He came in sneaking. His penchant for showing up suddenly, quietly and always getting away earned him the name "Sneaky Pete."
My buddy, Joanie Haidle, and I have been hunting this particular gobbler in the spring for six years now. I've missed two shots at him in previous years and so has Joanie. We've spooked him countless times by being careless when we had no idea he was around. We kidded that this bird had the nine lives of a cat.
So I started this spring gobbler season knowing this bird had two lives left. But Joanie and I had a plan. After being the victim of his wiles for the last six years, we were sure we knew how to lure him to our guns. And we were right! We executed our plan and he came in just as expected.
This gobbler, like so many these days, was wary of calls and when you began to pepper his atmosphere with calls, he would shut up. So we learned not to do that. He has a quite distinctive gobbling style so we recognized him when we heard him. It was easy to pick him out from any other birds that might be gobbling.
The third day of this present season I was set up on the brushy edges of a huge field that we knew he often visited. And that day he did appear along with a couple of hens and he walked around that field with them but more than a 100 yards away from my setup so I was never offered a shot that day. So Joanie and I formulated a plan.
We went back to that field, set up a blind because Joanie was determined to film the hunt that day. We set up near a small trail that wound through the brush, the same trail where I had watched that gobbler herd his hens over.
He gobbled at day, just where we thought he would be, behind us, down over the hilltop in the woods. According to the scenario we had planned, we offered some soft calls just so he would know where we were. Then we called no more.
As he always did, after he flew down from his roost he would get quiet. So did we. And hour later, he let out one hearty gobble, and in a few minutes, Joanie answered with some soft yelps and clucks. And we waited. It was another hour before he gobbled again and this time he was closer, much closer. He was coming in.?We were sure of that, so Joanie did not answer his gobbles this time. He was close enough that we knew if we answered now, he would probably retreat.
So we sat quietly, and waited, eyes peeled on that entrance into the field. We waited about another hour, and then I saw him. Quietly and so very slowly, he approached, stepping out into the grassy strip that ringed that huge field. Step by step he inched his way, stretching that neck tall, peering all around before he took the next step.
The waiting was excruciating. My shotgun weighed about 40 pounds by then. My back itched and my respiration rate increased. At long, long last he stepped onto the grass and turned away from me, giving me the opportunity to raise my gun. When he raised his neck to peer, I leveled on him and pulled the trigger!
He took to the air. I missed! I missed another shot at this super-smart gobbler. It was a cake shot and I have no explanation for the miss. The bird is supernaturally protected, it seems.
I won't bother to try to explain how I felt. How incredible it is that one bird could survive eight attempts to bag him over six years! Well, next morning we were back to that field. Not because we thought we had any chance to lure him in again but to listen for his gobble, to assure ourselves that he had survived my latest bumbling effort to finally take him.
After that, I passed up several jakes. We were determined to capture the harvest of a nice longbeard on film and we had them running all around us in the days that followed, but always out of range.
So Sneaky Pete still lives as of this writing. Joanie, however, will be gunning for him and she is about the best gobbler hunter I've ever known. The last two years Joanie has bagged a really big gobbler on the last day of season. Perhaps Sneaky Pete will meet his fate on the last day this year. I surely hope so.
In the meantime, I have returned home and back to work but still my "luck" continues. I took my one-man chair blind out to a favorite spot last Monday and put it up in a good spot.
I just played the waiting game, issuing a series of calls about once an hour, just to let any gobbler within earshot know where I was. It was a silent wait, during which it snowed and the wind blew and it felt like deer season and I wondered why I thought this was such fun.
At around 2:30 p.m., three gobblers came strolling in, feeding and scratching and lolling around about 80 yards from me. They never came close enough to offer a shot but I didn't spook them either so I'll be back tomorrow morning, God willing, to wait again.