The Bar Ditch Gobbler
By Sam Wells – Chama Chair
Opening day of turkey season is always a highly anticipated day for many sportsmen. It signifies a new beginning; the earth comes back to life after a long winter and so does the burning in our soul that calls us to be outside. The poison ivy, ticks, and chiggers all pale in comparison to the feeling of excitement you get when you hear that first gobble cut through the early morning air.
This opening day was going to be special regardless of the outcome. I was going to be hunting with a college buddy of mine. Collin and I used to burn up the roads when we lived together at The University of North Texas. Circumstances in life often change, but a friendship forged in the woods and on the water rarely does. On the eve of the opener, we loaded up the truck and headed out to his grandparent’s farm north of Decatur, Texas. We planned to scout a few places on the farm to put ourselves under the roost tree of a big gobbler come opening morning. Much to our surprise, we located a tom with a dozen or so hens with him. He was the man and he knew it. He strutted in the evening sun, letting out a gobble every few minutes. Collin and I watched as he and his raft of hens made their way into a big live oak tree to settle in for the night.
The morning came quick as it always does when you are full of anticipation and fear that somehow you might oversleep. From our sleeping bags, we discussed how we thought the morning would go. “He’s going to fly right down into the decoys. We will be at the cafe eating breakfast by eight!” Collin exclaimed. I was a little less optimistic. We packed our bags, grabbed our weapons and stumbled through the darkness into the tree line across from where the birds had roosted the night before.
The morning fog rose along with the sound of gobbles ringing out just seventy-five yards away. Collin looked at me and gave a nod from his tree. I could only see the whites of his eyes, but under his facemask I knew he was smiling with anticipation. Turkeys are big, clumsy birds and the sound of them flapping down from their tree is unmistakable. I looked at my watch and confirmed legal shooting light.
Finally, the gobbler made his way to the ground. He floated down from the tree in a way that looked more like a WWII glider plane than a bird. I let out a few notes from my diaphragm call. The bird puffed his chest and started strutting right away. Suspiciously the hens looked over our decoys, trying to figure out just who these two additions to their field were. The gobbler, however, never came into range. He eventually made his way off into the treeline taking his hens and my hopes of hot biscuits and gravy with him.
Game plan revised, we headed to a new spot. Just as we got there, we heard several gobbles ring out. We stopped in our tracks and quickly hit a knee. Soon we realized that the gobbles were coming from a large meadow across the road on the neighbors property. Again, I let out a few notes from my call and quickly received an answer, then another and a third. Our spirits were lifted, but we realized there were a few problems with our current scenario. First, we were in the middle of a hay field with little to no cover. Second, the birds were across the road on the neighbors property. Last, but not least, if they did decide to come investigate, they would have to cross two deep bar ditches, a county road and come through a row of thick cedars that paralleled the road. “What do you…” Collin said before he was cut off by a gobble that was closer than any before. The time for talking was over. Collin made quick work of setting up a blind against the barren fence row. He set up our CHAMA Chairs and a six-foot section of camo netting on wooden dowels. I placed the hen decoy on the ground to simulate a breeding posture and the jake decoy close behind. I hustled to the blind and let out another series of calls. Instead of Collin being cut off this time it was me. The gobbler was getting closer, there was no doubt about it. A few minutes went by with no action. A few minutes turned into ten. We were beginning to think the bird was deterred by all the obstacles between he and us.
All doubt faded, when a big red head rose just like the morning fog out of the bar ditch. He stopped for a moment and peered under the barbed wire like a soldier scanning the field of battle. A few seconds later he fluttered clumsily over the fence. After gathering himself, he let out a gobble that made the hair on our necks stand up. The gobbler came waddling over to the decoys in full strut illuminated by the early morning sun. He quickly got to work beating up the decoy. He hopped and flapped at it, scratching it with his spurs. I heard the audible “click” come from the safety on Collin’s shotgun. I knew the shot would ring out soon. I was right and the bird was down in seconds with a well-placed shot from Collin. Collin stood up from his chair and eagerly made his way to the bird. I ran after him and was greeted with a big high hive and a solid “bro hug.” We cleaned and plucked the bird and discussed our plans of what we might do with the flesh. We settled on frying it whole for Friendsgiving in November.
Later that year, in September we sat along that same fence line pass shooting doves. I looked across the field towards the fence where the gobbler came through. I smiled and thought fondly of the events that unfolded in the field that spring morning with one of my best friends. I doubt we will ever have another hunt like that one, but I have no doubt there will be more memorable mornings spent in the woods with Collin. I encourage you to get out in the field this spring, you just never know what might happen!