Sometimes in turkey hunting, you have no choice but to go where the birds are — even if it’s on the front nine.
I don’t golf. Never have; the few times I’ve held a club (think high school gym class in 1996) have ended in laughable failure. So what was I doing on the seventh hole one Thursday morning in April?
Simple — a big gobbler was strutting out there, and I intended to shoot him.
“On the golf course? You mean…right on the golf course? In the morning?” I asked in the pre-dawn darkness.
“It’s cool,” replied Wes Machen, farm manager at Pursell Farms in Sylacauga, Ala. “We told the golfers they had to start on the back nine, so they won’t be coming this way til at least 8:30. That bird’s been strutting right off the roost. We’ll have plenty of time.”
The original plan, Wes explained, had been to head to the mountain in pursuit of a gobbler who’d been sounding off regularly. But in the past two days that bird had disappeared, or at least he’d gone quiet. The groundskeepers had seen a big tom strutting every morning on the front nine, and it seemed like our best bet.
And so there we sat, 20 yards into the woods on the edge of the cart path, looking out over the seventh hole. We figured the tom would come down off his roost in the woods 100 yards across the hole, come strutting out onto the course, see our decoys and make a beeline right for us. Best-laid plans, right?
Naturally, it went nothing like that.
Cameraman Phillip Pitts sat behind me, just off my shoulder, and let out a few owl hoots. Nothing. Ten minutes later, another hoot. Nothing.
It’s easy to lose track of time on a hunt, but after a few minutes our patience was rewarded with that heart-stopping, blood-chilling, silence-shattering gobble every turkey hunter lives for. But it was deep in the woods to our left; not at all where we’d been expecting. This wasn’t the tom we were hunting, but I’m not one to question an opportunity.
With a quick shift around the tree we got set up to call to the new bird, golf course now off to my far right. And call we did, repeatedly, for nearly an hour. He was chatty, this tom, but not in a hurry to make his way to us. We yelped; he gobbled. We cutt-cutt-cutt; he gobbled. We let out our sexiest come-hither purrs; he gobbled — but he had no intention of coming hither.
With a slight ridge separating us from the gobbler, we knew a stalk was out of the question. There was nothing to do but wait out the standoff.
Then things got really interesting as a second gobbler sounded off far to our right — the tom we had originally come here to hunt was awake and decided he wanted in on the action. Now what?
Gobbles to the left. Gobbles to the right. And then it got quiet.
Had they disappeared? Were they both coming in at once? Did one or both get henned up?
And then, as tends to happen when turkeys are involved, I turned my head to see a gobbler in a field where a moment ago there was nothing but grass. In this case, the bird on our right had walked out into the fairway and was wandering around as if trying to decide what to do.
When he started meandering away, it dawned on us that this wasn’t the dominant tom, and the little guy might know something we didn’t. He wandered off, never to be heard from again.
After a long period of silence, a gobble rang through the woods again — closer. Another one — closer still. Big boy, clearly the boss in this area, had finally tired of waiting and had committed to finding the hen he thought was calling him.
Gun up, face on the stock.
Nothing. What happened? Why hadn’t that head popped up over the rise yet?
“To the right,” Phillip whispered. “See him?”
Afraid to move, I shifted my gaze to see the dominant longbeard had, as turkeys are so apt to do, circled around and sneaked in on the side where I wasn’t expecting him. Pinned down, I sat as still as adrenaline would allow and made my move when the tom fanned out his tail and briefly ducked below the rise. When he came into view again, walking straight toward me at 20 yards out, I was on him and ready for the shot.
One load of No. 5s and a couple of flops later, the Golf Course Gobbler lay dead just inside the woods, not five yards from the cart path. With an 11-inch beard and a spur on only one foot, he was something to marvel at as we hauled him out on the course for a few pictures before the golfers arrived to play through.
No one batted an eyelash when three muddy, camo-clad hunters walked into the clubhouse and ordered cathead biscuits and extra bacon.
“If you thought that was a blast, you should come back for ducks in the fall,” offered Greg Bolton, farm director at Pursell Farms. “Or quail. Or, hey, you gotta join us for opening day of dove season!”
Now we were speaking the language of a non-golfing hunter. Ducks? Doves? I’m in.
Pursell Farms (www.farmlinks.org) encompasses more than 3,500 acres, with just a few hundred of those acres dedicated to the world-class FarmLinks golf course (listed as one of Golf Digest’s top resorts). The rest of the land holds a working cattle farm, a beautiful five-stand shooting course, ponds full of lunker bass, dove fields, flooded-timber duck holes, 19th century guest houses, mountains, valleys and everything else a hunter could dream of. Construction is about to begin on a full sporting-clays course.
Go hunt ducks, quail, or turkey in the morning and spend your afternoon shooting five-stand, catching bass in the stocked pond, or hitting the links, if that’s your thing. There’s also farm-to-table gourmet cuisine that’s a far cry from your typical hunting-camp food. Did I mention the cathead biscuits?