I did some scouting on a piece of public land yesterday afternoon & as luck would have it, I ended up hearing a couple birds gobble late in the evening. They were both pretty far off. So I moved in a little closer & eventually spotted one of them strutting in a log landing with a hen. I was on a logging road about 3/4 of the way up a recently timbered ridge & they were maybe 200 yards from me, way down in the bottom. I watched them for quite a while. As the sun began to set, the longbeard bred the hen before flying up on the far side of the log landing! So with good weather in the forecast for tomorrow, I decided to come back in the morning & try to get set up underneath them.
I parked at the gate this morning & as I walked in, you could see every star in the sky. I was a little later than I would have liked, but one good thing was I didn't have a lot of noisy leaves to sneak through in order to get close to them. They were roosted right off that log landing. But I hoped I wouldn't have too much trouble finding a tree to set up against. Things looked a little different once I hit the opposite side of the landing than they did from where I was last night. I had a tough time figuring out which tree they were in. But as I stood there scanning the tree tops, I could soon hear that longbeard strutting! So I followed my ears & inched my way towards the sound of him spitting & drumming. Soon enough, I could see them way up in the top of the tree, maybe sixty yards away. As I suspected, there were very few trees to set against on the edge of that landing. To makes matters worse, there were treetops scattered across the ground like toothpicks all the way between us! I would have a time trying to get within twenty yards like I wanted. So I had to climb over a large tree that was dropped along the edge of the landing & set up against it. There was no way to get any closer (before daybreak at least). So I slowly got my camera gear ready as the longbeard strutted non-stop in the skyline beyond me. After getting all set up, I checked my audio with headphones & noticed something was wrong. There was no audio! I checked the connections on the camera & made sure both cables were securely "clicked in," I double-checked my camera settings in the menu & still no audio! At this point, the eastern sky was starting to get brighter & I was afraid they might spot me if I tried to sneak out & check the other end of the microphone cables. But I had to take the chance. So I slowly stood back up, hunched over as low as I could & tip-toed the twelve to fifteen feet to the left microphone. As I made my way to it, I could still hear him strutting. So I knew I hadn't spooked him. I checked the connection on that microphone & everything seemed fine. So I started making my way back to the camera & towards the right microphone. Like I said, there was no crunchy leaf litter to worry about. But there was a bunch of limbs on the ground. Somehow, I made it to the other microphone & double-checked it without spooking them. I quickly looked up at them before making my way back to the camera & they were surprisingly relaxed. But the sky was just beginning to turn orange & I feared they would spot me. I could see the ground so much better now than I could when I first got set up. So surely they can see better now too, I thought. But I pulled it off & breathed a sigh of relief when I got situated under my camo cover. I checked the audio with headphones again & still no audio! What the heck!!? I was dumbfounded as to what might be wrong. I checked the connections on the camera again & still nothing! As a last resort, I checked the LINE, MIC, MIC +48 buttons & sure enough, one of those buttons must have gotten bumped as I walked in this morning! Finally, I have audio! Just in time too. Because now a couple distant birds are gobbling. Just after hitting the record button, the hen lets out a few soft tree yelps. The longbeard with her continues to strut. There are two other gobblers roosted in this hollow, maybe 400 yards away, one on each side & about halfway up the ridge. The one to my left sounds like a jake. The one on the right sounds really good. They continue to gobble as the longbeard in front of me keeps strutting. The hen is standing & preening as day breaks quickly, due to the lack of cloud cover. The distant birds begin gobbling more frequently, maybe every twenty to thirty seconds. But the birds in front of me stay quiet. Eventually, the longbeard in front of me pitches down & comes right at me. I literally ducked as he soared right over my head! He came down in the log landing directly behind me. Once on the ground, he began to gobble a little, as if he was telling the hen to come down there with him. But she kept preening & really didn't talk. Then a barred owl opened up & the bird behind me shock gobbled almost every time. I couldn't see him anymore. But I knew he was very close. I could almost feel him drumming! I'm guessing he had to be within 10 yards of me, just on the other side of the downed tree I was sitting against. After a while, I could tell those other gobblers had flown down as well, judging from the muffled sound of their gobbles. I fully expected the hen to pitch down into the landing with the longbeard. But for some reason, she turned 90 degrees from him & pitched into the creek bottom. The gobbler behind me continued to strut for a while, then began to fade away. I took a short nap & let them go about their business before gathering up my gear & walking out with a smile on my face!
Sunrise: 6:57 a.m
Temperature: 47 degrees (clear & sunny)
Barometer: 29.36 & steady
Location: southwest Pennsylvania
# of gobbles heard: 200+