Pennsylvania Scrapper

© Copyright 2008, Mike Joyner. 

Spring turkey season in Pennsylvania is one of my favorites to hunt, and is always a scheduled stop on my annual spring tour.  The high level of anticipation to hunt the keystone state is due to several reasons.  I get in my annual hunts with some of my good hunting buddies.  The season opens a few days before the New York season starts.  It is usually a little bit warmer than New York, and most importantly, my wife is from Pennsylvania.  Trust me she will re-affirm this as the most important reason. 
My plans this year took a few twists, and some last minute changes had me scrambling to make it happen.  I normally hunt the Pennsylvania opener with Brant Signs, which is always a good time, and a good hunt.  New York's youth hunt fell on the same day as the Pennsylvania opener, and I would have to take a rain check.  Brant takes at least one if not more youths out for the youth weekend, and that is a priority for both Brant and I.  This year would be the first for me as I was not able to "borrow" a youth for the weekend.  It is a hunt we both look forward to, but the introduction of a young hunter to the sport we love is a priority for the youth hunt, and during regular season. 
I originally planned to follow up the hunt with Brant with a hunt down at Breezewood Hunt Club, and spend a day or two with Ron Reeser.  I hooked up with Ron last year, and we had a great time chasing longbeards.  I planned to hunt two days with Ron, and got a call the day I was to leave with some bad news.  Ron had injured his knee, and was not able to go much anywhere.  One of those things, and if things worked out later with the doctors I would hook up with Ron later in the season.  Another scramble, and a phone call to Brant, and I would recoup the two days just across the New York & Pennsylvania border hunting on the properties that I would normally hunt but without Brant.  Brant had introduced me to these spots, and in keeping with being a welcomed guest, it felt a little odd hunting it alone.  I was assured it would be fine, so the reworked plan was set.  The first day was to start out on a place just across the border, and If things worked out I would also hunt the following day on Mark Lyons place just a mere few hundred yards into Pennsylvania. 
 The first day out was actually the second day of the season, and I might been better off to gone fishing or better yet duck hunting.  All of my least favorite conditions rolled into one day: high wind, rain, cold, and more rain.  Despite the weather outlook, I made the drive down in the wee hours, and hoped to quickly locate a willing participant in my quest to bag a gobbler.  The rain had held to a slight drizzle for the first hour of day light, at least it was a slight reprieve. 
I made my way to the first listening spot on the ridge, and found no takers, I decided to go directly to a hidden field in the hope that the birds would be there first thing in the morning.  I heard a few gobbles from a roosted bird as I walked down the hill to the field, but the gobbler was located well off the property, and not likely to be there in short order.  Never say never, and I would hope that the gobbler would travel to pay me a visit.  As I set up, a group of Jakes opened up with roundhouse gobbling, but like the first gobbles I heard, they were also off the property but much closer.  They responded well to the calls after fly down, and at least I thought they would come in and with any luck, pull in a nice longbeard.  The thought was short lived as I began to hear a few hens in the group, and shortly after I was aware of another hunter below them using a gobble shaker to lure the jakes to the gun.  From my position, I could hear the gobbling fools close the gap to the hunter, and it ended with a predictable loud bang.  With the exception of a few "over in the next county" gobbles I heard between 9AM and 10:30AM, there was little to speak of other than getting cold and soaked.  However on a novelty note: It was the first time I had ever heard a hunter work a bird in with a gobble shaker.  I stopped by at Mark Lyons place afterwards and got permission to begin day two on a gas pipeline where I had tagged a late morning bird the pervious season.  Mark had a crew of hunters in camp, and they all got into birds despite the weather, and tagged a couple of birds to boot. 
On to day two!  With a different spot to hunt, a slightly better weather outlook, I was feeling pretty good about getting onto a gobbler.  No rain, but very windy.  I arrived at Mark's house a bit late, but in this case I would be ok.  The basic plan without having roosted the night before would have me working my way to the pipeline from a ridge top.  The main idea was that I should be able to located a gobbling bird, and at least close the gap to a workable distance.  As I crested the ridge and began down the pipeline, two gobblers opened up, one on each side, and about half way down the hill.  Brant had advised that I should work it this way.  As usual, Brant knows his spots.  Even though the pipeline met up with the back of a sizable field and created a natural funnel, it was best advice to work it from the top down. 
