are waiting for the hen to come to them.”
The bird was still 250 yards off, so Michael decided to move on it again.
He hustled down the logging road that topped the ridge above the double food plots. He set up again near the intersection of the road leading to the double food plots and ran a series of calls (see Map No. 2). The bird did not seem to be in any hurry about coming in.
Michael moved again, this time heading directly down the woods road toward the double food plots, cutting the distance in half again (see Map No. 3).
As he walked, a crow sounded off and the turkey gobbled. The bird had also cut the distance, apparently coming up the same road.
Michael ducked off the road and set up. From his vantage he could see down the road and it sloped off the hill. About 80 yards away the road flattened out and there was a small sandy area. Michael gave a series of excited, aggressive cuts, trying to fire up the bird.
Five minutes later, here came the old gobbler. The bird was alone as it promenaded up the woods road. When it reached the sandy area it stopped and began to strut back and forth, wingtips dragging in the sand. For 10 minutes the bird held its ground, strutting and gobbling every few minutes.
For reasons known only to the gobbler, it stopped strutting, folded up and cut into the woods to Michael’s left, moving across the contour in the direction of the strutting intersection.
Michael let the bird get well out of sight then stepped back out on the road, walked quickly to the logging road on top of the ridge and hurried across the ridge, moving parallel to the turkey, which was about half-way down the hill.
Michael set up for the fourth time just above the strutting intersection at the exact spot where Tim had missed the bird the day before (see Map No. 4).
When Michael had caught his breath, he called and the bird hammered back, cutting him off. Michael let the turkey gobble four or five more times on his own without calling, then he called just after the bird had gobbled.
“I cut him off to make him think there was an eager hen just waiting for him,” said Michael.
The turkey was coming faster.
When it was about 80 yards out, Michael waited for the bird to gobble then immediately cut it off. The tom double-gobbled in response – and then went silent.
Michael had his gun up and ready and figured he would see the bird any second. He seemed to have all the details in his favor. He figured he was at the place the bird wanted to come to – the strutting area. He had heard no hens with the gobbler, and he hoped his calling had impressed the bird with the notion that there was an eager hen ready and waiting for it.
“There’s a special time in turkey hunting when the woods go quiet and you know he’s there,” said Michael.
Five long minutes passed without a sound and Michael made no call of his own. Time seemed to crawl.
Then he heard the unmistakeable sound of a turkey drumming, “tooooum….toooooum….toooooum.”
The turkey gobbled again, so loud it sounded like it should have been shaking the leaves. The crunch, crunch, crunch of turkey feet in the leaves led Michael’s eyes to the bird as it stepped out into the strutting zone 25 yards away.
Michael put the bead of his Remington 1187 on the bird, and this time he made sure he was looking flat down the barrel.
The bird gobbled once more – saying “good-bye” said Michael.
At 17 yards, the gobbler extended its neck.
“Thank you,” thought Michael as he hit the trigger.
The double-bearded Oglethorpe County monarch was huge. The bird weighed 24 pounds and had 1 3/8-inch spurs, but the prominent features were the beards. The 10 1/2 and 8-inch beards jutted out like thick paintbrushes and measured 5-inches across.
The bird was the heaviest, best-all-around gobbler Michael has ever taken, the result of some quick-thinking strategy. “I like turkey hunting best,” he said “because you can make something happen.”