Despite lots of gobbling the eastern gobblers of Central Kentucky proved to be invincible for me on opening weekend this spring. I enjoyed 3 days of chasing these big birds in the hills, hardwoods, and river bottoms of the Blue Grass State about 45 minutes out of Lexington. I was treated to some terrific southern hospitality by my friends and hosts Dr. Ed Nighbert and his brother Bill at their family farm.
The Kentucky season opener, Saturday morning 4/17, was the only day of good weather that we encountered during our three days at the Nighbert camp. We all heard numerous gobblers at daylight, only to have gobblers shut down quickly after flying down. None of us came close the first day. We each heard multiple gobblers at daylight. They all failed to work with us. The most responsive gobbler I heard was a mature gobbler across the river from the Nighbert farm who refused to fly across the the 60 ft wide waterway. He was present, and vocally accounted for, sounding lonely morning, noon, and late afternoon that first day. Each time I passed within earshot he felt obliged to remind me of his presence. He may as well have been miles out of hearing as my efforts to coax him across the swift flowing waters of the Chaplin River amounted only to wasted time and frustration.
Big rains came during the night before then second morning. Driving rain kept us all comfortably in bed at daybreak the second morning after silencing our alarm clocks. We hit the woods as soon as the rain slacked off and the sky brightened just a bit, only to be drenched the rest of the day by intermittent passing downpours. I covered lots of country the second day and heard at least three gobblers. But I never made any close contact with any of them except old faithful across the river who gobbled a bunch around noon during a short rain break. I concluded the second day of hunting around 7:30 PM, having walked and called most of the day, soaked to the bone and wore out.
Interestingly, Bill noted that evening in camp, that after only two days full days of the 2015 Kentucky spring gobbler season, in the county we where we were hunting, 78 gobblers had been checked in by phone with the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife. In the adjacent county 66 gobblers were taken and call-checked in at the department. So somebody was having great success with the stubborn old easterns of Central Kentucky, just no one in our camp.
The third and last morning held promise as Bill Nighbert dropped me off and made a great suggestion. The rain had stopped. My idea was to get low in the river bottom before daylight and try to coax the river gobbler into pitching down on our side of the river. On a hunch, Bill suggested that I listen at daybreak high on the hill, and then drop down quickly to the bottom if necessary. Luckily the river gobbler was roosted on our side of the river about half way between the river bank and the hilltop where I listened. He sounded off. I set up above the gobbler, at about 150 yards. He answered everything, flew down, and headed straight away and down the hill toward the river, gobbling nearly every step. I beat him to the bottom and to the edge of the river by making a wide loop to the south and east before hiding next to a huge old white oak at the river bank.
The gobbler responded continually and slowly worked my way. I began to hear drumming and soon caught a glimpse of the gobbler coming down hill into position for a shot. With my safety off I waited for the gobbler, who was now within 20 yards in fairly thick hard wood sapling cover, to step from behind a single larger oak. Instead of stepping out he launched straight up, and landed on his familiar stomping grounds across the swift flowing river about 30 yards away. He stood there in range, "on base", gobbling every 20 seconds whether or not I called.
Finally the old gobbler walked off and out of range. So did I. I was close, but no cigar for me or any of our party at the Nighbert farm in the countryside of Central Kentucky! Hoping for better luck next time!
Posted by David Shashy