By Bobby Parks | Mossy Oak ProStaff
I have been truly fortunate to have hunted with some great friends and family members and created many wonderful memories along the way. But looking back, one of the most memorable ones occurred several years ago in Montana on an afternoon hunt with my wife Mary.
I had taken my second bird on the second morning and still had a day and a half left. My wife Mary had bought a license, although she still wasn’t sure if she was ready to shoot a turkey. She just didn’t know if she could do it without it bothering her. She decided to accompany me as I was going to set up for the afternoon and try to work a bird and take photos. We brought my dad’s gun, which had a red dot sight on it just in case she decided to try and take a bird. Although she had shot my Benelli several times in practice, we thought that the red dot sight might be helpful on her first bird.
We found a good set up spot that involved a tree with unique features. Two feet up the trunk there was a formation that created a seat with forks running out that provided both comfort and concealment. Knowing we had a long afternoon ahead of us, Mary sat in this tree saddle, put a book in a camoed face mask, and began to read. I laid the gun down on the ground to my left, sat down against the tree between her knees and let things quiet down for a while. It was somewhat of an awkward setup but the pressure was off as I had my birds, so I wasn’t stressing to kill anything. I only wanted pictures if I had the opportunity unless she decided to shoot a bird.
About a half hour later we heard a gobble so she put the book down and I started working what turned out to be two gobblers. It wasn’t long before they were 25 yards in front of us along with a couple hens strutting around and putting on a show. I started taking pictures, and a few minutes later a pheasant walked by us and started feeding with the gobblers.
About this time Mary says, “If I had the gun right now, I think I’d shoot one of those gobblers.” Fortunately she couldn’t see my eyes roll and I was wishing to myself that she had made this decision a little earlier. With 4 turkeys and a pheasant within 25-30 yards, the statistics were against us.
I eased my head around and looked down and saw the gun lying on the ground to my left thinking there’s no way I can put the camera down, reach over and grab the gun, turn the red dot on, ease it up to her, and have any chance of getting a shot on one of the gobblers. I whispered to her that I was going to try and slowly work the gun to her. She had been with me before and understood how slow and motionless we needed to be. I’m not sure she knew how unlikely our chances were.
I started easing the camera down and reaching for the gun watching all 4 turkey heads and the pheasant expecting to get busted any moment. It must have taken a couple minutes just to put the camera down, freezing when a head came up and continuing painfully slow when I thought I could. I was feeling blindly for the gun and couldn’t find it. I began to think it had crawled off when I finally located it. Surprised I’d made it this far, I turned on the sight and started slowly pulling the gun over and easing the stock up towards Mary. The gobblers kept strutting and turning their fans towards us, and the hens were feeding along with the pheasant with their heads up and down. It took what seemed like forever before I had the gun. It started out at 7 pounds but now felt like it weighed 50 as I eased it up to Mary. I whispered and let her know when to move and ease the gun up. She kept her cool and slowly worked the gun up to her shoulder, raised the barrel, and when one of the gobblers raised his head she squeezed off a shot.
Everything as unlikely as it was, had worked out, except she missed. And as they ran off, the Winchester 1300 with Winchester Supremes that had just about knocked Mary unconscious came flying out of the air and landed on my legs. She says I fussed at her but I believe I was just trying to help her understand that it’s not good to let go of a shotgun after you pull the trigger or anytime for that matter. She said she couldn’t help it and that it jumped out of her hands after it rattled her jaw and knocked her into the tree. This gun did tend to work the shooter over, and I was impressed that she had taken it as she had. After I apologized for “fussing” at her, we settled down and decided to stay put as it was still early and I knew we were in a good spot.
After about 30-45 minutes I heard another gobble and started calling. Within 10 minutes we had three more gobblers literally running in. Before I could figure out what to do, all three gobblers ran up to within 10 yards of us. I could hear Mary whispering to herself, “Oh crap, oh crap,” as it did appear we were about to get trampled.
She had her gun up and was looking through the red dot when I saw two other bigger gobblers top the rise just 30 yards away coming out of a drainage. She could not see them and I was reluctant to say anything, because I was already in the doghouse from the first round. About the time I decided to make mention of the two out at a better range, she fired. This time all 5 gobblers took off running all unscathed. This time I didn’t fuss and was feeling bad for Mary, so I told her not to worry about it as it’s very difficult for anyone to hit a bird that close. She shot well practicing with my Benelli, but now had lost all confidence in trying to shoot a bird and was feeling pain in her shoulder, neck, and jaw.
We both sat there taking in what had happened. 30 minutes later I looked to our right and saw to my amazement 4 gobblers along with several hens 200 yards away moving along the bottom edge of a long hill coming towards us. I was surprised, as I’d never at that point or since saw so many gobblers in that location. While they were coming towards us a few hens were coming across a field to our right on an intersecting course with the other group and within 60 yards of us. We watched and I held off calling, because the gobblers were already heading in our direction. Although, I knew they were going towards the roost and could turn up hill at any moment.
What happened next was a big part of what made this the most memorable hunt. The group with the gobblers started turning to go up the hill so I began to call. They would gobble and drifted closer but would not come in. The other hens met up with them and they all started going up the coulees. This was a large steep climb going up 200 feet that no Eastern bird would walk up. They were using a mule deer trail and as the group of hens started up the trail, we realized one hen had not made it through the fence and was communicating to the others that had left her. She was 90-100 yards back and the hens she was with had already hit the base of the hill. Two of the hens realized that the stranded hen was having problems and turned around, walked back down the hill, and back out to the fence talking with her all the way. They helped her through the fence and all three headed back towards the hill. It was touching to see them go back after her and guide her back into the group.
About this time, two of the gobblers who were well up the hill started fighting. I mean they were going at it. Why they waited until they got on such difficult terrain to tangle, I’ll never know. But it was like fighting on a cliff. Wings were flapping and the fighting purrs were easy to hear. After this went on for a minute or two they both literally rolled several yards down the hill. I started to think the fall might have killed one of them and that we might be able to just go over and pick him up, but they both survived and stopped fighting and one gobbler ran up the hill giving up.
The gobbler that won the fight strutted several yards up the trail and then turned and walked out on a little overlooking mound that was a few feet above the trail that all the other birds were walking. He locked into strut and stood there motionless like a statue for at least 10 minutes until every bird had walked under and by him. Mary said he looked like a shepherd watching and herding his flock. He really did look majestic and proud of himself and it was an amazing thing to see. Of course I immediately started thinking we needed to come back and try and kill him tomorrow, but Mary for some reason said we should leave him alone. I believe she appreciated the beauty of the scene and event.
We did leave them alone and did not come back the next day, although I really wanted to. In my mind, he was a giant and bigger than all the other gobblers we had seen. But I think the occasion made him seem bigger. In all we saw 11 gobblers, had 7 gobblers in range, missed two birds, had a pheasant feeding with the turkeys, got lots of good photos, saw the hens drop back to help the struggling hen get through the fence, and a fight with what truly looked like a proud shepherd overlooking his flock.
You can now see why this hunt that stands out in my mind as one of the most memorable, even though it didn’t result in taking a bird. It was an incredible and memorable hunting session filled with close calls. For most of us it comes down to enjoying the outdoors, the wildlife, the encounters, and the memories created and shared. It doesn’t always require that a bird goes down. It would have been a shame to have seen all this alone.
We learned later that the red dot sight had been bumped off and the misses were not her fault. And the hunt ended on a great note when she killed her first bird ever the next morning on a run and gun prairie hunt using my Benelli. That’s a story for another day.