These two experts have engaged in many life-and-death battles with seasoned old birds. Sometimes they’ve come out on top, and sometimes they’ve been whipped pretty soundly.
Troy Ruiz eased into position and prepared for battle with a local celebrity gobbler well before dawn early one spring morning. He was prepared to hunt the battle-tested gobbler that had eluded all suitors, including him, for at least four years. The King of the Woods was holed up in a section of forest near West Point, Miss., and was deemed invincible by many who had tangled with him. Ruiz waited patiently for the woods to awaken to the dawning of a new day.
As the eastern sky began to lighten, the woods came alive with activity. Birds joined in while greeting the new day’s sunrise. It was a wonderful morning to be alive and hunting turkeys.
Suddenly the calm morning was shattered by a lusty gobble from the grand old monarch himself. The voluminous call was a warning to all suitors and a come-hither command to any hens within hearing. Ruiz quickly turned his thoughts to the gobbler, and readied himself for battle once again.
This battle-weary veteran was no ordinary bird, and quickly showed why he was the king of the woods. The old tom gobbled only three more times, the last challenge issued at 6:45 a.m.
Since Ruiz was in position to see the gobbler when he flew out of the tree, he had no doubt about what transpired next. If he had been farther away, Ruiz would have thought the gobbler had shut up and left the country. On the contrary, the gobbler had only flown down to the middle of a field surrounded by a harem of four hens.
Yes, the gobbler did become silent, and with good reason. He had his harem, and he had no desire to leave them for some unseen hen, no matter how sultry and seductive her calling was. They say patience is a virtue, and it certainly paid off in this case for Ruiz. Though pinned down and unable to get any closer, he was treated to a four-hour show. The gobbler and his harem put on quite a performance. Wherever they went, the boss gobbler followed, spitting, drumming and strutting.
The gobbler’s spring mating ritual basically consisted of strutting and showing off for several hours, seemingly never tiring.
After what seemed an eternity, one of the hens suddenly took off running out of the field at full speed with the gobbler in hot pursuit. As soon as he disappeared into the woods, yet another hen made off in the opposite direction. Seconds later, the gobbler reappeared like a mad bull, and charged toward the remaining hens. Those hens basically repeated the scene once again, until the gobbler was alone. At 11:15, the enraged gobbler broke his silence, belting out a nasty gobble while pleading for a hen to reappear.
Moment of truth
As soon as the gobbler chased the last hen into the woods, Ruiz went into action. A few seductive clucks and purrs from his favorite mouth call was all it took to draw the coal-black monster into range. As the shotgun roared, the “invincible” gobbler crumpled to the earth in a heap — dead before he even hit the ground. The king of the woods had finally met his match by a worthy adversary.
Of course Ruiz was in the right place at the right time when the gobbler was finally alone. Some say luck is merely preparation meeting opportunity. While there may have been some luck involved, patience, persistence and years of experience had certainly prepared Ruiz for his moment of truth.
The champion gobbler had spent the last several years beating all comers. He sported an 11½-inch beard and 1½-inch spurs, and weighed 14 pounds when he met demise.
Ruiz’s favorite call is a mouth call. After years of calling ducks in the Louisiana marshes, he mastered the mouth call very quickly. Of course the mouth call allows him to have his hands free for holding the gun, or camera, whatever the case may be. Now if the constraints of filming with a camera are not on him, he will use a variety of calls to coax in pressured birds.
When it comes to shooting gobblers, Ruiz narrows his weapons of choice to his long-time favorite Remington 870 and the Thompson Center Single Shot.
While Ruiz has encountered just about every situation that can be imagined, he does have a particular favorite.
“I love roosting the birds,” he said. “If I know the area, do my homework, and roost them, then there’s about a 90 percent chance I’ll kill them.”
Ruiz likes to view the turkeys late in the day from afar. He’ll observe them from the edge of a field, and stay late if possible, to determine exactly where the birds end up roosting. The next morning, he’ll get in early, set up before dawn and get ready. If the woods are open, he’ll get as close as possible to the gobbler, as close as 60 to 70 yards if possible. If conditions allow him to set up just right, Ruiz wants to see that bird fly out of the tree and “plop” right down in front of him. Then he simply dispatches the gobbler with a quick, clean kill.
While Ruiz has harvested many birds in this manner, many outside factors may spoil his roosting technique. When that happens, he just changes tactics and gets after them again. After years of hunting birds all over the country, he’s seen more than his fair share of hunts.
Have you ever tangled with a wise old bird that whipped you day in and day out? Does the gobbler continually get “hung up” when you work him? That’s the kind of turkey that will literally cost a hunter a whole season.
If you are fortunate to meet up with such a wise old bird, then you might try what Ruiz deems his “call-through” method.
First and foremost, however, you’ve got to know the person you’re hunting with and trust him completely. If you have the turkey roosted, or know exactly where he is, then simply set the shooter about 100 yards from the bird. The caller should set up another 50 yards or so behind the shooter. When you call to the bird, he knows exactly where you are and will act accordingly. If things go as planned, the gobbler will work his way right by the shooter, usually providing a killing shot.
Meek talks turkey
Paul Meek has hunted turkeys for over 40 years. During that time, he’s seen and heard a little of it all, from turkeys and hunters alike. In the process, he’s learned a thing or two. Of course much of that knowledge comes from getting whipped time and again from some tough birds.
“After 40 years, you remember the bad turkeys, not the easy ones,” related the accomplished hunter.
