Thursday, April 22, 2021

Two Gobblers




I started guiding turkey hunters in the early 1980’s, an offshoot of growing up guiding fishermen on the river. An outdoor writer has to learn to supplement his income when he is raising a family, and I found out there was a lot of money to be made taking turkey hunters on two or three day trips, camping somewhere in the mountains of Arkansas and showing them an experience like they had never had.


The hunters I took were wealthy, most of them lawyers or doctors, men who made a lot of money and didn’t have enough time to experience the outdoors on their own. In those days when I lived in Arkansas, I made much of my income guiding those kinds of outdoorsmen on float-fishing trips, fall duck hunting trips or turkey hunting trips in the spring. They paid well, and a few were a pain in the neck. But most were great people.


One of those was an Oklahoma neurosurgeon, Dr. David Fell, and he was a super guy. He was a real joy to hunt with because even though he had never killed a gobbler, he didn’t seem to be that concerned if he didn’t get one. Truly, he enjoyed being outdoors. He joined me in Texas County in Missouri many years ago to hunt gobblers in the morning and float the Big Piney River where I had grown up in the afternoon, fishing for bass and goggle-eye. Back then there were probably 3 times as many gobblers in the woods as there are today, and the morning of opening day found us with several gobblers sounding off around us.


One in particular was gobbling constantly, but slow to move. Within an hour, a mature gobbler came by us within easy range, but he never gobbled at all. Dr. Fell was so consumed with the one we were hearing that he didn’t even see the other. In two hours, that noisy gobbler had moved from 200 yards away to about 75 yards, but though we could hear him, we couldn’t yet see him in the underbrush. I kept hearing another hunter on another ridge, trying to call the gobbler we were working. He was using a diaphragm call, and he was too loud, way too anxious with it… doing too much calling. Still, I think the gobbler might have been quicker to come to my call without the competition.


Finally the old tom was within forty yards, strutting in full view and Dr. Fell dropped him. He was elated. Within minutes, the other hunter showed up to admire the fallen gobbler. He was about 14 or 15 years old, the eldest son of one of my old school mates. They lived on a small tract of land nearby.


  Dr. Fell was so tickled with his gobbler he headed back to Oklahoma anxious to show it off to his friends. I intended to spend the night on the river and hunt a little the next morning. But I kept thinking about that kid, so about dark I drove out to his home and gave him one of the calls that I make, a little western cedar box that it only takes ten minutes with a hot glue gun. I showed him how to use it and told him to quit using that diaphragm. “Save it for turkey calling contests,” I told him with a laugh. He looked puzzled.


I started to leave, but I just couldn’t. I knew he hadn’t ever killed a gobbler in the spring, though he said he had killed a couple of young turkeys in the fall, illegally. So I asked him if he’d like to go with me in the morning. His face brightened like the sun had come back up.


There isn’t enough room here to tell the whole story, but the next morning about 30 minutes after we set up on a wooded ridge-top, I called in a nice gobbler, and the boy killed it. Oh yes, it would have been mine had I not brought him along. And maybe, if you are a young turkey hunter, you may not understand this, but if you are a grizzled old veteran hunter, you will… If I had killed either of those two gobblers in those two spring mornings, I wouldn’t have been nearly as happy as I was, driving back to my home in Arkansas without one.


I had another hunter to take to the Ouachita Mountains in a day or so, and I got paid well for a gobbler he killed just a few miles from the Fourche River. Still, the kid who never paid me a dime for that morning so many years ago gave me just as much as anyone ever did. I remember him lugging that big gobbler toward the porch of that old farmhouse, and some of his brothers and sisters waiting there for the school bus, jumping up and down with excitement. I can still see him, turning toward me with a grin as wide as that gobblers beard was long, and saying “Thanks Mister Dablemont!”


He’s a grown man now… I don’t know where. But I hope he takes some kid turkey hunting on occasion. And I’ll bet my best turkey call that he does.



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