top of page
  • Ken Perrotte

Hunting Wild Turkeys - An Almost Stereotypical Screw-up -- Still, Cap’n Hooks Squires his Last Feathered Maiden

Updated: May 15

Prologue - Busted! Three hours of comfortable sitting in a low-profile “strutter” chair at daybreak had the jumbo-sized coffee I quaffed during my 30-minute predawn drive desperately wanting out. I was tucked into a thick hedgerow of autumn olive bordering a freshly planted soybean field. Rolling right, I planted my knee and pushed myself upright. After a hasty look around, I moved a few yards away to offload my liquid cargo. Zipping up, I pivoted and – damn, that’s a gobbler across the field, 100 yards away at the wood’s edge. What timing! If I can see him, he can see me. Surely, I was busted…or was I?

turkey and shotgun post harvest still life on a log
Patience, Grasshopper

When it comes to hunting wild turkeys, some crave run-and-gun, scoot-and-shoot methods, preferring an encounter as interactive as it can be. That’s fine but sometimes when you’re standing along a field and patch of woods at the cusp of daybreak and all is silent, setting up for a patient sit where you think the turkeys eventually will want to be makes eminent sense.

The woods were quiet in Caroline County, Virginia, on Mother’s day morning (May 12). Not even the urgent blasts of passing freight trains triggered a shock gobble. After pressing into the nearby woods the day before, I heard at least three separate early morning gobblers. One was about 300 yards away, but estimating distance can be deceiving late in the season when the foliage is thick. This particular turkey sounded like it was standing in that freshly planted soybean field, where the green shoots stood about three inches high and offered tender, nutritious nibbling. I counted eight gobbles, each insisting that the hen he was hearing (me) come to him. Moving is risky. I judged the chances of him seeing me before I saw him as unacceptable. So, I sat tight. And went home sans turkey but with a better next-day plan.

Now, I stood along  the beanfield as the sky lightened, simply listening for a gobble. Fog dropped, covering the treetops. The air was heavy. Expectations diminished. No birds were talking. I decided to set up my comfortable, low-profile "strutter"chair and a small, camouflaged screen, tucking just into the tangle or autumn olive and flowering blackberries and wild raspberries. The area was a haven for ticks and I was glad I was wearing my permethrin-treated Sitka Equinox hunting pants and hoody. I love the way the lightweight shirt incorporates a snug, thin hood and a face mask. I've never had a tick attach to me when I'm wearing such gear. (Note: Beware hitchhiking ticks on other stuff, like decoy bags and vests. They can get in your truck and sneakily bite while you're driving without your protective clothing. The consequences of tick bites are increasingly unforgiving.)

I set my decoys, an Avian X upright breeder hen and a Montana Decoy Miss Purrfect HD Hen, 35 yards away to my front and left, figuring birds might come from my right. Having the decoys to my left might prompt any tom to fixate on them and stroll directly in front of my gun. Regardless, I carried ample firepower in the superbly designed Mossberg 940 Turkey Pro shotgun in 12 gauge. And the shotshells were Apex Ammunition’s TSS 3-inch with number 9 pellets. Much of my field in front of me was in easy range.

I called sparingly, about every 20 minutes. The calls were nothing insistent or aggressive, just enough to let any lonesome boy know that there might be some company in the field. The sun climbed above the tree line. A brief moment of excitement came when a rabbit popped out of the hedgerow and paused nervously just a yard off my left foot. A faint rustle a few seconds later had me look right and there stood a beautiful red fox, just 10 feet away. The rabbit quickly vanished. I sure messed up that fox's morning hunt. The fox saw me and reversed course, loping gracefully away.

I texted my friend Roger, who owns the property. He killed a nice gobbler there the Friday before, tagging out for the season. Today, though, nothing was happening, and I was mentally putting a 10:30 deadline on this hunt. First, though, came the 9 a.m. stretch break to relieve myself.

dog looking at turkey
My Boykin spaniel Jameson always likes it when a turkey comes home!
Gobbler May Need Glasses

I instinctively crouched and froze as I spotted the gobbler. I was wearing full camo so maybe he didn’t see me. It was a classic, almost stereotypical hunting scenario screw-up, the kind people have made cartoons and illustrations about. But he didn’t seem spooked and I watched him leisurely peck at soybean shoots. Each time he lowered his head, I moved a couple of feet closer to my hidey hole. Eventually, vegetation obscured our mutual line of sight. To my amazement, I slipped back into the chair with the turkey still chilling out in the field. I collected myself and began strategizing how this might play out.

