Rainy Day Tom's
"Damn that ain't, "Bubba"!"
Dark grey storm clouds floated across the early morning sky as Bill Massey moved into the woods. A light wind whipped tree branches causing small droplets of water to fall and play out a dull tune on dead leaves. As he worked deeper into the forest Bill's foot occasionally made a soft sucking sound as he worked his way through the heavy brush to his hunting area. Earlier, the weather man on the radio had predicated more rain later on in the morning, so most turkey hunters were home in bed. Prime hunting time in Bill's estimation! Undaunted by the April showers that had given way to the rains in May, Bill was in the field hunting an 'ole gobbler deep in a hardwood bottom late in the season in Western Kentucky.
Unable to go with Bill I persuaded him to hunt with a new muzzle loading shotgun from Traditions. Apprehensive at first, but trusting in my judgment he decided to carry the gun. Once Bill was at his hunting area he carefully set up his Feather Flex decoys and checked the shotgun once again, then settled into a hunting position. In the pre-dawn light Bill quietly pulled out a friction call and worked a carbon striker from his hunting vest. A wood striker is useless when it's wet, so he always carries a carbon striker as a back up in case it rains. After letting lose with a shock call Bill started to play the soft sweet song of a love sick hen seeking a beau.
I had meet Bill through a friend at a Hunting and Fishing show where Knight & Hale was giving seminars on wild game calls. As member of their Pro-Staff Bill concentrated on demonstrating calling techniques to use during the late Turkey season, while emphasizing the basics. He pointed out that Turkey hunters should avoid using white, blue, or red chalk on a friction call for two reasons. One, an over anxious hunter could mistake a fleeting glimpse of one of these colors for a Turkey's head. Two, most colored chalk has an oil base, and a non-oil base chalk should be used on the box call for the best performance. Also a hunter should avoid letting their fingers touch it because it is very important to kept the surface clean.
What impressed me about his presentation, was his common sense approach for solving a problems in the field. For example, he suggested a hunter cut a few large branches when scouting and lay them next to his hunting position. Later, they would be used as a blind to hunt from behind. The brush would mask any hand movement when a friction call was used and break up the hunter's outline.
When asked why he owns so many different types of strikers, he explained that the sound of call can be changed by switching strikers. Many times a bad sounding call can be changed into a perfect call with a different striker. It's another tool to use when trying to call a stubborn gobbler to you. Sometimes just changing the striker will change the call enough to make a gobbler move. He quickly pointed out that some gobblers like a clear call while others prefer a raspy one. Since there is no way of knowing in advance what a particular Tom prefers, Bill carries a variety of strikers and calls in his hunting vest for those wary birds. However, he said that it's better for the hunter to learn to use one call well. Rather than carrying a smorgasbord of calls around and not be able to use any of them correctly. He urged hunters to get a tape and listen to it then practice and develop their own style. While I'm sure a number of wives in the audience shuddered at the though of listening to a love sick hen for hours on end in their home, it's good advice. Every Turkey has a unique call so while it is impossible to make the perfect call it is possible to become a proficient Turkey caller.
One point, Bill emphasized was the importance of calling softly and sparingly late in the season. Old gobblers didn't get that way by being love sick fools. They are very leery at this time of the year, but often they can be lured in with the right call and decoy because they eventually become love sick too. He suggested mixing the calls when you are working an old bird. For example, switch between a clear and raspy mouth call. Remember these birds have been pushed and called for several weeks, so patience is extremely important.
The sun was starting to rise above the ridge when the gobbler answered Bill's shock call. Today all of Bill's Turkey hunting experience was going to be put to the test. The 12 gauge shotgun was loaded with 90 grains of Pyrodex and the equivalent of 3 drams of number 4 and 6 shot. At 40 yards the load had printed a nice tight pattern that surpassed his modern shotgun. The muzzle loader handled well when Bill was working his way through the heavy brush to his hunting area. He appreciated its lightweight on the long hike into the hunting area. Now if the gun shot as well as it looked and handled it would be a winner.
The hunting area was wrapped in light patches of fog and tall oaks. The wind quicken, a hen decoy swung lazily around and dipped in the breeze. Just then Bill's 'ole friend sent him a thundering ovation from a distant ridge. Purring softly on the slate call he started to coach the old bachelor into shooting range. He noticed the Feather Flex decoy "Bubba" turning slowly in the early morning haze. His iridescence breast feathers never looked that beautiful before, they had a golden bronze look about them Bill thought. The foggy haze was starting to fade away just as he started to develop a cramp in his shoulder from holding the gun. Bill didn't dare move for fear that the 'ole Tom would see him. Using his mouth call again, he slowly tugged at the Tom's heart strings with the low soft call of hen begging her lover to come to her. Dampness was starting to settle into his body from the ground and the cramps in his legs and arms were starting to be more severe. "Damn why doesn't he just come in, what's he hung up on"? A cloud moved and the light shifted highlighting "Bubba". "Damn that ain't, "Bubba"!" Bracing his back against a tree Bill pulled the trigger to the rear and the tom disappeared behind a cloud of grey smoke.
When Bill told me the story of his hunt, I thought only he would have had the patience and endurance to hunt in the rain then coach a stubborn bird into range. But then that's what it often takes late in season when you are hunting an old Tom on a rainy day.