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It’s been several years since I’ve killed a wild turkey with a shotgun. When I first started pursuing the birds during the late 1970s, my weapon of choice was a muzzleloading Navy Arms 12-bore. Fitted with straight cylinder bore barrels, the scattergun’s range was restricted to around 20 yards; 15 was optimum. Not exactly what you’d describe as a turkey hunter’s dream gun.

Turkey hunt

At one point, the turkey even merged into full view before, once again, rejecting my pleas to come closer.

So why carry such an obsolete weapon? About the only answer I can come up with is that hunting with traditional black powder firearms is just plain fun. When properly stuffed with powder and shot, muzzleloading shotguns produce an impressive amount of noise, fill the air with acrid clouds of white smoke, and provide a healthy nudge to your upper torso. If I was going to be a turkey hunter, I decided that the whole forest might as well know about it when I pulled the trigger.

During that time, I had also developed a growing passion for archery and soon began toying with the idea of hunting turkeys with a bow. I tried it, liked it, and had soon laid the gun aside.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed hunting with longbows, I eventually got the itch to put the old muzzleloader back into action. As much as I loved the quiet solitude of the bow, I also began to miss the smoke and noise of those earlier hunts.

May 10, 2019: Cool, calm and clear; the predawn conditions were absolutely perfect for chasing spring gobblers. Although a few fading stars were still visible, I had already located an ideal candidate for the morning’s hunt. From the east face of Red Oak Ridge, a mature gobbler was currently going completely off his rocker; issuing a near constant string of single, double and triple gobbles.

Things couldn’t have looked better – a completely fired up gobbler out front; no hens anywhere in sight. Then, following a full hour on nonstop gobbling, the timber suddenly went silent. Was the bird finally on his way, I wondered. Forty-five minutes later, I was still wondering.

Turkey hunting wtih a muzzleloader

When I dropped the hammer, the old shotgun roared with authority.

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A quick movement caught my eye. Coming from the same direction as the gobbling, a hen was slipping by to my left. Three more hens soon passed; all coming from the same direction. It was now obvious that the morning’s prolonged gobble-fest had attracted enough hens to keep the old tom anchored in place.

Continuing the hunt, I managed to encounter an entertaining number of squirrels and newly arrived songbirds; but very little gobbling during the next hour and a half.

At 10:30, I decided to take a break. But I had barely started toward the truck when I detected a faint gobble; followed by another and then another. The sound was emanating from the exact spot where the loud-mouthed tom had begun his day. But now it seemed as if the bird’s mood had suddenly changed. Maybe it was worth one last try.

I had soon approached to within 35 yards. At this range, the gobbler seemed to be roaring. But now that I had arrived, there was no place to sit; no place where I could see farther than a few feet in any direction. Inching even closer, I found a spot offering a tunnel-like view through the thick shrubbery. Taking a seat against a 10-inch diameter tree, the location would have to do.

Meanwhile, the lathered-up gobbler was showing no signs of slacking off. Once in place, I fired off a series of yelps. The surprised tom cut me off on the second note, immediately conducting an explosive string of ear-splitting gobbles.

Cocking both hammers, I slowly brought the shotgun to my shoulder. After what seemed like hours -- but was probably less than two minutes -- the gobbler finally sounded off again. The good news was that tom had taken the bait and was now standing a distance of 15 yards, maybe less. The bad news was that the gobble had come from behind and to my right. Even if I had been able to see the bird -- which I couldn’t – turning around for a viable shot would have been impossible. If the bird kept coming, he would soon be breathing in my ear.

The suspense eventually became more than I could bear, and I decided to squeak out a couple of soft yelps. The gobbler instantly responded; still on my right but now farther to the front. Things were looking up again. A minute later, I spotted a movement through the dense foliage. The gobbler had come around to my front. Within moments, and at a distance of well under twenty yards, the elusive bird finally came into view.

I dropped the hammer, and the old front loader roared with authority. When the smoke cleared, the gobbler lay motionless, never hearing the shot that killed it. It had been a morning to remember. From start to finish, the action-packed contest had lasted for a total of six hours. Traveling full circle, the adventure ended within yards of where I’d heard the first predawn gobble.

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Enjoy more wildlife tales online at Washburn’s Outdoor Journal at iawildlife.org/blog

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