By Gary Gilchrist
It was late April 2001. I was laying on the heart doctor’s table hooked up to one of his machines. There was a viewer showing my heart beating. I was taking a chemical stress test to see if my heart could stand my upcoming prostate cancer surgery. They inject a radioactive chemical intravenously for this test. I asked Dr. Valdez if I would glow in the dark after this was over. At the peak of the test when my heart was at its highest rate, I said “Doc, this ain’t nothing!” [Not in those exact words] “You should have had me hooked up last week when I killed my first gobbler.” I had been diagnosed with prostate cancer shortly before the turkey season was to open; I was in shock, the big “C”. It was determined that I would need surgery as opposed to treatments. Surgery would put me out of commission for at least a couple months. Dr. Thomas, head of Urology at Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans was to do the surgery. I made a decision to postpone treatment until after the turkey season. My wife, Nita, was not thrilled, and that is putting it mildly.
I had hunted in the spring time in previous years sparingly. I usually spent my spring chasing speckle trout and redfish on the coast with Nita. From the time I became hooked on chasing turkeys, fishing will come after the turkey season. Nita wasn’t too crazy about this either. A successful turkey hunting trip was seeing a track here or finding a feather there. Hearing a gobble was a great hunt. I love the south Louisiana woods in the springtime, the scenery changes every day. You have to keep a careful eye out for snakes. They say everything in Texas will sting, stick or bite you. Well, Louisiana ain’t far behind. We don’t have cactus but we do have stinging nettles. We have lots of swampy areas which mean lots of mosquitoes. A Thermo Cell to keep mosquitoes away is a must have item. I was determined to harvest a bird this year, for obvious reasons. I hunted hard nearly every day of the 2001 season. Getting up at 4 a.m. was getting old. Especially for Nita, who would get up to make coffee and an egg sandwich every day. God Bless her. Then one day everything changed.
It was a fantastic day, April 19, 2001. I heard nothing, not a peep from a roosted bird. I did what I always do and set up at day break to dry call. It had worked once before this year when for the first time a bird answered my call. He must have hollered 50 times but would not come in. I picked a good tree, set out decoys and got set up on the edge of a pipeline, calling every 15 minutes or so. By 9 a.m. I had had no action at all. I had no feeling in my behind, my legs were asleep and I couldn’t take it anymore. I stood up to get some blood flowing. I froze. Two hundred yards up the pipeline was a huge gobbler in full strut! I couldn’t breathe. All I could hear was my pounding heart in my chest.
He was facing away from me. I dove into some three foot tall weeds on the pipeline; thankfully there wasn’t a Cottonmouth hiding in there too. By the watch he strutted for fort-five minutes. I kept waiting for him to come my way. I was on my knees and both legs were numb. It was a cool day but I was sweating like it was fifth grade report card day. I finally decided to try calling him. I pulled out my slate, didn’t trust a mouth call at this point, and gave four small clucks. The wind was blowing from him to me. He either didn’t hear me or ignored me, one or the other. There was a lull in the wind. I took advantage of this and made another short call. He threw up his head and looked my way and gobbled. There was an immediate jolt of adrenalin, a big lump in my throat, and I was breathing like a freight train. He started up the pipeline towards me. I had read several times not to call once a turkey commits to come in. At a hundred yards he spotted the decoys, puffed up, fanned out and was strutting toward me swaying from side to side. At fifty yards he was gobbling like crazy. My heart was pounding like the drum solo in”Wipeout”. His head was a brilliant red, white and blue. The Bennelli Super Black Eagle was waving all over the place, like a kid on a pogo stick. I thought my heart would pop out of my chest; this was the ultimate stress test. (If I had been hooked up to those heart monitors at this point, Dr. Valdez would have rushed me into the emergency room.) At twenty yards the gun roared. I didn’t even feel the recoil of the big 3 ½ inch magnum turkey loads. Somehow it was lined up on his head and he started flopping. I gave a whoop and jumped up, fell right back down, legs were dead. Once I was able to move again, I jumped up and ran to my trophy.
Well it took about thirty minutes to get calmed down. I was one happy hunter. As soon as I was able to get out of the woods, I went straight to Spillway Sportsman (our local outdoors store) to get him scored. The guy doing the scoring said “Look at the hooks on him!” He weighed 22 lbs., had a 10 inch beard and curved 1 3/8 inch spurs. The scoring system is: weight + 2x beard length + 10x the spurs. My bird scored 69.5. He finished in third place for the season. Some guy had killed a bird with 1 ¾ hooks for the first place spot. My buddies said I might not ever kill another one this nice. I proved them wrong the following year, but that’s another story.