Tight-Lipped Tar Heel Toms

Hurdle Mills, North Carolina is home to some fine homemade pickled okra. It was also home to a wannabe Bruce Lee gobbler that landed its final karate spur kick this past April.

EARLY EXIT

I was joined the first morning of the three-day hunt with Hunters Specialties by Craig Cushman, former vice president of marketing for Hunters Specialties, and Steve Cobb, a Hunters Specialties pro-staffer and South Carolina champion turkey caller. All was quiet at daybreak.

Cobb let out his first owl hoot, and a gobble covered us up from about 100 yards away.

At the sound, we did one of those squat-and-shuffle runs to find the nearest tree. After a few minutes of silence, the tom flew down and began hammering at Cobb’s aggressive clucks and excited yelps.

The drumming and spitting commenced, and the bird made a bee line for the H.S. Strut Jake Snood decoy. The longbeard circled the decoy and came back around, executing a swift kick that knocked the fake jake three feet in the air.

As it stood admiring its handiwork, I squeezed on the Remington 870 SPS Super Mag Turkey Predator, and the Winchester Longbeard XR No. 5s went to work.

The bird never flopped. It was 6:42 a.m., and my one-bird daily limit in North Carolina was filled.

BACKYARD GOBBLER

My counterpart on the trip, Outdoor Lifes Gerry Bethge, had heard next to nothing the first two mornings. He and Cobb came in from the second morning’s hunt looking for grub when the highlight of the trip occurred.

Mike Capps, senior account executive at Howard Communications, who had been in the upstairs bedroom “scouting,” as he called it, awoke to a faint sound out of the bedroom window. It was a gobble. Capps ran downstairs and found Cobb.

“Steve, step out on the back porch and call,” Capps said.

Cobb gave him a look.

“No, really. Call off the back porch.”

On the first yelp, the bird gobbled in a hardwood bottom a little more than 100 yards off the back deck. Cushman and John Trull, chief executive officer at Hunters Specialties, went to the catbird’s seat upstairs and prepared for the show.

Cobb worked the bird under the hardwood cover for 10 minutes or so before it stalled and wouldn’t budge. A few minutes of silence passed before we heard a blast echo from the bottom. Bethge trotted out with a nice gobbler and the best story of the week.

THE STREAK

The next morning, Bethge, Cobb and I heard a gobble in the distance and cut through the woods to within 100 yards of a roosted gobbler with hens. His sweet talking coerced the bird to about 70 yards before I heard what sounded like a deer running through the woods. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blur of feathers scream by at 25 yards as Ray Stevens’ “The Streak” played in my head. Turns out, Trull had been hunting the same birds as us on the other side.

GOBBLE OR BUST

The final morning, after a mouth-watering rib dinner served by a neighbor of the property, we traveled down the road to listen at an outparcel of the Hunters Specialties property. I forgot to set my alarm and overslept, missing the morning coffee and other pre-hunt rituals. Sure enough, about the time we stopped to listen, the previous night’s ribs came calling, and no gobble was worth that wait. As soon as I propped against a tree, a bird gobbled within 150 yards on the edge of an old food plot.

I hoped to watch one more Tar Heel tom fall, but the longbeard’s hens would have none of it. They carried him off, and we had to follow their lead back home.

Despite the warnings of quiet birds, we scared up a few gobbles during the week thanks to the fine calling of Cobb and advanced scouting by Cushman and Trull. The birds weren’t extremely talkative, but as we learned, you only need one big mouth to close the deal.

Cobb-isms

If you’ve met Steve Cobb, pro-staffer with Hunters Specialties, you’ve likely heard one of his great turkey hunting stories. If you haven’t, well, get your priorities in order. Cobb is a turkey tactic encyclopedia and a calling machine in the woods. He goes nonstop until a late-night toddy puts him to roost. Sharing hunting camp with Cobb should be on every hunter’s bucket list. Here are a few tips gleaned from Cobb’s wealth of turkey hunting knowledge during a recent hunt in North Carolina.

● Cobb likes to tree yelp lightly after a gobbler has given away his location from the limb. Then he stops until the bird flies down. Birds can generally tell if a yelp comes from the ground early while they are still roosting and might be tentative to investigate.

● When one gobbler hung up out of range after answering calls multiple times, Cobb scratched in the leaves and caused the bird to break toward the hen decoy. It’s common knowledge among turkey hunters, but this simple tactic is sometimes forgotten.

● Cobb’s advice for using a friction call: Make a backward J with the striker for sharp clucks and cutts. For consistent sounds, keep the fatty portion of your palm on your striker hand flat against the surface of the call, and don’t move it.

● Cobb prefers to run and gun and advises staying within a short distance from the truck if possible during peak gobbling hours. If there’s no gobbling, you always can get back to the truck quickly and check another spot where you’ve heard birds.

● The veteran guide likes to stand or kneel above the hunter he’s calling for to improve his vantage point and give more direction on gun hold and positioning.

● When birds are silent, many times it can be because of a dominant gobbler in the area. If you can take out that dominant bird, sometimes that opens the mouths of submissive gobblers.

● Cobb is a big believer in the red wattles on the Jake Snood decoy from Hunters Specialties. Nine out of 10 times, an incoming longbeard will be so focused on sizing up the fake jake that a hunter can get away with more before the shot, he said.

● Quality of calling matters. When you sound like a hen, birds might be less tentative to commit. Master the yelp, Cobb said.

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