April 15th, the 21st day of the 2011 California Wild Turkey season at 6:15 am marks the moment in time that I defeated a bird who was a most difficult adversary. I call him The Phantom Tom. PT for short. I had hunted him numerous times over the past four seasons and never got a glimpse at this bird. He always roosted in the same tree, overlooking a strip of meadow grass that sloped down a hill. He could see in all directions anyone who might be coming to challenge his dominance. To take over his kingdom and steal his queens. He had a booming gobble that was very recognizable to me. It had a sort of raspiness. A confidence projected through his gobble that warned all other males to stay away, while gently coaxing the girls to his love nest. I would set up on him time and time again, but he would always do something that was unexpected. I patterned him by the sound of his voice, but each time I set up to cut him off after fly down, he would change it up.
I consider myself a pretty good turkey caller, not one to win a competition by any means, but I have brought in my fair share of birds of the years. PT would always hang up 50 yards for a while before disappearing silently. I tried setup after setup. Boss Tom decoys with hens. A breeding pair. Hens only. A Jake and a hen. A breeding Jake. A lone hen. Fighting Toms……the list goes on and on. I never tried the absence of decoys…until the 15th of April.
A couple days before, I had hunted PT with a Jack Williams from Outfittershack.com. We set up just 50 yards from his roost, got him gobbling all crazy like, set up a Tom and a hen decoy and waited. Fly down came and he hung up just out of sight while gobbling his mad little head off. We worked him for about an hour and a half to no avail. He made his silent escape. After discussing what in the world his problem was, we decided that maybe the decoys made him nervous for some reason.
Two mornings later I arrived full of anticipation. I was to duel with The Phantom again. Match wits with a gobbling machine. I got my gear on, but left the decoys in the truck, and headed out into the mountains to find The Phantom. I neared his normal roost and right away he thundered out his gobble like a semi truck driver at a cute girl. I quietly snuck into the woods. At this point I was already 50 yards from his tree. I wanted to see exactly where this bird was living so I made my way in ever so carefully, ever so quietly. I stepped on a branch, CRACK!!! “GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE!!” He fired back. He was directly above my head about 40 yards up a tall pine. And there he was in all his featherless glory. And that’s when I noticed the little meadow directly behind his tree that I had never seen before. I quietly backed out of the woods, away from his castle and back out into the big meadow where I always set up in the past. And made my way around to the other side of his little meadow.
I set up about 15 yards from the edge of the little meadow. I found a big pine to sit against, The Phantom was gobbling his mad little turkey brain off at all the noise I was making. He must have thought I was a hen scratching in the leaves because He never busted out of there. I got my face mask on, my gun up and into place, resting on my knee and I waited for fly down.
12 minutes later he stopped gobbling. I wanted to hear him gobble some more so I made a couple of soft yelps with my mouth call and scratched in the leaves with my hands, “Gobble gobble gobble.” He fired off. And wouldn’t you know it, he performed a series of hops and glided down to land 20 yards in front of me and went into full strut. He was spitting and drumming and looking all mighty. He was showing off the fact that most of the feathers were missing from his chest and he was emphasizing the scars from old and new battles that raked his bloated chest. This bird was indeed mighty. He was indeed the king of the valley. He was indeed the ugliest, most horrifying turkey I had ever laid eyes on. He was old. At least 6 or 7 years of age. He was majestic.
I clucked, he gobbled! I yelped and he went nuts looking for this hen that he hadn’t bred yet. I enjoyed his display and let him play it out. When that time came, where he was beginning to suspect that there might not be a hen around, I placed the bead on his ugly majestic head and pulled the trigger. The Phantom has fallen.
I couldn’t believe that after all of these years of hunting this bird he was finally in front of me. I walked over to him to admire this bird who had probably bred every hen in the valley, and thanked him for a wonderful 4 years and for the meat he would provide. I looked him over and petted his feathers. He had a beautiful full fan, an 11 inch beard and 1.5 inch spurs. I later would weigh him and he would be just near the 25lb mark. He was missing all of his chest and neck feathers, but he was the most amazing bird that I had ever seen.
This fight with The Phantom is one that I will remember for the rest of my days. His Tale fan, wings and beard will sit in my game room in a place of honor to remind me of the greatest hunt of my life. The hunt that lasted four seasons.