Last week’s wild turkey season opener began on a snowy Wednesday morning with Ray Novak and I set up in a ground blind. He had just done a marvelous job calling in two gobblers who gave us head shots at 35 yards. Ray got his bird but my gun misfired.
The missed tom gave me another chance, albeit a quick one, and I missed, but the gun did fire. So what happened? I was sick. After the gobbler and hen flew off, I began to assess the situation.
When I packed for the trip, I took a box with eight turkey loads. These were Triple Beard, Heavy-Shot shells that were in good condition and about two years old. On my way through the garage, I grabbed another box of shells that were quite old.
I put one box in the driver’s door and the other in the passenger door compartments. The next morning, well before daylight, I grabbed the wrong box of shells. The old ones had corrosion, something I did not see in the dark. I believe that corrosion kept the action from fully closing with the shell not seating, thus, causing the gun not to fire.
Just in case it was my gun, Ray suggested I use his. We sat the rest of the afternoon and had agreed to quit at 5:30 pm. I had to use the bathroom, I was disgusted, tired, and cold. With six minutes to go two hens entered the field. We watched and hoped for the next 90 minutes that a gobbler would join them, but none did.
There was no quit in me, I set my alarm a little early to get the coffee going. I wanted more time to owl hoot a couple of extra areas before we went to our best. Good intention, but no tom responded.
A long walk up a hill and across a powerline right-of-way brought us to where we thought a really mature gobbler came from the morning before. This tom was ganged up on by the other two we shot at. He left in the opposite direction from which he came. Would he circle back and roost in the same area? We were about to find out on this record-breaking cold morning.
We found a well-worn trail almost by feel and entered the woods. Ray stopped and pulled out his owl hoot call. Immediately, a tom gobbled back. He was on roost about 90 yards away.
Silently, Ray and I eased along a hillside and set down against a big tree. Because of heavy cloud cover, good shooting light would be slow to come. He was not hunting and there was only one gun. However, I know my limitations.
Ray Novak is a great turkey caller with a most unusual slate-type call made of aluminum and wood. He uses a striker on the metal surface.
When my friend started talking turkey, the tom could not shut up. It was an instant love affair between an old gobbler and an alluring young hen.
There was a slight break below us with a hen decoy at the crest. As darkness begrudgingly gave way to light, the tom flew down from his high perch on the opposite ridge and landed just below the decoy and out of sight.
Ray called one more time and here he came. At 31 yards the warry old bird paused. There was something in front of him that did not look right. His moment of hesitation was all I needed.
Sunrise was at 6:51 am and I shot the boss of the woods at 6:54 am.
My bad luck turned good. This bird had what Ray calls “A paint-brush beard” that measured 11.5 inches with 1-1/8th inch spurs.
After arriving home, I called the name and phone number on the aluminum call. Leroy Smith, 812-739-2973. The gentleman is 89 years old and loves to hunt turkey, deer, and fish for redear. He lives near Leavenworth along the Ohio River.
I wanted the story behind the call and was it ever a good one.
In the infancy of Hoosier turkey hunting you had to quit hunting at noon to allow the hens to sit, unbothered, on their nests.
Leroy and four other hunters were back at their vehicles about 11 am.when a guy pulled up in an old truck. He asked if they had any luck. Leroy replied, “No but there is a huge gobbler running that ridge that none of us can get close to.”
The wooded area was a part of the Hoosier National Forest (HNF). The stranger asked if he could go give it a try. No one objected. He said I’ll be back in about 20 minutes.
“A short time later, we heard the fella shoot. He had called in that 26-pound gobbler that had hung up on the rest of us,” Leroy lamented.
The stranger showed the surprised hunters his aluminum homemade striker hen call. Leroy thought, “If he can make one, so can I.”
Leroy experimented a lot. “I buy a strip of aluminum from the hardware stored and mill the wood that goes on each side. It took me a long time to find the right sounding striker. Cedar worked the best but lacked consistency. Finally, I came up with a bamboo striker with a corncob handle.” That combination made the purr-fect sound.
Ironically, Ray bought his Leroy Smith call at the Leavenworth Hardware Store.
Leroy wanted $20 for his call. I sent him an extra $10 to cover shipping. When he gets my check he will send the call. He has also invited me to come fish at a HNF lake that is full of big fat redear. You can bet, I will.
Rick L. Bramwell began writing for the Anderson Herald Bulletin in 1972. He likes to hunt small game, deer, turkey and morel mushrooms. Bramwell’s 174-7/8 typical whitetail is the largest ever taken in Madison County. He used to compete in Red Man and BASS Federation tournaments, but is now content to fish ponds and small lakes for bass and panfish. For most of 43 years Bramwell has coached Baseball and softball. He has three grown children and resides in Madison County, near Pendleton.