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Table Tennis with a Worthy Bird

By: Otha Barham

It was the 2005 spring gobbler season in Mississippi, and I was sitting on the south slope of one of those killer ridges we have here when the first light of day illuminated the woods.

This was turning into one of the worst turkey seasons for hunters. Few two-year-old birds were in the woods, and most hunters were having a hard time getting their sights on a tom. I had not scored, and mid-season was approaching. An episode of table tennis was about to happen on this day; one I remember well more than a dozen years later.

A gobbler sounded off on the ridge to the south that paralleled the one on which I was set up. I waited until he flew down before calling; after he had gobbled again several times. I hoped he was without hen friends as I sent some shy yelps his way. He answered, but I could not detect a lot of enthusiasm. More exchanges did not raise my confidence.

The tom walked away from me a bit, down his ridge to my left toward the swamp, and I began to fold my feathers. I knew I would have to get on his ridge to have a chance to bag him because there was a deep ravine between us with a small creek at the bottom. I got up and tiptoed away to make a circle to the right and get on the gobbler’s ridge. Making a wide arc, I crossed the creek and began a quiet climb that would put me near his roost tree and following in behind the bird.

Before I made 50 steps up the ridge, the bird gobbled down where the two ridges met in the nearby swamp. I stopped and waited in silence. His next gobble appeared to have come from the creek that divided the ridges. I waited a couple more minutes, and when he gobbled again, I could tell that the rascal had crossed the creek and was headed up toward my original setup spot, which I could see clearly from where I stood.

I quickly sat down against a huge beech tree to see what would happen. The big gobbler came into view as he climbed up to my earlier spot, walking purposefully and gobbling the question, “Where are you?”

I watched with remorse as the tom marched right up to where I had been seated and looked around for the departed hen, sending forth a couple of additional inquisitive gobbles. The range was 140 yards or so, but he couldn’t see me on the opposite ridge where I sat tight against the big tree. I stayed silent.

Finding no hen, the gobbler continued his search uphill and eventually out of sight. He dropped over into a small depression on the hillside and began marching back and forth, gobbling his demands that the hen show herself and fulfill her promises. That gave me the chance to stroke my box call without his pinpointing me. He shot back a gobble that said, “What are you doing over on that side, you fickle gal? I was coming to you, didn’t you understand?”

But he continued his stalling tactic, walking back and forth out of my sight, doubtless in full strut, insisting that the hen come to him. At this point, I hoped the bird would turn around and come back downhill to the creek. I was seated close enough to the creek to shoot across it if he wouldn’t cross, which was my presumption. But he continued the stalling.

I reached into a pocket, pulled out a mouth diaphragm call, and gave him a few suggestive notes. His responding gobble was immediate and fraught with lust. I pictured his likely movements up there beyond the little rise on the ridge, and I moved my shotgun to the place where I thought he might emerge should he choose to come my way, even though he would be far out of range.

His silence told me he was coming. About the time I figured the tom was likely to emerge from the depression opposite me, a flicker sounded one of those piercing, staccato calls, the shrill pitch of which hurts your ears. The old boy couldn’t stand that, and he broke his long silence and gobbled his displeasure. I smiled because he was right where I had hoped he would be.

In seconds he came into view, popping out right down my gun barrel, 100 yards up the other ridge, but hoofing it down directly toward me. I made no more calls. That mouth yelper had obviously said enough. The lovesick bird never stopped walking and stumbling down that steep, leafy hill until he got to the creek, just 40 yards from me, flew across it without hesitating, and started climbing the bank, making his way up a little shoot just 30 yards in front of me.

He finally stopped behind some brush and gobbled to pinpoint the elusive hen. I gave him no answer, instead pointing my 12 gauge at the spot where the narrow shoot ended in a small opening level with me. Seconds later, he emerged where I was pointing, then stopped and looked my way. I tumbled him over at 18 paces.

My load was a standard squirrel load with three-and three-quarter dram equivalent of powder and an ounce and a quarter of number 6 shot in my 12 gauge over/under. We couldn’t even daydream of today's loads of tungsten shot or “heavy shot” and heavy wads that throw great patterns at 60 yards and even farther.

He stepped within that 40-yard limit and he was mine.

Today I might have been loaded with shells that cost eight dollars apiece or even more! Hard for an old hand like me to believe, but I could have dropped him with today's shells at 60 yards!

But even at 60 yards, I could have bragged big time about calling him across that creek twice!

Otha Barham is a retired entomologist with the United States Department of Agriculture writing from Meridian, Mississippi. Contact him at: OthaBarham2017@gmail.com.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.