(Spring turkey season opens Saturday across much of Alabama. In honor of that momentous occasion, we resurrected this old story of turkey hunting from the April 10, 1999, edition of the Gleam.)
When Andy Beasley called my house from Brewton on the opening weekend of the spring turkey season, I knew he had big news or he wouldn't be calling long-distance.
The news was that he'd killed an old gobbler with an 11-inch beard and inch and an eighth spurs. To most people, those numbers might not mean much. To turkey hunters, spur length is critical. It's the true measure of a trophy, telling much about the turkey's age.
A "jake" or year-old gobbler doesn't have spurs, just little bumps on his legs. A 2-year-old turkey will have three-quarter inch spurs. A 3-year-old will have one inch spurs. You get over an inch and you're talking about the true big boys of the forest — 4, 5 and 6-year-old gobblers. The spurs gel sharper every year. too.
Older birds don't get killed very often. There aren't many toms like that to begin with.
If you do happen to run across one, he's usually got a bunch of hens with him and he's not going to leave them to come to your calling. The older birds are just more cautious than younger ones. They're notoriously tough to kill.
When Andy told me about his big turkey, I remember thinking that I would probably never kill a turkey with spurs better than an inch. I had no way of looking ahead to what would happen the very next weekend.
Andy joined a deer club in Coosa County last fall just so he could turkey hunt their land this spring. I accompanied him for his first turkey hunt on this new property on the second weekend of the season.
The land is owned by a paper company, so it's a large pine plantation It's not the prettiest land you've ever seen, but there are lots of turkeys there.
On our first morning in Coosa, we lit out walking from camp, stopping often to owl hoot, crow call or turkey call in an effort to elicit a gobble. We'd gone about a mile, just enough to get a little discouraged, when we heard one.
The terrain in Coosa County is rolling and we had a tough time figuring out just where that gobbler was. He gobbled every lime Andy blew his crow call. The sound would be in front of us, then behind us. It was actually echoing in those rolling hollows.
Finally, we got on top of a hill and figured out just where the old boy was. When we eased into position to set up, Andy put me out front, where I could scan a wide area. He crept back behind me 60 or 70 yards and started calling.
The turkey gobbled his head off.
Turkeys have extremely keen eyesight. I was dressed in full camo, including a face mask and gloves, but I was still scared to even blink my eyes. I didn't want to do anything that might spook that gobbler.
The tension was almost more than I could bear. When the turkey wasn't gobbling, I could hear him strutting and drumming. I wanted to cough, scream, move, shoot my gun, anything to end the tension. 1 managed to sit rock still, though, gun aimed in the direction of the gobbling.
The turkey had been gobbling mostly from one place, so I knew he was coming when a gobble suddenly erupted just below me. It was so close and so loud that the ground seemed to tremble.
Andy called twice more, but the bird didn't make a peep. We were both worrying that something might have gone wrong.
About that time, I saw the gobbler, walking up the hill.
He stopped in a little hole in the brush and stood there. The old gobbler seemed to glow in the early morning sunlight.
It was a long shot (later paced at more than 40 yards), but I took it and the gobbler flopped.
He wasn't quite dead when we got to him and we had to chase him as he flopped down the hill a short distance. Andy helped me catch him. The rush of adrenaline had left me nearly helpless and Andy was the first to get his hands on him.
"Look at the spurs on this turkey!" he said.
The tom had looked huge walking through the woods, but I didn't realize just how big he really was.
From the way the turkey was gobbling when we sat down to him, we both would have sworn he was a 2-year-old. Big turkeys aren't supposed to gobble like that and come that fast. Andy had looked at his watch and we were standing over the dead turkey 18 minutes after setting up on him. Few turkey hunts end that quick, especially with a bird that big.
He had inch and a quarter spurs, an 11-inch beard and weighed 21 pounds, by far the biggest gobbler I've ever pulled the trigger on.
I look on it as a gift turkey given to me by Andy. I didn't do anything but shoot. It was Andy's place, Andy's hunting strategy and Andy's calling that brought the bird to the gun.
Andy even loaned me the shotgun shell I used to kill him.
It gets even worse. I've always said I 'd gel a turkey mounted if he had spurs over an inch and an eighth. I don't have a deep freezer, so Andy is storing the turkey in his freezer for me.
I owe Andy big time for this turkey. I'm hoping 1 can return the favor by putting him on a bird at my hunting club at Paint Rock between now and the end of the season.