The gobbler acted like it hadn’t seen the stationary decoys. I could sit quietly and see what happens or I could give him a reason to consider crossing the field. I called softly, mainly clucks. He raised his head, looking in my direction, his tail fan slowly rising. But he never gobbled. This bird seemed in no hurry, unlike two-year-old toms that often eagerly rush to calls and decoys. I didn’t want to spook the turkey by getting aggressive with the calling. He poked around, occasionally looking in my direction. Then, he made a move, following the contour of the land on its highest point, traveling a path that would take him to another field. I called again – a little more loudly. This time he looked and – by golly – saw that there were two gorgeous hens just standing there and looking for his special brand of attention.

Nobody knows a turkey’s mind like a turkey, and he could’ve just kept walking. Thankfully, and to his unknown detriment, he altered course and started his slow – I mean painfully slow – walk toward the decoys. Now, his beard wasn’t much to look at, but this bird’s behavior had me thinking this was an old cuss, a veteran that may have witnessed some buddies or family members who talked too much and chased women with reckless abandon. They likely got shot before his eyes. Maybe he’d been shot at. Then again, perhaps he was just the top dog and every feathered creature in the neighborhood knew it. He didn’t gobble because he didn’t have to – his spurs did his talking.

The gobbler keyed in on Miss Purrfect. This unique critter is made with a die-cut cloth skin stretched over a lightweight metal frame. The head and tail are moveable, and I set the decoy up like it was feeding. The gobbler popped into full strut, eventually snuggling within inches of the decoy, maybe whispering sweet little turkey nothings into her ear. I fully expected the gobbler to jump on top and try to breed the decoy, but he was incredibly patient – or confused. Regardless, I'm still a hunter and I get primeval excited as things come together – there’s only so much my old heart can stand. My breathing quickened as I anticipated squeezing the trigger. I just needed him to step away from his gal pal. So, with my smartphone balanced atop my shotgun, I waited and recorded this curious bird. Finally, he took a couple steps left. I disengaged the shotgun’s safety, perfectly centered the bird’s head in the Holosun optic as he dropped out of his strut, and – boom – my Virginia spring gobbler season was over.

wild turkey spurs with shotshell
sharp, long wild turkey spurs

A Well-Armed Snood Dragger

My heart leapt into even higher gear as I went to collect the turkey. This old gobbler had daggers - spurs exceeding 1.5 inches on each leg. The beard barely (just a couple feathers) registered 10 inches. He weighed 20.5 pounds. This turkey was what you might call a snood dragger. If, as some research studies surmise, hen turkeys are attracted to the size of a gobbler’s snood, the wrinkled, fleshy appendage atop his nose, this guy punched his porn star ticket years ago.

In the "old days" before TSS, I would've centered the shotgun pattern on the turkeys' red/white wattles to help ensure even distribution and killing power. Now, with TSS 9 pellets throwing as much kinetic energy as size 5 lead, I adjust and aim higher. Yes, a lot pellets zip high over the bird, but it also means I'm not picking dozens or hundred of pieces of diminutive hard shot from the bird's breast. After all, I am a carnivore and wild turkey breast is some of the most delicious meat in the woods. Even though the shot was close to 40 yards, the pellets grouped tightly through the Mossberg's ultra-full choke. I counted nearly 40 pellets in the neck and only three “flyers” that made it into the top of the left breast. I was stoked and called Roger, who promptly invited me to his cabin where he was preparing breakfast for his grandson Mason.

man hangs gobbler from a limb by its spurs
Roger says, 'Let's hang this sucker up!'

Mason has already taken a couple of turkeys this year and was back at with his grandfather. Roger is making a loving investment in that youngster and their shared joy of hunting is palpable. It’s heartwarming to see. We enthusiastically talked about the hunt, just a couple old guys and a kid united by a love of the outdoors and its transformational grandeur. Roger helped me get some photos and was insistent that we take a couple of shots with the bird hanging by its spurs from a tree limb.

Man, boy and dog with harvested wild turkey
A Season to Remember         

It was a season to remember. Virginia’s 2024 spring gobbler season started off much like the 2023 season. I luckily took two gobblers in the first four days – nice birds with one a likely two-year-old and the other, maybe, a three-year-old. They certainly didn’t have the aged appearance of the final boss bird. A fishing expedition (literally) to New York carved one week out of the season and a nasty respiratory infection knocked me out of the game for another 10 days. Still, the delays were worth it. This final gobbler is easily in the top 3 (spurs-wise) that I’ve taken. I had resigned myself to not getting that last notch in my Virginia license but that was okay.

As it turned out, it was a double gift weekend, first seeing the northern lights at 4:30 a.m. on Saturday thanks to the most intense solar storm we’ve experienced in 20 years and then Cap’n Hooks showing up while I was taking a leak in a Caroline County beanfield. Yes, the turkey gods can work in mysterious ways.

Thanks for reading! Hunt safely and please enjoy and share the outdoors.


bottom of page