When it comes to calling turkeys, Meek is from the old school, and prefers to keep it simple. Now, we’re not talking about the old days when hunters set up and yelped three times, waited the rest of the day in one place, and never moved or called again. If you can believe it, that’s what a lot of old timers did. At least that’s what they told and wanted you to think!
According to Meek, you’ve got to find an area that has turkeys before you can hunt them. While that might sound pretty elementary to some, many hunters will spend a lot of unproductive time in the woods just calling turkeys blind. More often than not, they come up empty-handed.
Nowadays, Meek spends most of his time hunting and scouting at the same time.
“If you’ve got a 60-acre block of woods, I can tell you within 30 minutes if there’s any turkeys on it,” he said.
Meek begins scouting the land by walking the edges of ridges looking for turkey scratching, tracks and droppings. While searching for sign, he also keeps his eyes out for streams, creeks or water. Turkeys travel along waterways and leave their footprints in the sand for all to see. Sometimes they travel along the sandy areas of the creek bottoms, and sometimes they cross the creeks in certain locations.
The main thing is to find the tracks, and you can be sure that turkeys are in the area. If turkeys are nearby, you’ll detect plenty of scratching as well.
While turkeys may use some tracts of land occasionally, they will usually roost in the same general area in the springtime. And that means finding trees large enough for roosting.
One of the best places to look for roosting sites is near, or over, water. If there are mature trees near or in beaver ponds and sloughs, then you have found potential hotspots for turkey roosts.
Every predator in the woods is after the turkeys from the minute they’re hatched until the moment they die. As a result, they become very wary of everything that moves.
To a deer every man is a stump, but to a turkey every stump is a man. With everything from bobcats, foxes, coyotes, coons, wild dogs and humans chasing them, they know where to look for safety. When they roost over water, they have usually found a place of peace and security, for a night anyway!
After locating an area that has turkeys, Meek begins the day by owl hooting near their roosting sites. This will usually draw a hearty gobble from any gobblers roosting within hearing distance. Later in the day, he will switch to a crow call when trying to “shock” a gobbler into gobbling. Once that old gobbler is located, it’s time for battle.
Meek has been making turkey calls for 28 years, and has been giving seminars about that long as well. He recommends that novice hunters start out with a box call since they are easy to play.
“Most calls today are tuned and ready to play; just stroke it gently for yelps, clucks and purrs,” he said.
Meek advises beginners to purchase an audio or videotape of turkeys calling or turkey callers demonstrating the proper way to call.
Once you have located a turkey, give him a little enticement. Meek doesn’t like to call to a turkey on the roost, preferring instead to give him just enough to reveal his location.
“I like to get by the cheapest way I can, so I just give him a couple of tree yelps and shut up,” he said. “Sometimes that’s all it takes. If he needs some more enticement, then I’ll give him some more — once he flies down. But I’m not going to give him everything I’ve got at first.
“That’s the good thing about turkey hunting; I can come back and try him again tomorrow.”
If an old gobbler is responding to Meek’s calls, he’ll continue to call sparingly. The birds have all day, and Meek doesn’t believe in rushing them just because you’ve got somewhere to be. While he doesn’t start out calling aggressively, he’ll usually get progressively more aggressive if the situation demands it.
One spring day, Meek locked horns with a bad old bird. After deciding the gobbler wasn’t coming, he started pouring it on. The more aggressive Meek called, the more the bird gobbled. It was obvious that the gobbler was really torn up, yet he still wouldn’t budge from his strutting zone.
Meek dug down deep into his bag of tricks and pulled out a potent, yet dangerous trick. It would be wise not to try this on public land, and be very sure of your location and surroundings wherever you are. If not, you might be digging some lead out of your hide!
The cunning veteran just turned and walked away from the turkey. Yes, he started moving the other way, just like a lot of hardheaded gobblers do. After going a short distance Meek sent out a good-bye yelp and kept walking.
After repeating this scenario a couple of times, Meek shut up and waited. It was more than the old boss could stand as he came running toward him in a trot. As a result, the gobbler never knew what hit him. While this technique might not work all the time, it will work on occasion when you tangle with an old foolhardy tom that thinks he has seen it all.
Meek’s favorite technique is prospecting, which he prefers to do during the midday hours. Early in the morning, the gobbler is the king of the woods, while he has his harem of hens around him. Once they leave, he’ll find himself all alone and desperate. That’s when a hunter’s chances really increase.
Meek is not the most patient hunter, so his prospecting technique helps with his patience. He simply walks down old logging roads or ATV trails, calling every couple hundred yards. Sometimes he’ll stop and call for a couple minutes and then move on if he doesn’t hear anything. At other times he’ll set up and call in an area for 15 to 30 minutes, if he thinks there’s a turkey nearby. If a turkey responds, Meek will engage him in battle and stay as long as it takes.
Another word of caution is advised here also. Never call until you’re sure that you’re set up properly. If you’re not, that old gobbler might just fly down smack dab on top of you, or come running full speed and catch you with your pants down.
One such instance occurred while Meek was filming a show with former Mississippi Woods & Waters Publisher Dan Robinson. The cameraman got set up properly, and Meek sent out a sweet, seductive call. Almost instantly, a gobbler flew in from out of nowhere, sending Meek and Robinson flat on the ground.
For the next 30 minutes, the turkey gobbled over 90 times looking for that hen. The two hunters were a mere 10 yards away, pinned face down in the dirt. When the gobbler finally had enough, he putted and flew off. It was surely a hard lesson learned and one to be heeded by others, lest they face the same embarrassment.
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