Tungsten topples last-minute tom in miracle shot

Ross Bielema

I’ve been called a pain in the butt by more than one person. Just ask my wife.

A real pain in the butt in the form of Piriformis Syndrome was threatening to ruin my precious spring turkey hunting.

Piriformis is essentially a mimic of sciatica pain, caused by muscle spasms in one buttock and radiating down the leg. Sitting and sleeping in certain positions was painful, but standing seemed to mostly relieve the worst of it.

Chiropractic adjustments, combined with steroids and muscle relaxers from my doctor, finally got this literal pain in the butt under control, but I only hunted one day during Season C (May 1-7).

Perhaps I was having sympathy pains for my wife, who had a more severe back situation. She awoke one morning with excruciating back pain and learned she had three herniated disks. Chiropractic care and a spine epidural eventually relieved the worst of it, but her doctor ordered her off work job for three weeks. Her struggles made my pain more manageable. She needed me to do most of the heavy lifting.

One of her keen observations gave me some insight into the turkeys at my hunting spot. We both literally drive past my turkey haunts every day, and she typically cruises past before sunset. I drive by around 8:30 a.m.

“I never see any turkeys there in the morning, but I almost always see them there when I come home,” she said in that matter-of-fact way that wives often lob at us like a silent hand grenade. Poof.

I started turkey hunting around the mid-1980s in Iowa, mostly with bow and arrow, and have been hunting turkeys almost continuously ever since. You turkey hunt in the morning. You locate birds with owl hooters and try to set up near a roosting bird, or hide in a blind, and you call them. I started thinking back and don’t remember ever hunting them in the afternoon, except to “roost” a bird before dark. In fact, some states used to close the season at noon or 1 p.m.

Turkey hunting can be exciting when the gobblers are talking, and when a bird is close enough that you can hear it spit-vaaaaaarrroooom as it drums and dances, it will make you wriggle like a puppy on its first point. It can also be like watching concrete harden. If you hate getting up early (I’m waving my hand right now), it can even suck eggs.

The idea of sleeping in and hunting in the afternoon was crazy, but I’d had so many rough morning hunts on this farm for years that I was willing to try anything, even turkey hunting heresy.

So after my one and only morning hunt during the Season C period, I decided to try an afternoon hunt during Season D (May 8-14). Sitting in a thick patch of willows on the edge of a plowed farm field, I was delighted to watch a few hens, along with sandhill cranes and Canada geese, poking and searching in the dirt clods for bugs and corn.

Although I’d seen strutting gobblers in this and several other adjacent fields many times when driving, no toms appeared. Still, I didn’t feel sleep-deprived and craving a nap like most morning hunts.

Still facing the nagging pain in my fanny and leg. I returned to my familiar a.m. hunt pattern to get out on my last day (May 14).

A steady stream of hens provided the entertainment, with up to five in the field at one time. I texted my wife a few times with some photos, telling her that maybe the live hens would draw a tom better than my decoys were.

Just before 9 a.m., I was getting the feeling the jig was up for another year. That’s when two more birds wandered into the field. I immediately noticed they were larger, although the bright sun was actually masking their colors. Then I saw the beard on the lead bird. It’s go time.

I may not be a great turkey hunter, but I’m a darned good turkey caller, thanks to 35-plus years of practice. I can get sweet sounds with a diaphragm call, and I like the slates, too, but I sound like a feathered version of Whitney Houston with my trusty box call. I let fly some rich yelps and got the single-shot 20 gauge ready.

One of the two toms gave a half-hearted strut, using only one wing and part of his tail. It was pathetic.

Since when is the male of any species not in the mood? They walked left into tall grass, getting slightly closer to me but then moving off. It was clear this wouldn’t be a gimme shot.

It was difficult to judge the distance in the uniform grass, but when the two toms were in a straight line with me, I decided to take a shot. The $35-a-box Browning TSS No. 7 and No. 9 tungsten blend had patterned well at 35 yards, but this felt more like 50. I waited till they separated slightly and touched off.

Both birds flinched and then looked confused, as did I.

I decided to move a tad closer, so reloaded and crouched, walking slowly toward the edge of my cover. I took aim again and this time, one fell in the grass. The other stared at his pal as if to say, “We really should be going now.”

I was amazed to step off 65 paces on the way to my 18-pound, 4-ounce adult tom. I certainly didn’t expect to shoot that far, but I’ll take it. Tungsten shot has made lead shot obsolete in my mind.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.