Bruce Hooper: The Public Land Four-Bearded Gobbler
Editor’s Note: Bruce Hooper lives in Gansevoort, New York which is located 30 minutes north of Albany and 10 minutes south of Lake George. Hooper has been hunting turkeys for about 12 years, and he's been a Mossy Oak pro for 8 years. During the 2016 season, he wore Mossy Oak Break-Up Country camo.
In New York, we have mountains with white pines and hemlocks on them. The mountains drop off into agricultural lands with mature forests made up of hickory and primarily red oaks, because loggers have cut the majority of the white oaks. I hunt both private and public lands. There's a lot of state land in New York that doesn’t receive much hunting pressure. One of the properties I hunt is in Montgomery County where I have a cabin. I've protected some of the white oaks there. Many of our state lands are public hunting, but they're not in wildlife management areas. You may find 200 acres in one spot, 500 acres in another and 1,000 acres some other place. Some of this land became state property when the landowners died, and the state took it over.
When I'm hunting state land for turkeys, I look for property that’s too small for most turkey hunters to even consider hunting it. For instance, a state park is about a mile or two from my house as the crow flies. This park takes in 8,000 or 10,000 acres that are so remote that most people won’t try to hunt this property. To get to the best hunting there, you have to walk about 1/2-mile on a gravel road and then up a mountain for another 1/2-mile. Of all the years I've hunted that property, I've only seen one other person there. I've never hunted those state lands without taking a turkey. The birds on that property are ridge-running turkeys and won’t be down in the agricultural fields feeding on the crops. They will remain high and stay safe. Three years ago, I took a gobbler up there that had four beards. The mountain has a big flat top, which is where I hunt. About 500- 600 acres of flat ground are on top of that mountain, and all the timber is hardwoods. In many places, the terrain is so steep that as you are climbing up the mountain, you can put your hands straight out and touch the mountain. In many places, the terrain is so rough that hunters aren’t willing to climb that high just to get a turkey.
My son, Luke, and I climbed that mountain the morning I took the four-bearded gobbler. We had been talking to three or four different birds on top of the mountain. When the turkeys flew off the roost, Luke kept calling to them. They would gobble from the ground, which was unusual for turkeys in our area. Most often, when the turkeys fly down, they stop gobbling, because there are so many coyotes in that region. But on this particular morning, three longbeards were double gobbling and cutting off Luke’s yelping. However, for some reason, they didn’t want to come in close enough for me to take a shot. We were above the turkeys, and they had to come up the hill to get to us. Because we were above the turkeys and just a little back from the lip of the hill,I knew they had to come up the mountain and look over the lip of the hill to see the hen that had been talking to them. The first bird that came over the lip of the hill started strutting, and he had his head tucked back into the feathers on his back. Luke could see where I was. The turkey was strutting, and Luke knew the bird was within range. He gave a kee kee run call, that gobbler’s head went up like a periscope, and I squeezed the trigger. Luke got to the turkey first, and he said, “Gee Dad, this bird has a double beard - no, he has three beards – no, he has four beards.”
Luke is 32 now. He and I started hunting together when he was only 5. Later, Luke told me,“When the bird came up over the hill, all I could see was his fan outstretched, while the gobbler was strutting. I thought the turkey would pull his head in, so you couldn’t get a good shot. That’s the reason I gave him the kee kee run call.”