As I set up a third gobbler opened up to my right and a long ways off.  Good to hear him just the same.  The first gobbler to my left gobbled only a few times, and I made out a few hens near his location.  With that info, I concentrated on the gobbler to my right, and hoped he would be in a hurry this morning.  I issued a few light tree yelps with good response, and shortly after that, I made a couple of fly down cackles with some hat flapping for added realism.  Again, an immediate response, and it was time to shut down until they hit the ground.  About this time, I heard a hen yelp back at me, but every so sweet and soft.  This was a clue to keep it soft, and make the newcomer feel comfortable.  I waited a few minutes and then proceeded with some light feeding purrs and clucks.  The slate call I had fit the bill, and the hen responded in kind.  Off in the distance I could hear another hen, and roughly in the location of the third gobbler that was a ways out. 
In the next few minutes I could hear the second newcomer, approximated the height at 5'10" AAM (Average American Male) and it was running a slate call as was I, but much more aggressive.  I found it odd that the intruder paid no attention to the fact that he got no responses from his calling, and carried on oblivious to the facts at hand. With this development, my plan may have some difficulty if the intruding hunter kept advancing.  The gobbling had stopped once they hit the ground.  My plan was modified at this point to coax in the first hen with boyfriend in tow, and finish the deal before the incoming hunter got too close.  Only minutes later I could see the hen coming towards the pipeline, and a second bird that I could not see very well, further back, and slightly behind the hen.  Gobbler in tow?  Not to be…….. 
What seemed only seconds the approaching hunter called again and had closed to within 200 yards.  This was not good, and the amount of greenery would not be enough cover.  The hen busted out of the woods in flight, and I could make out the second bird running down thru the woods.  The hunter continued calling (still oblivious to what was occurring around him) and eventually moved above me coming in close enough where I thought I should be able to see, but I never could see the hunter as he came and went.  Once past me and up the hill, the hunter setup a few hundred yards above my position and across the pipeline.  I picked up with my tail between my legs and continued down the hill and hopefully far enough away from the none-the-wiser hunter.  
With the inadvertent fowl up on plan "A" I went to the bottom of the pipeline, and hoped I had put plenty of distance between us.  The good news was I never did hear the hunter again that morning, and that is all I could ask for given the circumstances.  I made my second setup near the field & pipeline intersection, and played it out for over an hour.  The wind had picked up, and not a single bird in the field.  I had enough of sitting in the cold wind and decided to find reprieve back up on the hill where I had heard the other gobbler that morning. 
Sure enough after checking some other fields I worked my way up a logging road and found a nice spot were the hill blocked the wind, and hoped that the birds would be close by.  Not long after setting up, and doing a little soft calling, I heard a double gobble up the hill and off to my right as I faced the hill.  Thirty minutes passed, and not another response.  The wind had shifted, and I guessed either the gobbler could not hear or it was I.  The good money would be on my inability to hear them.
I decided to check the fields one more time, and it resulted it the same empty fields with no response from any calling.  The back of this field where it meets the gas pipeline right of way was ideal, and it was my ace in the hole if all else failed to pan out.  For whatever reason, the birds were avoiding the fields that day.  Coming to the conclusion that I needed to abandon the sure thing plan I decided to move towards where I last heard the double gobble.
 Once I got back into the woods and onto the logging road I was looking for I crested one rise to only see the next one.  As I crested the next rise, I was pleasantly surprised that it flattened out some, and had small patches of greenery, with three logging roads coming together which formed a  "Y" pattern.  This was an ideal spot, and I set up again just off the intersection.  The wind had picked up again, and after twenty minutes of calling, I contemplated moving on to a hidden field that was protected from the wind and just below a one of the pipelines utility shacks.  On any normal day in the woods, I would have plenty of patience, but given the high winds, the fowl up with intruding hunter I found myself unusually impatient.  Instead of standing up, I gave it one more go with a mouth call, and two longbeards opened up with double gobbling and they were close.  Yes, timing is everything!!
