Bows, Beards and Springtime Shrinks
I think I may need counseling.
Now while I'm sure there may be a chorus of hearty amens from various corners of the planet where I'm known, this admitted need of help is of the self-inflicted kind.
As if hunting spring turkeys with a shotgun weren't already hard enough — sometimes I swear these birds are partly demonic in the way they torment my hunter's soul — in recent years, I've gone and added the challenge of a bow and arrow to the equation.
Now please understand that I'm an addicted bowhunter, someone who is seemingly never able to get enough of chasing big game critters with a stick and string.
But in the two dozen or so years that I've chased spring gobblers, for a number of those years I always drew the archery line on these feathered denizens — spring turkeys with a shotgun, not with a bow.
After all, I couldn't understand how in the world I could get drawn and execute a successful shot with my bow when I sometimes failed to accomplish the mission of a spring turkey smack-down with my Remington 870.
A few springs ago, in a moment of weakness following unexpected heart surgery, my friend Doug Rodgers, a Texan who lives for spring turkey hunting as much as I do, made what appeared to be at the time an innocent enough suggestion.
"Burkhead, let's go turkey hunting this weekend," his voice said on the other end of the line.
"And since you didn't get to bowhunt last fall, why not bring your bow this time?"
Why not indeed? After all, I did love to bowhunt. And I had been sidelined the previous fall as my sternum healed following my surgery.
So when the pickup pointed west towards Rodger's North Texas lease, my bow rode shotgun, not the other way around.
The plan was simple; place a Double Bull blind in an area where he had seen some gobblers trading back and forth during the day. And then try to call one in to the decoys. So that's what we did.
Simple enough, right?
After emceeing a fundraising dinner for the National Wild Turkey Federation the night before as Rodgers auctioneered, we arrived in the pre-dawn darkness the next morning on my friend's turkey-rich lease.
Moving silently through the mesquite brush of the Rolling Plains, the two of us made our way to a likely area near a creek bottom where we would set up the blind and decoys before sitting back, calling and hoping for the best.
(Lynn Burkhead photo)
Despite several gobblers bellowing their lustful intentions that morning as the sun smudged the eastern horizon and then continued to rise its way high up into a bright sky resembling the hue of Texas bluebonnets, nothing serious happened in terms of my putting the release on the bow string.
After driving into a nearby town later that day for a Tex-Mex version of lunch — chicken tacos, hold the cheese for me — we returned to our setup that afternoon and found more of the same. Birds gobbling, but not necessarily wanting to strut their stuff in front of the Double Bull.
Until the last hour of sunlight, that is. That's when we struck a pair of fired-up gobblers that let everyone in our portion of the Lone Star State know that they were on the move and looking for love.
Moving in from our right to left, these big Rio Grandes appeared to be preparing to skirt by our spread just out of bow range. A hunt that seemed destined to be one of those “close, but no cigar” kind of days.
(Lynn Burkhead photo)
But that's when a lone jake, God bless him, decided to crash the party. He cut in towards the decoy spread from the left, a move that the two boss toms couldn't stand as they suddenly veered to cut him off.
As the longbeards moved into shooting range while getting ready to teach the young interloper a lesson, I knelt on the ground and prepared to come to full draw as Rodgers gave the play-by-play call.
"OK, they're at 40 yards in full strut ... now they're at 35 yards ... ok, now it's 30 yards ... Burkhead, they're at 25 yards, get ready to shoot." he whispered forcefully.
As I came to full draw and raised up to unleash an arrow through a shooting window, the two toms pirouetted and were suddenly facing the blind as the late afternoon sun shone brightly off of their iridescent feathers.
That caused Rodgers to hiss at me "No, get back down, they're going to see you!"
Dutifully, I did just that and out of reflex let my bow down.
Of course, right on cue, my let-down was met with a stern instruction from my hunting pal to get up, draw again, and shoot — quickly, I might add.
At this point, I was more than a little flustered.
But somehow, I made it back to full draw, slowly rose into the shooting window, steadied the first sight pin, and sent the Muzzy three-blade on its way.
While my shot was a little higher than I would have liked, it all worked out in the end as the tom hopped up into the air, flew a few yards, and crashed down into a mesquite tree.
A short while later, as the sun set on the western horizon, Rodgers and I stood over the fallen longbeard.
While I've taken a few gobblers that had more impressive stats, this 17-pound Rio Grande with a 9 1/4-inch beard and a good pair of spurs (the longest sharp hook measured 1 1/4 inches with the other one being in the same neighborhood despite a broken tip) was without a doubt the most memorable longbeard in my spring turkey hunting career.
In fact, after two decades of chasing these devil birds, it is the only turkey that I've ever had mounted by a taxidermist, now occupying a place of honor among my other bowhunting trophies.
A memento that reminds me every time I look at it of the complete and utter satisfaction I felt as a bowhunter that spring evening when I accomplished an archery feat that is inherently difficult, even on its best day.
While causing me to wonder why it is that I always seem to gravitate towards making things harder than they have to be.
As I'm sure my wife would agree, no wonder I need counseling.
Anybody got the number of a good shrink? Who knows, maybe I can fit in an appointment after spring turkey season is over.