Turkey hunters have a term for those toms that try our patience, test our mettle and generally give us fits. They’re called bad birds. I’ve encountered my fair share over the years, but the baddest bird I ever faced was a lean, old Alabama gobbler we simply called “the field bird.” And though my presence was an important component in the hunt, I was more of a pawn, an instrument wielded by my guide to slay his nemesis.

K.C. Nelson was, at the time, a guide at the Hit-N-Miss Lodge, a lease held by Mossy Oak in central Alabama. Nelson had tried with two previous hunters to outwit the field bird. Success is important when you’re hosting writers, so each time he ultimately abandoned the field bird in search of greener pastures and more cooperative turkeys.

In my case, the chronology was reversed. After several hunts that failed to yield a bird, Nelson returned once again to the 50-acre pasture the bird was known to frequent. “I’ve been after this bird all spring,” he advised. “But no matter what we do, he always beats us.” I felt a bit privileged to be considered up to the task – or was I merely being lined up as the next victim?

We arrived in mid-afternoon, and sure enough the bird was there, strutting all by himself in the middle of a 50-acre field. A lovesick, lonely tom in the middle of an open field seemed like easy pickings to me, but I would soon learn otherwise. We slipped up along a cedar hedge, set up and began calling, but the bird paid us little mind except to offer an occasional courtesy gobble. He would win the day again, but there was still tomorrow.

The following morning, we hunted elsewhere. Though he didn’t advise me until later, Nelson had a plan involving an afternoon hunt. So we returned in the early afternoon, but this time took a different approach.

“I know where he goes to roost,” advised Nelson. “If we can slip into that patch of hardwoods between the roost and the field, we might be able to cut him off.”

It was around 2:30 when we finally found a suitable ambush location and settled in.

I was still fairly green about southern birds but knew from talking to Nelson and others that they’re extremely fickle and don’t like a lot of calling. The plan: Sit still, stay mostly silent and wait the bird out. I’d pick up my slate call every 20 or 30 minutes and do a little soft purring and scratching in the leaves, but that was all. And though I called intermittently for the next five agonizingly long hours, I never got a response.

In fact, I never would have known the bird was coming were it not for a crow that happened by and – presumably seeing the gobbler – gave out several sharp “caws” that elicited one shocked gobble from the bird. My stiff, cramped muscles vanished as I propped the shotgun on my knee and scanned the hardwood bottom.

Then he appeared, picking his way along but seemingly headed our way. Everything seemed to be falling into place until just at the limit of gun range the bird turned slightly to its right and away from us. “It’s now or never,” I thought, squeezing the trigger.

The shot rolled the bird but the hunt wasn’t over yet. Before we could reach it, the bird righted itself and took off on the run. We followed it by sound and sight, pausing briefly to catch our breath and listen between sprints. Eventually we caught up to the bird, lying at the bottom of a steep embankment. A follow-up shot sealed the deal.

The bird was rather small but more than made up for it in attributes. On the back of each leg was a long scimitar-shaped spur ending in a needle-sharp point. This was clearly an old bird that had outlived many others and outwitted many hunters, and to this day remains one of my most memorable adversaries in the turkey woods.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]

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