This adult tom, sporting a 10-inch beard, fell to the crossbow during the most exciting hunt of the 2018 turkey season. —Photo By The Author
This adult tom, sporting a 10-inch beard, fell to the crossbow during the most exciting hunt of the 2018 turkey season. —Photo By The Author
IT WAS a long sneak to the top of the ridge, using gullys and depressions to hide my frame, but there were no turkeys to be found in that favorite strutting area upon arrival.

The good news was that I didn’t spook anything along the way, which meant there could be a chance for success if a gobbler returned to his ridgetop playground.

Some light calls from the slate produced no gobbles from close-by birds, so I lit the place up with a series of aggressive clucks, purrs and yelps. Spring turkey talk.

And he gobbled!

While the bird was still a couple hundred yards off, optimism was high as the tom and hen decoys came out of the bag. Surely he wouldn’t abandon what sounded like a lonely hen on his ridge.

I was on an old two-track in the hardwoods but not quite on the peak of the ridge, for there was still a decent rise to the north before it dropped sharply to the farm fields below.

After getting out the decoys and picking a large tree trunk for my back some 20 yards in the opposite direction of the tom, I called again. He not only answered, but he was moving my way.

I waited a couple of minutes and sent some seductive yelps through the airwaves, and this gobble was much louder. I stopped right there. Let him find her, I thought.

But after about five minutes and no tom, I called softly again. No answer. Then it was time for another round of loud calling, just to locate him. He gobbled, but he was 150 yards past my location.

Hoping he could be called back, it was time to switch trees. I was in a depression that faces east, his current location, so I snuck back toward the decoys and up on the side of the rise that had sheltered him when he passed me. My decoys were now behind me.

After getting set up, I hit the slate call one last time. There was an instant response, and it sounded closer. He was on the move, in my direction, again.

It took what seemed like an eternity for him to appear down the ridge from my location. He fanned. He looked. And then it happened.

I knew the moment he saw that tom decoy standing over a hen. He dropped his head and ran about 10 steps in my direction, stopping abruptly to go into full fan mode. No doubt now, he was coming.

It took what seemed like 10 minutes for him to cover that 150 yards of hardwoods. What a show he put on, going into full strut and turning side to side as he slowly zig-zagged thru the trees and rocks.

This is the moment every turkey hunter waits for, and dreams of, a strutting gobbler on his final approach. His ugly but beautiful head, white with blood-red accents, was getting larger and larger in my scope as he closed the gap.

And then, 50 yards out, he added drumming to his full-strut show — a sort of thumping sound they make before challenging another tom turkey. Their whole body shakes every time they drum.

He was still coming right at me at 20 yards, not the ideal shot for a crossbow, but he turned 90 degrees at the last second to descend the hill toward the decoys. And the arrow found its mark.

To my surprise, he went airborne like nothing happened. He flew strong for about 60 yards, even gaining altitude, until his body gave way. He folded like a gigantic pheasant and crash-landed.

It was my second tom of the season, for I had shot a slightly bigger gobbler with a shotgun the week before on Dave Egdorf’s farm. But size didn’t matter, for bagging a bird with the crossbow is the more challenging and more memorable hunt.

It is the opportunity to hear some tom turkeys gobbling from distant locations that lures me every year to central Wisconsin’s farm country, for chasing longbeards is a lifelong passion.

A massive snowstorm that left nearly 30 inches in the Marion/Caroline area virtually wiped out my first-week chances at filling a tag, but the ability to buy third-week and fourth-week tags is what makes farm country so appealing.

The gobbler I bagged with a gun on May 2, a Wednesday evening, marched across 300 yards of field to challenge my tom decoy. I had chased them all day on the ridges on three farms, unsuccessfully, and ended up getting a bird that came to a field setup.

It was a day well spent, for the turkeys were gobbling in the treetops before dawn, which in itself is worth the price of admission in this sport.

But the weather wasn’t in my favor, for Mother Nature had dumped two inches of rain on Tuesday night and early Wednesday, ending about 5 a.m. Those wet birds headed for big fields where they could dry out safely from predators.

I tried finding turkeys on two other properties on both trips, to no avail. Both times I arrived at the Egdorf farm around 11 a.m. and headed up the ridge — their favorite strutting area.

Chasing spring turkeys is a fever all its own, and for a lot of reasons. If you haven’t yet tried it, one of the most incredible parts is hearing the spring woods come alive long before dawn.

It starts with songbirds singing in the predawn darkness and is followed by the sounds of honking geese, quacking mallards, whistling wood ducks, crows, the prehistoric echoes of the sandhill crane and of course, turkeys gobbling from the roost.

I’m being spoiled these days with lodging at the Doug Malueg hunting camp south of Marion, which is deluxe accommodations that are tailored to the hunter. He’s got more deer mounts than a taxidermy studio.

We’ve swapped a lot of hunting stories from years past, mostly about deer and turkeys. He’s got 80 of the most perfect deer and turkey acres I’ve ever seen, surrounded by farm fields.

It’s a blessing from God when you get treated that well by former schoolmates who share the same passion for the great outdoors.