Feeding the Beast

There's more than one recipe for smoking monster gobblers, but the author found some hot new ingredients during a hunt in the bluegrass state.

Clover-lined gravel roads meander through a thoughtful blend of selective cut timber stands, well-balanced food plots and bountiful brooding cover. It's called The Kentucky Proving Grounds—a turkey hunter's dreamland, loaded with top quality toms.

And there I stood, uphill from a known bird bedroom with Grant Woods and Adam Keith—two friends from GrowingDeer.TV (an online hunting show) who share my hunger for outsmarting strutters. A whip-poor-will sang the final verse of a shy serenade as its feathered relatives awoke to carry on the soundtrack of spring. The subtle yelp of a hen, followed by a distant gobble, told us it was almost turkey time. We scrambled into position, hoping to start the day with a bang.
After fly-down, a dominant longbeard displayed just enough of a show to tempt my trigger finger, but he cautiously escorted his harem back into the tangled thicket.

Back at camp, landowner Terry Hamby hauled in a great gobbler with a 12-inch rope and 1? -inch hooks. We hovered around the tremendous tom as Terry explained how jealousy had gotten the best of the bird.

Adam and I joined another buddy, Michael Turbyfill, the following morning with high hopes of collecting our own trophies. It didn't take long for Michael's expert turkey trash-talking to pull a single longbeard into spitting distance. Adam was stuck with a bad video camera angle, allowing the tom to strut away unscathed. Our collective instinct forced us into a holler as we tried another setup on the bruiser bird, but his roaring gobbles quickly attracted lonely hens.

The trouble with hunting mature toms is that they're masters of evasion. They possess a sixth sense to slip out of questionable situations without a second thought. That principle was yet again reinforced as we hung up our vests after long hours of failure in the field.

It was the third dawn of my hunt and the last full day to smoke a longbeard. Flying home with a mind full of memories the next afternoon would be a blessing, but a freezer bag loaded with free-range poultry would spell ultimate satisfaction.

Adam and I targeted a known roosting area in the waning moments of morning darkness. One gobbler hammered us with an unexpected wake-up call, forcing us onto our tip-toes for the final steps of our approach. By the time we were in position, two of his competitors began bantering. Three toms within 100 yards—not a bad deal. We should be able to break off a satellite bird to investigate our setup. Soon, several hens cackled as they pitched to the ground and pulled our boys away on a string.

The allure of a hearty Southern breakfast at camp was strong, but I convinced Adam that we needed to stay out all day. We loaded our pockets with snacks and got back in the game. However, we agreed a comfortable tree and a relaxed session of napping and calling was in order.

We staked our claim on the hardwood edge of an idle food plot. I placed an Avian-X breeder hen and an aggressive jake decoy in the open, 35 yards from our killing (napping) trees. The warmth of the sizzling sun in combination with a slight breeze was like a massage from Mother Nature, coaxing me into a calmness only felt by a spring turkey hunter. This moment of solitude was abruptly interrupted by the sound of rustling leaves.

Suddenly, a triple threat of angry longbeards marched out of the woods and surrounded the fake jake. The gang took turns pummeling the defenseless deke … until I decided to break up the beat-down with a wallop of No. 5s. There lay a limb-hanger, lights out in the dirt, taking a permanent nap.

Later that afternoon, Terry and his on-site land manager, Andrew Clifton, shared a Redneck blind situated in a legendary longbeard's known strut zone. They had spent weeks patterning the bird with a Reconyx scouting camera. He arrived like clockwork, but hung up at 65 yards. Andrew invited the skeptical strutter to come closer for a deadly dance, but he held his ground, insisting the invisible hen reveal herself. Terry viewed the last of the tom's performance through his Nikon and closed the curtain with Winchester applause. The bird's final bow was quick and gracious.

The sound of my alarm pulled me out of a blissful night's sleep. I could have hit "snooze," but with one more open tag and just a couple of remaining hours in Trigg County, I suited up and met Andrew for breakfast in the woods.

We settled into the same familiar place where Adam and I had been denied service by the prior morning's flock. This time, we arrived well before the eastern lights turned on, and we reserved our spots in VIP seating. But again, the fly-down clique ignored us and set their table elsewhere.

It was feast or famine, so we waited until the snobby birds were out of sight and we went after them. A series of yelps and cutting from my mouth call urged a gobbler to reveal his location … and he wasn't far. Andrew and I found the closest straight tree for a back rest and we hit the deck.

Within minutes, a curious red head appeared at 60 yards and suddenly paused in a narrow shooting lane. Finally, roosted meant roasted.

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