Opening morning of the 2022 spring turkey season found myself sitting on a small, three-legged stool in my pop-up turkey blind. A tom turkey greeted the gray light of dawn with a lusty gobble. My heart beat faster. He was close!
I was relieved the bird hadn’t been spooked by my fumbling when setting up the blind before daylight. Sometimes my blind pops up easily; other times, it’s a struggle. That morning the blind had fought me. When I pushed out one side, the opposite side collapsed. Then the top collapsed, knocking off my cap, which I promptly stepped on. After finally getting the blind conquered, I settled in to wait for daybreak to see if there were any turkeys in the roost area, which hadn’t been scared by all of my clumsiness.
By the light of a small flashlight, held in my mouth, I primed both pans on the flintlocks of my 12 gauge, double-barreled shotgun. I had built the gun myself from a block of walnut and a set of original barrels which had been proofed in Belgium during the 1800s. Shotgun choke wasn’t invented until about 1875, so the gun has cylinder bores: meaning no choke at all. This makes it a close-range gun. However, I have accepted the limitations that come with using an original old black powder shotgun. And, after calling in and cleanly taking a couple of gobblers with it in the past, I had confidence in it. After achieving a certain level of experience, a hunter tends to limit himself in some way to keep the hunting experience interesting, exciting, and fun throughout a lifetime. Using the flintlock makes my hunt more challenging and more enjoyable. In fact, just holding that special shotgun in my hands makes me smile.
After experimenting with many different combinations of black powder, shot, and wadding to find my best load, I consider my maximum range for a clean, head shot, kill on a big turkey gobbler to be about 25 yards: 20 is even better. However, this year I was trying something new. In the days of old, shotgunners wrapped the load of shot in paper to improve the pattern of what was often called “scatter guns.” Black powder smooth bore shooters on the internet forums claimed better patterns could be attained by protecting the shot in paper “shot cups.”
I made some up and tested them thoroughly. They did improve the gun’s patterns, but only slightly. Even so, I was loaded with a 1 1/4 ounce measure of 2Fg black powder and 1 1/4 ounces of #5 shot in paper shot cups in both barrels.
As I sat patiently listening that morning, the gobbler had been sounding off occasionally from his roost tree for 15 minutes before I heard a sleepy tree cluck from a hen. When more hens started clucking, I gave a few quiet clucks from my call to let the big boy know a hen (decoy) was here waiting for him. From prior observation, I knew they had been flying down into the opening where I was set up with a feeding hen decoy just in front of the blind. The action was about to begin, and I felt the special excitement that an early spring morning brings to a dedicated turkey hunter.
A hen suddenly left the roost and sailed closely over my blind to land just behind me. The big tom flew down next, and for such a large bird, he appeared to land softly 50 yards away. I let out my best attempt at a string of seductive hen yelps on a mouth diaphragm call. He immediately went into a full strut. With his body puffed up to full size, wing tips dragging the ground, and tail feathers fanned out to maximum width, he started strutting straight toward me. That’s the sight a turkey hunter lives for.
Ole Tom only broke his strut once or twice to stretch his neck out and gobble loudly as he continued toward me. Then, with a flurry of wings, half a dozen hens began to fly down and land near him. With new hens all around him, he seemed to forget about the lifeless decoy waiting patiently for him. I tried to keep his interest by calling more and calling loudly. One boss hen started talking back to me and came slowly my way, leading the gobbler ever closer. When she turned and hurried away to join the other hens, the big tom hesitated. His blue and white head was turned and one black eye stared suspiciously at the decoy.
The muzzle of the flinter was already pointed out the small window of the blind. The rabbit-ear hammers were cocked back and the front bead was on his red colored neck. Before he could turn to follow the real hens, I pulled the trigger.
I love the smell of genuine black powder smoke! A cloud of white smoke rolled out to where the big bird was flopping his last, just 22 paces away, and smoke from the flintlock’s priming filled the blind.
As the hens ran for the woods, I just sat there for a few minutes enjoying the feeling of a well conducted hunt with a successful ending. Money can’t buy that feeling. Then, as I came down from the mental and emotional high of hunting success, a certain sadness came over me.
“Season’s over…” I texted a good friend who I knew was also turkey hunting.
“Already?” he answered.
“Now what? It seems too short,” I mused.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” he agreed.
“Next year I might hunt turkeys with my longbow again,” I decided.