Turkey Hunting with a Horseshoe
No turkey is safe when Lee goes hunting with Lady Luck.
Lee Harwell has a golden horseshoe tucked away where the sun never shines. Always has and always will. We’ve hunted together for nearly 40 years and regardless of the game, Lee has always returned from a day in the field with his quarry, or a good story. Most often, he drags home both.
It doesn’t matter if it’s deer or ducks, elk or antelope, Lee’s hunt is always an unforgettable adventure, especially when he shares the story utilizing his extensive oratory skills and literary license. His quest for wild turkeys has always been particularly colorful. Over the last few years I’ve had the good fortune to be along on three of his spring outings.
Three Aprils ago, Lee and I spent a sunny South Carolina morning walking and calling, trying to locate a gobbler. With no responses, we split up to cover more ground. I found a nice tree trunk in the shade to serve as a La-Z-Boy and promptly went to sleep. Shortly I was awakened by a shotgun blast. Then another. Then another.
I headed in the direction of the shots, which happened to have come from the area Lee was hunting. As I walked down the white sand road I could see his grin a half-mile away. When we met, he said, “Let me tell you what happened.”
Lee is a man of many words. He can make a short story long; a long story a novel. So I knew I was in for a “real-time, blow-by-blow” account of his latest adventure. I looked down the road past him to see at least one victim sprawled breast-side up. Lee pointed past the dead bird to the hardwoods at the end of the road. Easily three-quarters of a mile away. It seems Lee had set up beneath the wooden deer stand I was now leaning on. With scraps of cardboard and a few broken limbs he’d built a comfortable blind from which he could see down the main road and a side road. With a jake decoy placed thirty yards away, he had settled down and begun turkey talking with his slate call. The following has been dramatically edited down for time and space considerations:
“About the time I got settled, I hit the call a few times,” Lee recounted. He didn’t want to share the experience where we stood. Rather we jumped in the mule and he took me on a sort of Gettysburg tour of the entire event. “Then I heard a gobble from the end of the road down there,” he continued. We drove down to the site of the sighting and studied the footprints. “I hit the call again, and could barely see three turkeys step out of the woods. That’s where they came out. Right there. They milled around up there for ten minutes before they finally started easing their way toward me. They had spotted the decoy. Couldn’t miss, standing right out in the middle of the road.
“Pretty soon I could see they were all gobblers. Big gobblers! When they got within fifty yards they started to hang up and wandered toward the woods on the left. I decided I’d better take my shot at the biggest of the three. He went down flopping, one flew into the woods and the other stood there confused.”
We’re allowed five gobblers per season, but only two per day.
“So I shot at the second one and he flapped over into the ditch on the right. I ran up to the first one and he was dead. The second one was still kicking a little but basically done. Then I saw the third bird. The one I thought had flown into the woods on the other side. He’d been hit when I shot the first bird and was still flapping around in the ditch trying to get away. I finished him. So I got three gobblers! No jakes! And look at the double beards on this one!”
They were big toms indeed. Beards of 9, 10 and 11 inches, plus a bonus beard. And with good spurs in the ½- to ¾-inch range. We decided if a game warden happened by, I would be allowed to take credit for one of the three, if only briefly. While that scenario never happened, I did wind up with 1½ fresh turkey breasts.
The following season, Lee and I were hunting the same vicinity. We drove pre-dawn from hunt camp in his Mule, following the sandy tracks that wind through the Lowcountry swamps, woods and cutovers. We’d just stopped the ATV and were listening to the dark silence for a roosted gobbler to give away his location. In the distance we heard a shot. “That was awful early,” I said to Lee. “Somebody shooting at one roosting,” he replied, adding a few expletives. That’s both illegal and unethical and tends to ruffle the feathers of law-abiding (except for the occasional accidental death of a third gobbler) hunters like us.
We left the Mule and went off by foot, walking and calling. By 10 a.m., we’d neither seen nor heard a turkey. Back at the Mule, we placed our shotguns in the rack and began winding back toward camp, binoculars in hand in case of any sightings.
“That looks like a turkey!” Lee said, pointing twenty yards ahead to the left side of the road. We stopped next to the heap of brown feathers and quickly I.D’d the body as that of a recently dispatched 20-pound gobbler. Lee jumped out, hoisted him up by his feet, saying “We got ourselves a nice Tom!” The bird’s huge wings hung down limply and his head swayed easily – sure signs that he was “fresh dead.”
“That shot was over a half-mile away from here,” Lee said, examining a speck of blood on the bird’s rib feathers. “Must have wounded the bird and he flew as far as he could.” The bird could have flown a hundred different directions and landed in a thousand places. The odds of him crashing next to the road back to camp are… well throw stats out the window when you’ve got the horseshoe in the ATV.
“One big gobbler without firing a single shot!” Lee announced as we rolled into camp. The other hunters shook their heads, but not necessarily in disbelief. Over the years we’ve all learned to expect the unexpected when Lucky Lee’s around.
But Lee will tell you it’s never simply luck. He’ll assure you that his superior hunting and firearms skills create good fortune. Hunting near Orrville, Alabama with friends a few years back, Lee was calling a huge gobbler that had hung up 70 yards away. It was our final evening there and it became obvious that the bird was going to strut for Lee’s make-believe hen at what he felt was a safe distance. Lee glanced at his watch and decided it was now or never. One shot from his 12-gauge anchored the bird in his tracks.
My son and I had already returned to the pick-up and hurried over at the sound of Lee’s shot. Before he touched the bird, he stepped off the seventy paces for us to witness. The tom sported nearly one-inch spurs, a 12-inch beard and one bloody pellet hole in his cranium. “I wanted to make sure y’all didn’t accuse me of making that up. That was a helluva shot!” With a little of Lee’s luck thrown in, no doubt.
I can’t wait for my next adventure. Maybe this turkey season, if I’m lucky enough to tag along with Lee.
Larry Chesney is a freelance writer, contributing to such magazines as Sporting Classics, North American Hunter, and South Carolina Sportsman. He resides in Taylors, South Carolina.
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