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Freeman with a plan

4/24/2010

FORT CHISWELL, Va. — As we drove from one small scenic farm to another scouting for turkeys, it seemed Jeff Freeman could tell you of some significant hunting event he had witnessed on every ridge or creek bottom near his home in Fort Chiswell.

We glassed turkeys from a ridge overlooking a pasture where a friend had killed the third largest typical whitetail ever scored in Virginia.

Two hollows over sat an old cabin that was now a deer camp, where another hunting buddy was badly burned after catching himself and his truck on fire, falling victim to the vicious combination of moonshine whiskey and a lit cigarette.

Hidden in a pristine, lush valley, we drove past a beautifully preserved Civil War era plantation home. In his younger days, Freeman had coon hunted the creek bottom running through the property with his uncle.

A "rich man" from Florida came to Virginia, bought the place and its surrounding 6,000 acres, and then erected an appalling 6-foot metal fence around the property, complete with an entrance gate inscribed with the words, "Let's Rock and Roll."

His improvements didn't fit well in the rural landscape, with the Virginia Historical Society, or with the local population. I agreed with Freeman, he deserved a good cussing.

And I was shown turkeys, lots of turkeys. Freeman said, "I've hunted these mountains here long enough to know where they like to roost, where they want to be during the day, and where the gobblers like to strut."

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He would prove that statement true during a morning of running and gunning turkeys.

I first met Freeman while working the 2008 Bassmaster Classic on South Carolina's Lake Murray. He was fishing his first Classic after fighting his way through the difficult BASS Federation qualifiers.

I remember thinking the guy could just flat-out fish, after watching him boat a quick limit of keeper bass that cold day on Lake Murray.

He proved his 2008 Classic appearance wasn't a fluke, once again qualifying through the Federation Nation, and earning a spot in this year's Bassmaster Classic. Freeman more than held his own, finishing ninth while going head to head with the greatest bass fishermen in the world.

But Freeman is not only an awesome tournament bass fisherman; he's a complete outdoorsman. His fall and winters are spent duck and deer hunting, in the spring he's torn between fishing and his passion for turkey hunting. During the 2010 Classic, we agreed to get together for a turkey hunt in Virginia before the Elite Series event on Smith Mountain Lake.

Wednesday morning found us perched on a mountaintop listening to a gobbler hammering on the next ridge. We made our move down into the valley, up the other side, and set up on an old logging road running the length of the ridge.

With every light yelp from Freeman's call the gobbler announced his command of that particular ridge. This was looking like the perfect scenario; until a hen began to cut in the valley we had just crossed. I heard the gobbler leave his perch on the end of the ridge, and it was game over.

But like most good hunters or fishermen, Freeman had a backup plan. Matter of fact, he had several. He had permission from several friends in the area to hunt their farms, and we were just getting started.

Thirty minutes later we were walking into a completely different location and bumped a long beard that failed to answer a call from atop the hill. Freeman said, "I knew that turkey would most likely be there, he just tricked us by being quiet when I called to him."

We immediately climbed a fence, walked to the truck and drove to the next hunting location.

We reached stop No. 3, and ran into a couple older gentlemen driving through the gate. They had beaten us to the spot. Freeman and the two turkey-hunting veterans exchanged pleasantries, and we drove on. Freeman stated, "There's no reason for us to go in there behind those two old men, that would be about as smart as fishing behind Kevin VanDam."

It was getting late in the morning and Freeman decided there was one more stop we needed to make.

Leaving the guns in the truck, we slipped over a small ridge to have a look. About 150 yards below us, four long beards were strutting and showing off for a few hens while three gobblers were making their way up the side of the ridge toward us. Apparently we were dead in line with where they wanted to travel. We scampered up the hill and quickly geared up.

As we crouched low and crept back down the hillside, we bumped a long beard walking at us no more than 25 yards away. But there were more turkeys coming and no vocal communication was needed between Freeman and I to know we quickly needed to begin the process of getting our guns pointed the right direction.

I quickly shouldered my gun into a shooting position, as Freeman yelped three times on his mouth call. The third yelp scarcely left his mouth before a red head popped up above a sparse bit of sage grass 25 yards away.

I could see everything that was important … six inches of neck and a wide-open head. I barely moved the gun barrel to accurately deliver the lethal load of lead.

Immediately, another gobbler sprang into the air, and Freeman perfectly executed a shot into the airborne getaway bird.

As we high-fived, shook hands, hugged, bumped fists, hooted and hollered; our quick change of fortune in the form of two gobblers lay piled up no more than 10 yards away from one another.