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The Ghost of 232

Long before daylights arrival, I’ll begin my long trek to the distant ridge. Alone , I am at peace in the vast night air. The 4 a.m. wake-ups are taking their annual toll on my body. every new morning brings a new challenge to do it again, but I know if I sleep in I’ll regret it later.

I stop halfway up the access road on s.g.l. 232 in my little corner of the state, my lungs pleading for a quick breather. A coyote yips from a distant hillside, I feel akin to the savvy dog for we are both predators on the hill this day. I make a quick mental note of his presence and continue onward.

The first saddle is an excellent vantage point, but on this Saturday, I know other hunters will have the same idea. Today I am headed far from the road, across the far ridge, through the overgrown field, into the hardwoods again. Still shrouded by the veil of night, I slow down and go into stealth mode for the final approach. Choosing every step carefully, I quietly near a small knoll where the great oaks rise high above anything else.

Pre-season scouting has led me here. The massive , ancient white oaks shadow a long forgotten fence-line and keep watch on the valley beneath. A young beech thicket lines the banks of Buffalo creek a few hundred yards below. A dense fog often hangs in the pre-dawn air.

Successfully in place, I am amused as the silence is soon broken by the symphony of birdsong as the forest awakes. Just as the first hint of morning peeks through the gnarly oaks, a booming gobble shatters the morning air. Once again, the Ghost is awake!!

Two weeks prior I had come in from the Polecat Hollow , again the loud, thunderous gobbles of the Ghost were unmistakable. Even with four other birds gobbling around me, the Ghost drown them all out in proclaiming his rule of the ridge. Just as in previous seasons, the pressure near the roads would be high, driving the flock to the far reaches of the forest. The old gobbler had been called to on more than one occasion and would simply ignore most calling.

Throughout late March and into April I did my best to keep tabs on him and his three protégées. Their routine was never the same for more than a few days in a row. Some mornings they would hang around the roost until well after 10 a.m. before venturing to the fields to feed. Strutting and gobbling at anything that happened to set them off! Other mornings they would pitch off the roost, lock their wings and sail across the valley toward the remnants Camp Buffalo. As March turned to April the fights took on a more serious tone and one day the old boy drove off his young followers away from the flock. As the opener approached he had built quite a harem to my dismay.

Saturday May 1st found me on a bench just above the oaks as daylight arrived. An approaching warfront had the birds and the hunter anxiously excited. Hen talk soon filled the morning air. The Boss was the first to sound off, quickly echoed by several far off companions. Seven hens were the first to hit the forest floor. They quickly went about scratching out the mornings breakfast from the forest floor. The big Tom stayed on the roost for what seemed like hours, suddenly he pitched out and sailed across the vast valley below! Almost as if he knew that danger lurked in the shadows, he left his ladies, and one frustrated hunter alone on the hill.

Due to my work schedule, my next chance to get out wasn’t until the following Friday. The parking area was empty as I wheeled in at 4:20 a.m. Hurriedly I gathered my gear and made the long walk to the top of the ridge. Quite to my surprise the woods were void of the chatter of hens as first light made its arrival. Had they roosted elsewhere? As the sun slowly peeked through the trees, I found myself wondering whether to get up and move down and across the valley. Then the familiar ,deep gobble rattled my bones. He was here!! Careful not to over call, I gently stroked the hickory striker across the homemade slate. The softest of tree calls brought yet another thunderous response. Content that he knew I was there, I waited and watched. After fifteen or so minutes, the suspense was overwhelming, a series of soft yelps brought not a peep! Was he onto me? Did I sound too much like the onslaught of calls he’d heard for weeks now? Binoculars in hand I slowly scanned the treetops ahead. Looking for the dark blob perched high in the oaks. Just then a low flying duo of Canadians broke the stalemate. The noisy announcement was too much for the Ghost. He let loose with a furious double gobble, as if scolding the mornings intruders. The beating of wings announced his fly down I could see him 80 yards below. In full glory, his iridescent plumage gleamed in the morning sun. Back and forth he waddled through the Mayapples, strutting and drumming as Boss of the ridge.

I slowly turned to get into position as his fan obscured his view. I also switched to a double reed diaphragm to keep movement to a minimum. As the first seductive yelps escaped my lips he cut me off in mid sequence. Attention now turned to the imposter above, his beet-red head scanned the woods for the young hen. Again he thundered, this time with more authority, almost seeming like a demand that I show myself! I picked a large Beech tree and told myself if he got to it he would be in range of the 870. Onward he came until I could no longer see him at the base of the bench. If he came into view again he was mine!!

All was quiet as I let out another series of soft yelps and clucks. Nothing! Several minutes passed, another set of calls, and again nothing. Fighting the urge to kneel and see where he was I told myself to stay put. After fifteen minutes I knew he was gone. This was the day that he got his name, the Ghost. He had simply vanished. After a few more futile attempts at further romance, I made the long walk back to the truck, wondering aloud what had gone wrong.

The next morning I stayed in the valley below, figuring the increase in hunters might send he birds to the safety of the creek bottom. A few anxious jakes came looking for love, but I never heard or saw the Ghost.

This brings me back to the cool morning that my fellow predator and I shared a moment in the black of night. The stillness disrupted by the sweet sound of the gobbling Boss. This is why I hunt!! To witness natures magic on full display. GOBBBBBLLE, again he rattles my nerves! This time a short 40 yards closer to his roost, I can just make him out on his twisted limb. Scanning the surrounding tree’s I see no other birds. The amber dawn filters through in through the trees and he gobbles twice more. A scant 70 yards separate my quarry and I. I softly scratch the leaves and he sounds off again. He’s particularly agitated this morning, quickly scolding squirrels, crows and even a distant farm dog barking!

The beating of wings announce his lift-off and soon a muffled gobble erupts just to my right. The Ghost is on his way!! I can barely make out the white crown as he hops a fallen cherry tree. The thick, long beard resembles a bullrope as it swings from side to side. Blood red waddles are swollen in springs annual ritual. Through a small gulley, and up the other side he is on a mission to find that sweet talking young hen!

In full strut, his neck stretches outward as another boisterous gobble echoes through the woods. This is the picture all of us live for! This is what justifies the 4 a.m. wakeups and tired muscles. The moment of truth is upon me and I know the end is inevitable. A sharp cluck and up his head goes. The roar of the old Remington echoes across the deep valley and the beating of wings is heard once again this morning. This time against the forest floor. The load of #6’s had found their mark.

I begin shaking only after the shot. Emotions charged by the thrill of the hunt. I give thanks to the Lord above and to the old Monarch of the ridge.

The Ghost lives on, forever immortalized just behind me as I write. Soon I will head to the area again, hoping to rekindle the magic that the Ghost had brought me. With any luck, the old boss has quite a few sons out there right now, competing to take his spot high on the ridge and the deep, thunderous gobble of the Ghost will echo yet again!!


Long live the Ghost


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1,274 Posts
Absolutely incredible... I loved every minute!

You certainly have the spirit of the woods my friend... I love your stories, told you this plenty of times, but I must say it again... keep them coming!

The best of luck to you this spring!

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1,634 Posts
Great read Bonz ! As a few have said , you have a gift and we are glad that you share it . Boy, talk about feeling right there in that suspenseful hunt ! Thanks for the post ....Finn
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