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Thirty-eight years and counting

  • Outdoor columnist Ben Smith has given himself a new title – “Mississippi’s Greatest Worst Outdoorsman.” 

It’s over. By the time this article hits the press, the season will have ended. But even though the season will be over, one thing is not over…my streak. My thirty-eight year run of gobbler-less springs is alive and well. I doubt any of you expected anything more from me. In conjunction with my streak, I’ve also given myself a new title, “Mississippi’s Greatest Worst Outdoorsman.” 

Of course, my expectations to kill a Mississippi turkey should never be real high. It’s hard to be optimistic going turkey hunting when you haven’t done any scouting and go once a season. But I’m not that bright, so optimism crept into my mind last week while driving to my annual hunt. How could I not be optimistic about this hunt when all I’d heard all season was about the birds on this property? This was supposed to be easy. I’d show up, my guide would call a few times, the bird would come in on a string, and I’d lay the hammer to him. At least this was the picture that I painted in my mind on the drive up. 

Heck, I even got to the gate earlier than I was told to be there! For those that know me you know that is a big big deal. I’m rarely ever on time for a hunt or fishing trip. But this day was going to be special! I couldn’t jinx the trip by showing up late. After arriving at the gate, my buddy and I went separate ways to listen for birds as the sun began to break the sky. My instructions were to stand sideways on the trail in order to hear both sides of the road we were on. Now, I’m mostly deaf in my left ear so this is no easy task for me. I stood in the road spinning around in circles trying to hear everything that I could. Alas, there was the sound I’d been waiting for. That all familiar, elusive gobbler on the limb.

I took my phone out and notified my buddy…let’s call him “Lil Willy Style” for the sake of anonymity. He instructed me to return to the gate so we could devise a plan. He felt confident about where the bird that I heard was and our ability to find him later. Instead, we decided to check out a piece of property where he knew a few birds liked to hang out. The sun was really starting to crack the sky at this point and all of the songbirds were awake and chirping. The faint “hoot” of an owl echoed in the distance. We stopped walking waiting to hear an old Tom holler at that owl. Nothing. We kept walking. 

We didn’t get too far before Lil Willy Style decided we should go ahead and pursue that bird that I’d heard at daybreak. We crossed back over onto the other side of the property, and he was still hammering away. We got set up in the best location possible to get a shot off and began to sing sweet turkey love making music to him. This ol’ boy must be a new generation bird because he shut up quieter than a Buddhist Monk. About that time a shot rang out from the far side of the property. We both looked at each other and Lil Willy Style was convinced the shot came from his property. Problem was, nobody else was supposed to be out there but us. 

Fortunately, the shot didn’t come from where our bird was gobbling. Unfortunately, there was a poacher on the land, and it was likely that they’d just killed one of our birds. Not knowing exactly where the poacher was, we decided to keep on pursuing our bird. We moved across a ridge and slipped down into a bottom not too far from where we thought he was. We set up and began to call some more. Just when I thought we’d get a response from the turkey, a four wheeler cranked up in the near distance instead. Our poacher was heading out. We scrambled to get into position to intercept him, but he went the other direction and we never saw him.

Lil Willy Style was convinced that this guy screwed up our chances of killing that bird, so we headed back across the road to the other side of the property. We’d walk a ways and he’d let out a few calls with no response. All of a sudden, about two hundred yards behind us, a gobbler fired off. We’d somehow walked right past him. Quickly, we set up again in thick cover and began a few calls. He answered the first call, and my confidence went through the roof. We decided he was coming, and we shut up. Thirty minutes passed and we didn’t hear another peep. We stayed an additional fifteen minutes, calling a few times, but still nothing. This is the first real moment that doubt crept into my mind.

We were running out of time before I had to return to my real job, so we made one last ditch effort to set up on a bird. A hen responded to one of Lil Willy Style’s calls with a couple of clucks, so we set up in hopes that a gobbler was already in the area with her. We sat for a while and never heard another sound.

By the time I arrived back at my truck, I’d darn near worn out a new pair of boots. We walked all over that property only to head home empty handed again. I’d love to point fingers at someone for my inability to kill a turkey, but I’ve only myself to blame. Who knows, maybe we’ll make it back to the NAIA World Series in Idaho this year. I hear their turkey season lasts through the end of May!

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