The Wanderlust Gobbler: Going to the Edge of the Map to Fill a Tag
By Kyle Hey
The top of the mountain was painted in thick green underbrush opening into a freshly timbered slope that stretched across the posted property line. The section public ground that I was hunting that afternoon was new to me. There was something about that newness that piqued my spirit of adventure, and excited me about the possibilities the ground held.
I would be lying if I said that the yellow turkey tag burning a hole in my pocket was not my primary motivation for that evening’s hunt. However, there is no doubt that a sense of wanderlust encouraged my beeline path to the furthest tip of the public land. And when I arrived at the edge of the public land I stood like a tourist staring at paintings in a museum with my head cocked, trying to interpret the new depictions of beauty surrounding me. Nature’s canvas is always beautiful, yet her complexities and subtleties always tend to reveal themselves after we let ourselves steep in the moment.
On a map, this small sliver of public grounds sticks out into the private property like an index finger pointing south. Distance from the road, slope, and I was hunting the last Friday in May meant that I was the only hunter on the mountainside enjoying the sights and sounds of a late Pennsylvania Spring evening. I was armed both with a tip from a friend about a turkey roosting area somewhere in the back corner of the Game Lands, and a borrowed 12 gauge shotgun, hoping for one last adventure before my daughter was due to be born in less than two weeks.
At 6 p.m., I dropped elevation to an area with good ground level visibility, hoping that a gobbler would feel comfortable using his keen eyesight to approach my setup. My plan was to sit for a few hours, calling periodically, in hopes of drawing a late season bird past my location on his way to roost.
Slipping out my box call, I announced the arrival of an eager hen to the mountainside. Anticipating a few hours of silence, I was daydreaming about my pre-baby to-do list as I sent my first few modest yelps through the oaks and poplars. To my confusion, I heard a distant clatter that seemed to respond to my call. Confused and disbelieving, I waited 30 seconds before sending another round of inquiring yelps.
This time there was no doubt, a gobble boomeranged back up the mountain. The tom seemed to be about 150 yards below me, and after one more call and response I was sure he was interested. The slope between us pitched down into a hardwood creek bottom. In all likelihood the gobbling tom had spent his humid late spring day loafing in the shade near the tucked away stream, enjoying the cooler surroundings.
With my decoy now positioned on a small knoll overlooking the creekbottom, I slumped in the shadows of a large oak and dove into the auditory courtship with the eager tom in earnest. Several yelps later a booming gobble revealed that he had cut his distance significantly.
My next offerings of flirtatious yelps were immediately met with the excitement of an emphatic double gobble. I could not resist seizing on the testosterone baked attitude of this tom, immediately I returned his call with a series of excited yelps, which were interrupted with a gobble yet closer still.
Rudely, I interrupted his response with a short series of loud and bossy yelps, eliciting yet another raucous double gobble. With my heartbeat ever-quickening, I finally admitted to myself; “He’s coming.”
As slowly as I could I moved the box call to the ground, shielding my movement behind my bent legs. I then elicited a few soft purrs from the wooden paddle as my final auditory offerings. Reaching next to the call, I scratched the mixture of dry oak and poplar leaves scattered on the ground, adding realism to my lonely hen persona.
Settling my cheek into the stock of my gun, my eyes darted to cover each detail of the foliage of my surroundings like a hummingbird trying to locate sugar water. Giving himself away, he tom’s rumbling gobble now revealed he was now at my elevation and closing the distance.
My novice knowledge of this new ground had caused me to cast a wager that the gobbler would approach from my left, up a natural depression in the slope. Now, I realized he was threatening my right flank, complicating my position as a right handed shooter.
After several anxious minutes of silence, a white head bobbed in the green underbrush on the ridge directly in front of me. I gripped my gun tighter, finding the trigger guard with my index finger as the tom’s head disappeared into a depression in the terrain.
Moments later, his head popped over the rise just 25 yards away. Searching for my decoy, the tom broke into a half strut, stopping just feet to the right of my direct line of fire. With a tree blocking the gobbler’s view of my decoy, I knew I would have to make a move to close the deal.
As the seconds ticked away the tom’s head bobs became increasingly sharp, personifying his fraying nerves. With the gun already leveled, I made my move and shifted my gun the final distance to the right.
The longbeard’s sharp eyesight easily caught my movement. He let out a loud warning putt and turned to flee, stepping behind a cluster of young trees. Spying a gap in the saplings, I found the bead on my barrel and broke the natural melody of the mountainside with the report of my gun.
In one coordinated motion, I sprung from my seat, and sprinted toward the big bird as he flopped in the leaves. A humane follow up shot brought a decisive conclusion to my deep woods excursion.
Pulsing with adrenaline I called my father to share my success. As soon as he answered I blurted out the question “Dad, do you know why I am calling you?”. Later, I realized that with my 38-week pregnant wife at home, he could have interpreted my question completely differently.
“Did you get a turkey?” he asked after a brief pause, which I took as an invitation to regale him with the details of the hunt.
I emerged from the woods that night drenched in sweat, but my reward was a 22.5 pound tom with 1 ⅛ inch spurs and a beard pushing 10 inches long.
The opportunities to hunt public land in Pennsylvania should be seen by hunters as a great blessing. A meritocracy exists deep within Pennsylvania public grounds, offering great opportunities for adventure to those willing to pay the admission fee of sweat and sore muscles.
If it weren’t for the innate desire to know what is around the next bend in the trail — to go to the far edge of the map– my turkey tag would still be in my pocket. Curiosity may kill the cat, but wanderlust kills gobblers, and I can’t wait to teach my daughter that fact.
