Webster does not define a turkey-hunting honey-hole in the dictionary, so most of us who have one must come up with our own definition. To me, it’s a place in the woods that makes me feel downright warm and fuzzy when I’m there or even when I’m just sit- ting around watching the Outdoor Channel thinking about it. Also, it is a place where I can set aside troubles and trials and get my heart rate up raking a cedar box and listening for a response. When God created honey-holes, I’m sure he had in mind hunters who like the solitude of a perfect spot in the woods where matching wits with a tom turkey is a fact, not a promise. Not to speak of learning more about patience and persistence at the same time. Not many places in the world offer such an educational experience as the honey-hole.
The following are four honey-hole hunts out of many more that remain imbedded in my brain cells that control my favorite memories.
• Humiliated Beyond Reason
Interestingly enough, no two hunts in the honey-hole have ever been remotely alike. Most turkey hunters have a list of things to do that they mentally run through from the time the alarm goes off until they park their truck and start walking. One of the do’s on my list is to shove two shells into the magazine of my Remington 870 Super Magnum and to shuck one into the chamber the moment I get out of my truck.
This particular morning, however, was a “check list” exception because I was jittery from an overdose of anxiety. All I could think of was, “I gotta get there… What if I’m late, and he’s off the roost… What if he’s moved off the honey-hole and onto someone else’s land… and on and on.
When I had crossed the bigger creek and clawed my way up the muddy bank, I stopped at my first listening post and fully expected to hear a gobbler.
I heard only song- birds and a barred-owl call, interrupted by a dog barking at a distant farmhouse. I started up a steep grade covered in white and red oaks and scattered pines. Halfway to the top of the ridge, I heard a loud gobble that nearly shook the ground!
I spun around trying to eyeball a tree to make a quick setup. The terrain was too steep to sit down, but I tried it anyway. A couple of yelps from me brought an immediate response, and the gobbler began to close in. The slope was so steep that my tailbone slid right off the foam-rubber seat onto the ground. No way was I going to get a shot at that gobbler. Below me I could see a deep ditch. That was my only chance. No sooner than I had slid off the bank into the muddy gunk below than the gobbler made his grand entrance in all his glory with his neck stretched high. I could barely see over the side of the ditch and the side of the ridge he was on. I painstakingly moved my gun position with the barrel resting in my left hand barely off the ground. A few more steps and he would present himself for a good shot. I eased the safety off and breathed a little prayer. The sights settled on his neck, and I pressed the trigger.
I had forgotten to jack a shell into the chamber. The bird stood still for a few seconds, and then to my astonishment started moving straight toward me. I ducked down a few inches so I could quickly slide a shell into the chamber, but too late!
I heard a single cluck above my head and turned to look up just in time to see the head and neck of this gobbler looking straight down at me in that ditch. He was so close I could have grabbed his neck and wrung it. The bird cocked his head sideways so I reckon he could get a better view of that dumb hunter hunkered down holding an empty turkey gun.
Never have I been so humiliated!
The bird quickly retrieved his red, white and blue head. At this point I was fool enough to think I could still perform a miracle and kill that Harvard-graduate bird that was causing me so much pain and discomfort.
I quietly slid a shell into the chamber and began a slow rise to stand up and get a quick look at what I guessed was a retreating bird.
He was retreating all right — air- borne and gaining altitude. I didn’t get a shot for he flew behind tree trunks and limbs that were too thick, even for my 3 1/2-inch magnum.
Oh well. My dad used to say, “A day late and a dollar short.” I’m thinking about enrolling in a beginners’ course for turkey hunting and maybe, just maybe I will learn how to better deal with an old educated gobbler like that inquisitive tom. Next time, maybe I will miss the mixed excitement and misery simply because I forgot to load my gun.
• Stalking Is Nerve-wracking
On another hunt at the honey-hole, I jumped out of my truck, shouldered my 870 and took off in almost a dead run because I was running a little late.
The weather was perfect. It was a 45-minute walk through every kind of terrain imaginable including a mucky creek bottom with vines hanging down from the trees much like scenes in a Hitchcock movie and dozens of holes from rotting stumps. To make the walk more exciting there were old fences with three or four strands of rusty barbed wire deeply imbedded in trees they were nailed to many years ago.
My hunting area became the honey-hole after I brought out 17 long- beards from this area over a 10-year period. The habitat is ideal for turkeys with rich, green fields interspersed with hardwood ridges, open creek bottom and medium-to-small branches feeding into a large creek. Nesting areas are abundant, and food is plentiful.
A big creek crossing is a critical point in hunting the honey-hole because crossing this stream usually coincides time-wise with gobbling time.
How many times have I been wading mid creek down under deep banks and heard a gobble? Then frantically clawing the muddy bank and trying to dig the toe-hold into a slippery bank and push up to the top and not being able to under these conditions is a frustrating spot to be in when the gobbling action begins.
