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Photo: A day in the spring gobbler woods

When a wild hunting day ends in a way a hunter did not expect, all you can do is be thankful.

When I reached down to put my hands on the gobbler, I looked back up the steep hillside and whispered to myself, “What just happened?”

As I gave thanks to the bird and the beautiful, crisp spring morning, I sat on an old stump and couldn’t help but to reflect on the hunt and how both the turkey and I ended up at the bottom of holler deep in the hardwood hills.

It was a bizarre morning in the spring gobbler woods and one that has never happened to me, and I am nearly certain it has a good chance of never happening to me again. Here is how the hunt played out in my recollection:

At first light, I was perched high on a hardwood ridge. I knew from previous hunts on the land where to start, and that elevation provided the best chance to hear one gobble. I arrived well before sunrise and was breathing hard after the long hike uphill to my listening spot.

I was so early that I decided to sit at the base of a large oak and take in the morning fresh air as my lungs and legs needed a breather. Not only was I early, but it was also a slow sunrise morning due to a passing front and cloud cover, and the recent rainfall brought with it a dense fog filling the valleys below me. I sat for almost an hour in silence.

As the fog began to burn off from the much-welcomed sunshine, the woods came alive with songbirds calling loudly, welcoming the brand-new day and warmth from the sun’s rays. As I was thinking that this may be one of those mornings they just don’t gobble, I heard him gobble over the next ridge to my left.

He wasn’t close at all, but still, on the farm I had permission to hunt. So, I got up and moved as quickly and quietly as possible to the spine ridge above where I last heard him.

I sat down on the ridge, concealed myself at the base of an old hickory, and began a series of calls directed down the steep hillside. He responded with a loud, echoing gobble. He wasn’t close, but close enough so that I was at least in the game.

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I put my box call down and listened patiently. As a crow cawed loudly flying over the ridge, he gobbled again. He was closer. I made a few soft yelps, and he interrupted my series of calls by gobbling back at me twice. He was on the move my way. I had a chance.

I caught movement from my right just under the lip of the ridge. Very quickly and startlingly, a coyote came trotting into view. I wasn’t the only hunter on the ridge that morning. As quickly as it appeared, the coyote caught wind of me and ran back down the ridge.

During this brief encounter, the turkey was gobbling in the background. Thinking the hunt was over, spoiled by the intruder, my hopes of being successful began to vanish. Then what happened next was and still is a mystery.

Out of my sight, just over the lip of the ridge, I heard many turkey vocalizations. I can only describe it as if you were hunting in the fall and a flock of turkeys was scattered and began calling to one another to assemble. The hillside was alive with sounds from the wild turkey.

I can only assume the coyote was the cause of the ruckus, but I have no way of knowing with any absolute certainty. What I do know is the last time I heard him gobble he was heading off the backside of the ridge far from me. It confirmed my suspicion that the hunt was indeed over.

Again, I caught movement from my right. And then I heard him. Somehow, some way, another male wild turkey had walked onto the scene in search of my calling and had made it down the ridge through all that confusion. All I can be certain of is that he was not the gobbler I originally set up on, and this gobbler came from the area the coyote run to, and in the direction all that turkey commotion was heard.

Just when I thought my hunt was over and marked the day up as very unusual and bizarre at best, he presented me with a shot.

As I lifted the gobbler and placed him in the game pouch of my vest, I gave thanks to the bird and the beautiful, crisp, spring morning and a front-row seat to the natural world. What a morning.

Chris Ellis is a veteran of the outdoors industry. His book “Hunting, Fishing and Family from The Hills of West Virginia” is available at Contact him at

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