I silently thanked myself for being stubborn enough to give it one last try, and now the game was on.  The two sneaky gobblers were in close just on the other side of heavy brush, briars, and treetops left over from recent logging.  From what I could guess, they stood slightly down the bank within eighty yards.  Once this pair started gobbling, they never stopped.  Every fifteen to twenty seconds, and I would only call after they gobbled at least twice.  I anticipated they would circle and pick up the logging road to my right and come up.  From there they would see the decoys, and that would give them something to look at. 
Sure enough minutes later they rounded the obstruction and they nearly went on past the logging road due to the hurry they were in.  A couple of clucks, and they stopped, made a ninety degree turn, and up the logging road they came.  From what I could tell, it looked like a duo of hot two year old gobblers with plenty of weight, and solid eight to nine inch beards.  They closed to within fifty yards, and made an abrupt turn into the treetops and briars, all the while eyeing the decoys and gobbling.  Frustrated to say the least, I had a tag all but placed on the bigger of the two.  They made a semi circle thru the brush coming no closer than fifty yards as they moved onto my left side.  After passing two large trees, they could show in a clear opening just at forty yards or turn out and exit stage left.  Easy choice on that one, they made an exit, all the while still gobbling. 
What to do now?  It was after 9AM they were without hens, lathered up gobbling, and moving slowly away out of sight.  I shut down long enough for them to go behind the brush, and I had doubts about turning this around.  I have had two year old gobblers come back multiple times in the past, but such gifts are rare.  I checked them again, and they were within 80-100 yards, and close to where they had opened up to begin with. 
I decided to go fall tactics and started up a big hen fight.  I pulled off my hat, laid out every call I had, and proceeded flapping my hat, kicking the leaves, and calling with the loudest purrs, cutts, cackles, and aggressive yelps that I could make at the same time.  A little over a minute of this obnoxious calling and I had to put everything down in a hurry! The dynamic duo was double and triple gobbling at all the racket, and decided they could take it no more.  I looked up just in time to see two glowing light bulb heads darting back and fourth trying to push straight thru the brush to close the distance.  Gun up, and now it was time! Fifty yards, forty five yards, stop!! I couldn't believe it! They stood there in the brush, after they fought their way thru just to get there and stopped.  I would understand why just moments later.
 As I watch the glowing heads thru the holosight, I had the hammer back on the Encore 12 gauge, and I was making rapid math calculations as to how the distance might become shorter.  Tempted? You bet.  Forty five yards in heavy brush?  Yes I wanted to, No I just couldn't.  Ethics is a party pooper for sure. 
Just as my morals were being subjected to increasing stress I caught movement to my extreme right.  Once I shifted my eyes, I made out a third gobbler sneaking up the same logging road and making a beeline to the decoys.  He stopped at one point, and his beard swung out just far enough for me to make him out as an adult bird.  One tree between us would allow me to re-align the gun, but the other two gobblers would be sure to bust out or alarm putt once I made a move.  Once he passed the tree, the gobbler would be just inside forty yards in the open.  The advancing gobbler went behind the tree, I made my move, and the gobbler reappeared just as I leveled the barrel.  Target lock, Bang!  Never did hear an alarm putt from those two others.  The stealth gobbler went down hard, and there was no need to race to the downed bird.
The dynamic duo flew out the ridge at the shot, and must have been dumbfounded just long enough for me to pull it off.  The walk to the downed bird was 38 paces, close enough on range estimation.  As I looked over the gobbler, I found a neat surprise.  Not a large bird by any means, but he sported 1-3/16" spur on one leg with the other only ¾".  He sported a full 8-3/4" beard, which looked big on him given his weight.  Later we weighed the bird at 16lbs 1oz, and it appeared that I bagged a little scrapper out of the flock.  If I were to guess on what happened, those two gobblers knew this bad boy was close by.  As much as they wanted to buddy up to their new friends, they were not about to get caught being too close to any possibly receptive hens, unless they wanted to endure a thrashing.


Photo Op with the Pennsylvania Scrapper!

The entire encounter lasted maybe eight to nine minutes, but it seemed like forever trying to seal the deal.  In this brief period of time, I heard better than sixty gobbles if I heard one.  The little scrapper himself never made a gobble even when the duo was in close.  Having a pair of hot two year old longbeards is about as loud and as much fun as you can have in the turkey woods.  It was 9:26 AM when I dropped the hammer, and the morning hunt in Pennsylvania finished out on a high note that day!

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