A turkey for Old Betsy

By DAN GEDDINGS
Posted 4/15/18

It was a perfect morning. Clear, cool and crisp. Songbirds were serenading the dawn with vigor. A gang of owls had just put up a loud clamor, out in the stand of big cypress trees, in the headwaters of the old mill pond. Crows were shouting insults …

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A turkey for Old Betsy

Dan Geddings’ first gobbler shot with Old Betsy.
Dan Geddings’ first gobbler shot with Old Betsy.
PHOTO PROVIDED
Posted

It was a perfect morning. Clear, cool and crisp. Songbirds were serenading the dawn with vigor. A gang of owls had just put up a loud clamor, out in the stand of big cypress trees, in the headwaters of the old mill pond. Crows were shouting insults to each other over the top of the piney woods. The only thing missing was a turkey gobble.

I had sat out on the county road at dawn, a few days before, and listened to at least four gobblers staking their claim to different sections of the wood surrounding this old pond. But where were they now?

These birds and this place are special to me. More than a dozen years ago I worked with the wildlife department and numerous landowners to establish a flock of wild turkeys here. It was probably the last restoration effort conducted in the state and has been very successful.

My son Clayton and I had been sitting quietly in these beautiful woods watching the night slip away and the dawn fill the sky with light. Like many people, my patience is proportional to the amount of desired activity around me, at any given time. In other words, we didn't sit there very long.

I carried Old Betsy with me, like a baby, in the crook of my left arm. A 12-gauge double-barrel shotgun with hammers from the mean old days of the Great Depression. It was my Daddy's gun and his Daddy's before. A Grandfather that I never knew.

When I inherited the old gun it was in poor condition, and I waited until I had the means, and until I found the right person, to have it restored. I wanted it returned to operational condition. I intended to hunt with it, and I have. I've killed a buck with the gun on a dog drive, and I cut a notch in the top of the stock, like my Dad had done. Now, I want to get a turkey with it.

We got up and eased through the woods to a nearby field, where we sat and called for a while. Nothing answered. I knew there were turkeys here somewhere. But where?

Clayton wanted to look around a corner of the field, and I wanted to work back toward the truck, so we decided to split up. He would ease around the field and out to the county road, and I would go back through the woods to the truck, then drive around to the county road and pick him up.

The walk was pleasant, and I was in no hurry. When I got closer to the truck I stopped and made a soft yelp on my slate call. A turkey gobbled in the open woods ahead of me. I stepped ahead a few yards and sat down at the base of a big pine. I sent a text to Clayton that I had called and a gobbler had answered. He answered that he had not seen or heard anything yet.

The turkey gobbled on his own, and I realized he was closer. I propped my gun up on my knee and scanned the woods to my front. Movement to my right front caught my full attention. Through the brush I could see a longbeard strutting. His red, white and blue head beamed in the dappled sunlight of the forest.

The tom was moving to my right at about 50 yards. There was too much brush for a clear shot, and I decided to wait until he got closer. But instead, he turned and strutted straight away through the woods. When he got out of my sight I picked up my slate and scratched off another soft call.

A turkey gobbled to my left front. I shifted around a little to face more to the left. I could hear my heart beating in my ears. I made myself calm down - as much as I could. This was getting intense. Then I saw movement out front. Two gobblers!

Two big longbeards were coming through the woods straight toward me. Forty yards - let 'em come. Thirty yards - and they stopped. They look shiny black in the sun-dappled woods, with browns and iridescent copper colors. They were looking for the hen that they thought they had heard.

I cocked one of the hammers on Old Betsy. They heard the sound and looked up. At the shot the lead gobbler went down. The other gobbler ran a few steps then stopped. I could have shot him too but didn't. When I got up and started toward the downed bird the other longbeard ran back through the woods a short distance, then stopped and gobbled. He was reluctant to leave.

Clayton sent me a text asking if I got one. I replied that I thought so, but there was another one. He replied that he was on the way. The other bird wandered off and was gone by the time Clayton got to me.

We sat for a while and talked about the hunt, the turkeys and the old gun that I had used. It had turned out to be a good day.