Teaching pays the bills, but experiencing the outdoors refreshes Kyle Hey’s spirit. A lifelong resident of Southcentral Pennsylvania, Kyle loves hunting, hiking, kayaking, and pretends to know how to fish. To share his thoughts and experiences, Kyle started Relevant Outdoors, which promotes conservation, hunting, and anything that highlights our gift of creation.
By Marshall Nych
“To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering,” wrote Aldo Leopold, the Father of Conservation.
I am uncertain as to how smart my starts with reloading have been. Still, I have eagerly begun tinkering with this explosive hobby. Before I even unscrewed the cap from the gunpowder or secured reloading tools to my bench, family members left hints and innuendos of their preferred load. The variety was astonishing. I could toil away the duration of a life’s work and die before amassing so many dies.
I discerned much can be learned about a person by the gun they carry. Say the chap has a fine, one-of-a-kind Italian over and under. Though the man is classy, well educated, handsome and successful, he isn’t the kind of guy you’d want to have a beer with. For starters, the gentleman doesn’t drink beer. Probably Scotch. A strong foundation requires common ground. Good looks and smarts, I see no parallels.
Then there’s the guy with a beat down, scratched up, dented in12 gauge. This is the kind of man fearlessly getting his hands dirty. In fact, the shotgun he carries gets the brunt of grime before making it to his hands.
This tribute celebrates not only the sport of shooting and follow-up art of reloading, it also commemorates the caliber of characters and rifles hunting various limbs of my family tree. I welcome the reader and reloader alike to draw their own conclusions and sight in their personal firearm identity.
A good place to start is at the top. Perched on the pinnacle is the patriarch. Grandpa prefers his .30-40 Krag. The rifle dutifully served in the military during the World War. From there, it was sentimentally handed down from Papa’s older brother Jule, a soldier in the Army. Grandpa aimed small and missed seldom. The only drawback of the .30-40 Krag would be reloading. If it took as long for the United States to win the war as it did for me to track down dies, our country would be in trouble.
My father is most himself when toting a .50 caliber flintlock. Personally, I believe this has something to do with his knack for procrastination. Every fall finds Dad’s bow a varying degree of unprepared. Father had never got around to sighting it in, didn’t have enough arrows, or pulled another excuse from his quiver. Eternally distracted by the calls of nature, Dad never seems to dial in his rifle for firearms season. Hence, an annual tradition has become my father forced afield by late season flintlock. Do not be fooled by his early season apathy, the man punches tags faster than a railroad ticket taker. Last winter, Dad filled three deer tags in as many days. Two of the deer were harvested in back-to-back drives.
Cousin Grizz carries a .30-06 with cheap optics. Ironically, between his ears, he too dons cheap glass. Duct tape has been trusted to hold eyewear together and/or to his face. Most hunts are riddled with losing or cracking one form of optics. Arguably, with a nickname stemming from a bruin, my cousin wants to be prepared for any beast encountered in the wilds of Pennsylvania. A .30-06 provides desired comfort. Plus, ammo and reloading resources are readily available.
Jim, my father-in-law, watched one too many spaghetti westerns as a kid. Consequently, the first side effect is Jim requesting pasta with every meal. The second drawback would be the fact he only shoots cowboy style .45 calibers. My dear father-in-law promised the next gift he gets me will be everything I need to properly stock his shelves.
Cousin Lou’s favorite rifle happens to be a .270. Lou has taken his fair share of deer with this flat shooting caliber. My cousin says he depends on a caliber quick enough to dispatch a raging bull. He is a dairy farmer. I only know his preferred diameter because it’s what I shoot. Though I have tried, Lou never bums me a bullet. Imagine my fellow shooter’s surprise when I go from freeloader to reloader.
Younger brother Ryan opts for a 30/30 lever action. Less of a personal choice, little brother went with the bullet bestowed by Dad. Still, years of missing has honed Ryan’s skills with the lever considerably. Coupling his poor shooting with his quick action, I predict the 30/30 will be my most prolific reload.
As I mentioned earlier, my favorite caliber is a .270. Older brother Nate, who is fueled by a burning sibling rivalry, always needed to top his little brother. Perhaps this is why he fires a .280. Big brother has a one-hundredth of inch bigger gun. If my .270 reloads do not fit his Remington, it’s not a little-gun-toting little brother’s fault.
Give me one each of the following and I will hunt happily: shotgun, big game rifle, twenty-two, muzzleloader, and handgun. I am far from a shooting expert. Unless the readership is one, it is impossible to understand or reason with the pros.
If there are 5 men in a room, logistically and mathematically, there could be 10 different handshakes. However, place 5 gun experts in the same space and the combinations are infinite.
Expert Quote 1: “On a cloudy day, I like to carry my .243, open sight of course.”
Expert Quote 2: “Tomorrow is the autumnal equinox, better go out and treat myself to a new insert make, model, and caliber.”
Expert Quote 3: “Slacker! I already have that one in wood and synthetic stocks each with stainless and blued barrels!”
The saying goes, give a man an inch and he will take a foot. I have found give an authority on guns a yard and he will show up with a bazooka. The evolution of a rifleman starts at a young age with a slingshot or Daisy. From there, one evolves decades across fine shotguns and vintage classics. At some point, one starts tinkering with reloading.
Marshall Nych’s habitat is a family farm in New Wilmington, PA. When Marshall isn’t writing outdoor humor, he is an elementary teacher misguiding the youth of Mercer County. Although Nych has fished 15 states and 4 countries, his best catches remain his wife and daughter.