Old Double Beard and the Fisher
Pennsylvania has a late turkey season. By this I mean it starts late. While many of my friends are traveling to Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio to hunt Toms, I spend a lot of time scouting turkeys in PA. The PA Spring Turkey season starts with a Mentored Youth Hunt in the middle of April and then the regular season starts the last week of April or the first week of May. This gives me plenty of time to scout birds as they constantly visit open fields and even my backyard.
While scouting one March morning, in 2016, I saw a gobbler with a double beard. The first time I saw him he was in full strut, 30 yards behind my house. This was the first double bearded bird I had ever seen. As March continued I saw him a few more time in different locations where I hunt. Both of my kids wanted to see if they could kill the “Old Double Beard” during the Mentor Hunt. I felt pretty good about being able to get one of them on him. All we had to do was wait until the 3rd Saturday of April. I continued to scout this bird and figured out where he liked to roost each night. He was the Big Guy in the flock and all the other Toms knew it.
The third Saturday in April was a week away and the weather was looking poor. The forecast had heavy wind and rain with low temperatures. The evening before the hunt I asked my kids who wanted to go out in the wind and heavy rain. Even with the use of a blind, they both decided to pass and wait for the regular season to start. I wasn’t going to argue with them so we let the day pass.
With one more week to go, I was able to pinpoint which tree he roosted in each night. He liked a large oak tree overlooking a small creek and gave him an open field to fly down and collect his hens. I decided this was the best place to put my blind, in the tree line across from where he liked to roost. I planned to get in the blind well before daylight so not to spook any of the birds in the flock. I brushed the blind in and made sure I had clearings on all sides. I was satisfied with my setup and was hoping for opening day success.
Opening day arrived and I woke early. All of my stuff was packed and ready to go. I grabbed my bow, my Black Eagle Zombie Slayers, some snacks and headed to the blind in the dark. It was peaceful and quiet and I enjoyed my time thinking about what might happen when all the birds wake up.
Sunrise was amazing and the first hen started to talk! She lightly yelped a few times and 5 love-struck Toms lit up the morning air. I could see many of the birds in the same tree all puffed up and gobbling. I sat quietly, soaking it all in, waiting for them to fly down. I was feeling pretty good about my chances to get a shot at Old Double Beard or any of the other nice Gobblers in the group.
The first hen left the tree and more followed. Then the gobblers began to come. I had 8 hens and 5 Toms 70 yards away. I had strategically set my blind on the opposite side of the field where I had watched them walk almost every day as I knew they like to head to the cut corn field behind me. The Toms went into full strut and circled the unimpressed hens. Old Double Beard pushed one hen away from the group and bred her in the field. I had never seen that happen before. The other Toms gobbled each time a hen began to talk. It was a task trying to keep quiet and focused on each of the potential targets.
Time was ticking slowly as the hens began to work my way. The puffed up bachelors followed behind hoping for a chance to breed. They closed the distance to 50 yards. Old Double Beard was still 70 yards away with his hen. Closer the group came and I grabbed my bow. I ranged one strutting Tom at 47 yards. I figured if I could get a shot at this big Tom I could fill one of my two PA tags. A few more yards and he would be in the kill zone.
My heart began to beat a bit quicker. I was getting ready to draw my bow when the turkeys began running in the opposite direction. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a coyote sneak into the field. The birds busted and took off flying. Old Double Beard and his hen left as well. Change of plans, this now was going to be a predator hunt but the coyote never gave me a shot. I sat the rest of the morning and never heard another call. So close but no luck.
Sunday hunting is not legal in Pennsylvania and the weather was not going to be good on Monday so I didn’t get out. I have to be at work by 7:20 am each morning so decided to just leave Old Double Beard alone for the week and go out again on Saturday.
Saturday morning came and I was up well before light. I took the same path to my blind and set up for the hunt. Faint orange and red rays of sunlight colored the morning sky. I realized right away the hens were roosted behind me and only two Toms were roosted in the usual tree. My plan was to wait as the odds seemed to be in my favor this morning.
Yelping hens called over and over behind me. The two gobblers gobbled each time the hens called. I was sitting in the middle of all the action with two thundering Toms facing each other, all puffed up trying to show each other up. Movement at the base of the large oak tree caught my attention. Thinking it was a coyote again I looked through my binoculars and saw a fisher.
Like an overgrown weasel on steroids, the fisher slowly climbed the outside of the oak tree. I watched in amazement as the two Toms had no idea they were being hunted by another predator. Slowly and cautiously the fisher climbed the tree and out on the branch both gobblers were perched. The furthest saw the fisher, putted loudly and left the tree. The other Tom not knowing what was happening tucked up his feathers and left just before he became breakfast. The two Toms glided over my blind and headed for the open corn field. The fisher sat for a few minutes then climbed down and headed out of sight.
The morning started so promising and ended badly in a hurry. I had to be back home by 10 am so I stayed in the blind till about 8:30 hoping the birds would come back. I called a few times and could hear birds gobble in the cornfield but decided to pack up my stuff and sneak back to the house. I would have to cross the cut cornfield so decided to go slow and see if I could get a shot.
Dressed in my G-Force Evolved camo and staying close to the tree line, to break up my silhouette so I could see into the cornfield. To my amazement I saw two hens feeding and a lone Tom in full strut. This was to my advantage as he was all fanned out facing away from me. I ranged the Gobbler at 37 yards. I took off my pack, grabbed and nocked the BEA Zombie Slayer, came to full draw and placed the pin at the base of the Gobbler’s fan.
Focusing on my spot I let the arrow fly. I watched as the lighted nock disappeared into the strutting Tom. The Grim Reaper 3 blade did its job and the Gobbler fell motionless. The two hens continued to eat as if nothing had happened. The downed bird began to flap his wings a few times then stopped.
I was excited to see which bird I had killed. I knew he was big and mature but did not know what to expect as he died facing away from me. Picking the bird up I noticed right away it was Old Double Beard. I gave a shout of excitement and then looked at his spurs. This had to be a dream!
Old Double beard had two distinct long beards and spurs over an inch. He was heavy and had a huge track. I took time to give thanks to God for the great hunt. Never did I think that the fisher would have helped me get a bird that morning. Filling out my tag in the field, I watched as a few more Toms entered the field to show off for the feeding hens. I tagged my trophy and took a few pictures. Old Double Beard was a true Limb hanger!
When I got home my kids were so excited to see me walking with a bird over my shoulder. They came out to see the Tom and both were a little disappointed that Old Double Beard was dead. I took a few more pictures, called a few of my buddies who came over to see the double beard and hear the story. Having just a few minutes before leaving for soccer, I made quick work of the bird and got him into a marinade for dinner.
Dinner that evening was delicious! Grilled turkey breast, broccoli and rice, shared by my family. The kids wanted to hear the story again while we ate so I told it one more time. The kids hung on the edge of their seat as dad’s story tickled their ears and imagination. I had never killed a double bearded bird before. To do it with a bow was even more surprising. Even today when I think about that hunt I get a huge smile on my face. Man I love hunting turkeys with a bow.