Faint gobbling wafted through the thick canopy of trees before being washed out by the prevailing south wind. My outfitter friend, Dale Eagon, had promised our setup spot was golden, so I settled back in my chair and tipped my cap to cover my eyes. With first light still 30 minutes away, I elected to take a power nap inside the confines of my Ameristep pop-up blind, knowing the gobblers wouldnâ€™t be courting my decoys for at least another 45 minutes.
Between dozes, I was mesmerized by an increased frequency in gobbling. I mentally counted a dozen different toms gobbling in a chain-reaction chorus. Light dawned in small doses, and I was grateful that my full-body decoys were not spinning in the 20-mph gusts.
In the distance, I watched black shapes materialize from a deep draw separating the turkey roost from a vast food plot. In the midst of chaotic yelping and cackling, seven full-fanned toms stood shoulder to shoulder in a choreographed march that I hoped would lead them to our decoys.
I let out a series of sweet yelps on my box call. The yelps were answered by thundering gobbles 100 yards away. My wife Donna readied her big Mossberg autoloader on her shooting sticks, knowing her 3 1/2-inch, Heavy Metal Magnum Blend loads would be the demise of one of the redheaded barons soon enough.
With several hens homing in on our position, Donna and I pulled our facemasks up and lowered our caps so that we wouldnâ€™t be busted by the sharp-eyed scouts arriving before the gobblers. A boss hen began her rattling purr to intimidate the fake turkeys rivaling her for the affections of her male suitors.
Suddenly, four toms appeared from behind a sage-strewn hill, spitting and drumming toward our location. At 50 yards, I knew they would be in shotgun range in seconds. Donna quietly clicked off her safety and when the largest tom stopped 40 yards away her 12 gauge roared, piling up the huge longbeard.
The remaining flock scattered and was gone in seconds, while the boss tom flopped nearby. We walked up to inspect the grand bird and I was amazed to find the magnificent tom sported a double beard. The longest beard was 11 1/4 inches while the second beard measured 6 inches. With nearly 1 1/2-inch spurs and weighing just over 20 pounds, the old tom was probably a 3-year-old.
After collecting a hug and a smooch, I toted my wifeâ€™s trophy tom back to the truck. There we were joined by Eagon who had been scouting nearby and heard the shot. Truly, Eagonâ€™s ranch is a choice spot for turkeys, and now it was my turn to rock a gobblerâ€™s world.
Jack Waymire, senior biologist with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, says the eastern part of the state is in a precarious position due to poor spring rains and bad hatches.
â€śLast summerâ€™s brood surveys showed 0.7 poults per hen, with 21.9 percent of hens with poults out of the 162 total broods sighted during the July to August survey period,â€ť Waymire said. â€śThese figures are comparable to the 2009 survey of 0.7 poults per hen, where 36.9 percent of the hens had poults out of the 211 total broods sighted. In 2010, there were 1.3 poults per hen or 64.2 percent of the 483 total broods sighted. However, anything less than 3 poults per hen indicates a decrease in the overall population.â€ť
Waymire said the trend could be reversed if conditions improve.
â€śWe need a good early hatch to put a lot of birds on the ground, before we will recognize an increase in the turkey population in the southeast region,â€ť he said.
Due to declining numbers, turkey season was shortened in the eight southeast counties. The season opens April 23 and runs thru May 6.
Rod Smith quarterbacks the ODWCâ€™s southwestern region and expects the season to be good, but cautions the drought has been tough on the wildlife in his area.
â€śThe drought has been extreme here,â€ť Smith advises. â€śI would suspect that the number of jakes in the western region is probably going to be down from normal levels.â€ť
Smith said hunters should find good populations of turkeys in areas where they found them last spring. The wildlife professional hopes we have a normal winter with plenty of moisture before spring.
â€śBarring anything unforeseen, I would expect a fairly good turkey season,â€ť he said.