I topped my week of smallmouth bass fising on the East Basin of Lake Erie off with a visit to the surrounding turkey woods for a late spring hunt. Guiding me on the hunt would be the men behind Quaker Boy Game Calls: Ernie Calendrelli and Chris Kirby.
Meeting up with the guys the night before, they took me to a remote cabin on some private property. They were friends of the family and it was a pretty nice cabin with a rustic charm. The ping'ing of rain on the metal roof in the dark of morning just added a nice, albeit ominous, charm.
The rain cast doubts in all our minds as to whether or not we'd be successful that day. We had to be, it was the only day I would be able to hunt. Driving out to our starting spot, the rain lightened up and by the time we got out of the truck it was only a fine mist that hung in the air–almost like fog.
Kirby, the president of Quaker Boy and a world-champion caller, hit the locator call. There was nothing. Silence. A couple more attempts, a little walking and more silence. The fear that subsided with the abatement of the rain renewed itself and I began to worry that we'd never even hear a big tom sound off.
And then, it happened. Way off in the distance a gobble was faintly heard. We made our way through the woods and took up a spot. I sat next to Ernie, backs to a tree and behind us 25 yards or so was Kirby.
That tom was down in a creek bottom and didn't want to come up. He sat down there and gobbled and gobbled, but never moved. The nice thing about having a world-champion caller like Kirby working a bird is that he knows how to speak the language. He worked that bird and worked him…and then worked him some more.
He talked that bird into a frenzy and then shut up. And then teased him more. Finally that tom made his way up the thickly wooded hillside looking for the teasing hen that was badmouthing him. As he slowly ghosted through the thick foliage, I could see that he was making his way diagonally from left to right in front of me…and at a pretty good distance!
After the letting up of the rain, and then finding this guy amid the silence of the woods, and then Kirby working him into such a stupor that he came uphill looking for us, I knew that I had to take a shot, even if it was a long shot, and that I would only get one chance due to the thick trees and leaves.
Watching him pick through the cover before disappearing behind a massive oak, I prepared to take a shot. "When he steps out from behind there, you better get a shot off because that's the only window you've got," whispered Calandrelli. Nothing like adding to the pressure of a one-day hunt that everything had started poorly but ended up working out perfectly.
Looking through the scope resting atop Kirby's borrowed shotgun, I found the gobbler when he appeared. But I didn't have a clean shot and the keeping the center dot of the crosshairs on the kill zone was tough at such a distance.
I followed as the bird picked through the shrubs. And then he stepped on top of a bare mound and gobbled. It was the last noise he would make in the those woods…or anywhere else for that matter.
When I put the dot on his neck, I pulled the trigger and watched as the bird rolled off that barren mound and flopped around. Caladrelli and I got up and ran to the flapping tom and were quickly joined by Kirby.
As the bird died, we all celebrated the moment and the swinging of our fortunes at every turn. "That was a poke!" Kirby said. "I was sitting back there watching and calling and all of a sudden you shot and watched the bird roll up and then I had to look back at where you were sitting and then at where the bird was to believe it"
Kirby paced the shot off: 54 yards from tree trunk to barren mound. It was an epic hunt that started tough, had challenges at every step but those were what made it all the more gratifying!