Turkey Hunting: When to Call, When to Shut Up

_by Phil Bourjaily
_
As a result of my job I have been guided by some of the best-known turkey hunters in the country. The latest was Toxey Haas of Mossy Oak, who took me hunting in Texas last week. On the last morning of my hunt Toxey and I tucked into the boughs of a cedar tree about 200 yards from a wall of roosted Rio Grande turkeys. In the 45 minutes we sat we heard almost every noise a jake, hen or gobbler can make.

Toxey called almost non-stop on a mouth call and a slate, making different calls on each in perfect rhythm at the same time. That, by the way, is a feat of coordination about as difficult as singing and playing the drums, and if it doesn't sound hard, try it and get back to me. Toxey stopped the one-man band routine once to whisper: "If I don't get my hat in the ring, they'll never notice us," then he went right back to calling.

We saw this gobbler at about 100 yards. It went into strut, letting the hen it was with drift away. After that, Toxey never called again. If he had kept calling the turkey might have stopped, stood there and strutted forever. Or, it might have noticed the two blobs sitting in the cedar tree, folded its fan and slunk away.

Instead, Toxey's silence made the bird come look for us. The turkey obliged by strutting right down my gun barrel. Since this is a gun blog I should digress and mention the gun was a Mossberg 535 loaded with 3-inch Winchester Xtended Range 5s. I shot the turkey at 37 yards which is not close but is right in the sweet spot for tight patterning tungsten-iron shot.

Toxey Haas knows when to call and when to shut up. Even more important, he still gets excited. I shot, the bird went flat, and I was up and running to the turkey like I always do. I was halfway there when a blur in camo went tearing past me to get to the bird and stand on its neck. "You're fast," Toxey said. "I haven't run that hard in a long time but I wasn't going to let you beat me to that turkey."