This particular morning was no exception, and the bird I heard sounded like it was a long way off. After climbing out of the creek bed and heading for a listening post on a high rise, I started walking and calling. Not another gobble! This bird was one that chose to ration his gobbles one to a customer. After an hour of trying to raise this gobbler, I began to plow deeper into the honey-hole stopping occasionally for a 20- minute setup. How could a beautiful, crisp, cool, morning like this one yield so little gobbling activity?
An approach to hunting this area that has proven quite successful in the past is slipping around the edge of the fields very slowly and glassing the edges. On one occasion, I spotted a gobbler and three hens heading very slowly toward the edge of the field where I was set up. After what seemed like an eternity, the hens led the strutting gobbler into the woods less than 40 yards from where I was set up.
With my gun on my knee and the safety off, the birds walked down into a low area, and all I could see was a bobbing head or two every few seconds until they walked out of range and dis- appeared into the thick brush.
Calling was useless for this gobbler had only one thing on his mind, and my calling was not it. I sat there for another 30 minutes before I decided to try my luck at stalking.
I got up, slipped down the hill taking advantage of the terrain and thick cover. Below me and off to the right a short distance was a slight rise in the terrain, but not high enough to conceal me standing up. I crawled to the high ground and carefully looked down into a ravine and immediately saw the gobbler and his three girlfriends. He was in full strut, and the girls were doing their thing unaware they had an audience.
At the right time, I eased my head down behind cover and began to bring my shotgun around into position. I pushed the muzzle of the barrel over the rise in the terrain and carefully positioned the butt of the gun on my shoulder and pushed the safety off. I then raised my head just far enough to line up the Tru-Glow sights and waited for the tom to come out of a full strut.
By this time the hens began to move farther down the drain. I was so tense I was drawn up in a knot. Then the gobbler came out of strut just long enough to run up his periscope for a quick predator check — but by that time it was all over.
• Ambush Can Be Sweet
I started to exit the honey-hole one morning and head for my truck after four hours of walking and calling with- out hearing a single gobble. I decided to walk up one side of a pasture to a hilltop that offered an excellent view of a lot of turkey acres. At the top I scanned the area with glasses, and in a a low swag on the edge of a woodsline was a tom in full strut keeping company with two hens and a jake, coming in my general direction. But after a lengthy interlude of calling with no response, I decided an ambush was a better choice.
I eased below to a four-strand barbed wire fence and slid under it, and using the woods as cover headed for a reference point, a huge white oak. A ditch behind it offered good concealment. By the time I checked his location from behind the tree, the gobbler and his entourage had already passed and were out of range.
I retreated to the cover of the woods and moved as fast as possible, trying to get in front of him. By the time I had belly crawled to another vantage point, he had again passed and was moving away from me.
I repeated this process again for the third time. The unsuspecting tom was still out of range and moving. I realized I had one more try. A tangle of privet bushes ahead was the last place for ambush. By this time I was sweating and growing tired. I had one more crawl to make, and by the time I reached the privet I realized I had crawled through cow manure and smeared it from head to toe. I did not smell like a rose, but the aromatic stalk was worth it.
The gobbler was facing me 35 yards off my gun barrel and still in full strut. His color was magnificent framed against green grass. He was a patriotic- colored bird with his red, white and blue head glistening in the morning sun. There was a breeze blowing, and his fan was swaying from side to side. A load of No. 6 Hevi-Shot did a number on this bird, and I was on my way to my truck with a bird over my shoulder.
• A Numb-Rumped Showdown
At first light the bird gobbled on a high oak and pine ridge overlooking a beautiful green field. No way could I cross that open field without being seen. But a creek with high banks ran through a section of the field, and the ditch provided perfect concealment. I snuck across the field, and on the far side, I set up at the first suitable tree. The bird was still gobbling good. It’s always reassuring to hear that first gob- ble after setting up knowing you made it without being seen.
I raked the box very softly fol- lowed by a cluck or two. Then things got real quite. Another gobble and I realized the bird had closed within 50 yards, but he was in heavy cover. A few more steps and he would become history, I thought.
Then something happened that was a first for me, and it hasn’t happened since: That gobbler flew straight up in a tree about 30 feet off the ground. The turkey and I were eyeball to eyeball. He immediately began to look for the hen he thought he had heard. He could see every wrinkle in my camo pants, and I could count every scale on his bony legs. This was no time to scratch where it itched, so I sat there for about 45 minutes frozen to the ground. It was a toss-up which one of us was the most tense.
By this time my rump was numb, and the backstrap running down my spine was tight as a banjo string. Finally the old monarch pitched down on the ground and immediately took a few steps back into the thicket. I managed to coax him back into the open just long enough to get my sights on his neck and pull the trigger. Needless to say, I was thrilled to roll the bird. I was also physically and mentally spent after the long standoff, and my energy level was near zero.
Truly, no two turkey hunts are ever the same. That’s part of what makes turkey hunting the best outdoor sport on planet earth. And after 22 years of chasing gobblers, the honey-hole fever continues to rise as each new season approaches.