Longbeards for Gray Beards


Bob Hughes and I have been turkey-hunting travel buddies for 30 years. I was with him when he killed his first bird in south-central Indiana in the ‘80s, and was in one of the few counties to have a huntable population. The two of us were part of the civilian Wild Turkey Committee that helped our biologists reintroduce wild turkeys into southeast Indiana in 1984. We worked to put on seminars, coached youngsters in the ways of the woods and were involved in all activities involving the Laughery Valley Fish & Game Club.

We traveled each year out of state to get a jump on the Indiana season by first going to Missouri with our crew. That trip to Belgrade and the camp on DD grew from five of us on the first trip to 18 in the following years. Bob and I split off and camped separately from the big camp; it was peaceful. The cooking and camp life was manageable. Our friends could come to visit so it all worked out.

We went back year after year. As the years passed and the camp began to dwindle, it was back to just Bob and me. And, we were the last ones to make that trip. On a trip to South Dakota, of the nine in our group, Bob was the first to connect on a Merriam’s turkey in 1994. At some point we started going to Kentucky for our hunts. I killed my first flintlock wild turkey in the Adair Wildlife Area, near Big Bone Lick in 1999. We also were aware of the Pioneer Weapons Area of the Daniel Boone National Forest near Cave Run Lake. There were a few at first, and later that camp built into a sizable contingency of Hoosier hunters. Again, as years past, Bob and I became the only ones to return regularly.

This Pioneer Weapons Area required you to hunt with a side-hammer percussion or flintlock shotgun. While some of us were old black powder hunters, several had to buy guns to go on this hunt. I had faithfully hunted with my 12-gauge American Fowler and felt that unless it was taken by flintlock, well, it just didn’t count. Bob and I found each other to be the only ones to go to Cave Run that year. Opening Day, we split up and went our own ways, as we usually did. The years there allowed us to become familiar with that area and we both had our favorite spots.

The terrain is very steep, so I mostly hunted the tops and saddles. If the turkeys sounded off across one of the deep ravines, it was a long walk around so I’d sit down and try to call them across. But there was nothing I could get to. There was a couple toward Tater Knob that would return my calls. Bob tried to go to his old haunts, but there was a pick-up truck in every pull off.

Later, I told Bob of the Tater Knob birds and we decided to double-up on them the next morning.

There was a ridge between that neither of us had ever been on and we elected to approach them from that vantage. It was not long before we realized why we had not hunted that ridge—we discovered it was overgrown with greenbrier and downed timber. It was tough going, but we trudged through until we finally came to a small clearing.

It was time to make an assault. We made our setup and called and got responses from across the ravine to the next ridge. The birds were hot to trot and started our way.

Bob took up a position a little back and to my left. He began to call, which made me the shooter. As three birds approached, they stayed under the hill and passed from my right to left, right past Bob, but out of sight. They then moved 100 yards beyond Bob. At this point I think he was determined that they had passed him by.

I then lit them up with some hard calling and purring. We switched roles; Bob was now the shooter. This turned them, and they returned cautiously.

With Bob’s elevated position, I did not actually see any of these birds until Bob’s single barrel roared. He got to the turkey and put a foot on the bird’s head. We grinned at each other as we had many times before on a successful hunt.

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We made our way off that nasty ridge feeling more benevolent than we had when we walked in.

Back at the truck, we checked in the bird by phone. The county we killed the bird in was Menifee. Since it was questionable how to spell the name, sometimes the birds were attributed to Bath County. After all, they could have easily walked into Bath County as well. It would be interesting to know if adjoining counties had widely differing kill numbers.

Later, I wanted to go back on my ridge and give it a try. As we called on the way back to what we call “Johnson Rock,” I knew where I wanted to make a serious effort—a little flat that had been good for me before. That was where we would start in earnest.

Setting up, we joined to call to the world and was rewarded with a gobble well out in front of us. We discussed where we thought he was, and then moved through a saddle, stopping to call again. He answered over the hill in front of us. Moving as close as we dared, Bob gave a little sweet calling and the bruiser nearly blew our hats off.

Bob motioned me to a nearby tree. I sat down and got my knee up for a rest—he was just over the rise. I then checked the prime in the pan and was ready for what might come.

With Bob calling, I could hear the drumming and walking in the leaves. I eared the hammer back and waited. I caught a glimpse of the top of a white noggin—my heart was pounding.

I heard a whomp, and then another. The hard purring made me realize I was just out of sight of a gobbler fight.

Bob called excitedly to them and evidently turned their attention to our direction. As the swinging, bearded monarch marched in front of my flinter, I dropped the hammer. A shower of sparks ignited the pan and the gun roared. Smoke and leaves kicked up as I got to my feet and could see the bird flopping. I laid down the now empty fusil as I ran to get on the bird.

As we looked him over and relived what had just happened, we had come to the conclusion that after all these years we had accomplished something new: we had never each taken a turkey together on the same day. It was our first double.

As lifelong friends and hunting partners, what we did on that remote Kentucky hilltop that day had given a shared experience of a lifetime.