A cancellation by another hunter sent me scrambling to Society Hill to do some pattern testing of new shotguns and loads on a trophy longbeard. Fortunately I could extend my hunt over both weekend days, Saturday and Sunday, giving me the opportunity to hunt on Sunday, which is illegal in my home state of North Carolina.
The extra day helped jam the hunt into an already full hunting schedule.
My hosts were Roblyn's Neck Trophy Club and Remington Arms Company. The N.C.-based firearms manufacturer wanted to introduce its new 20-gauge loads of Hevi-shot in turkey persuasion shot sizes and and their new Special Purpose 20-gauge 870 pump shotguns.
The lightweight shotgun was destined to be an excellent choice for any hunter who wants an easier-to-carry turkey gun; it seems especially good for women and children.
The first thing we did was check the adjustable sights on our shotguns. Mine shot a bit to the right, so I made the adjustments and we were off on the hunt. There two other gun writers along, Nick Sisley and Tom Fegely. Linda Powell of Remington was also along to shepherd the guys and hopefully get a gobbler for herself.
My guide for this 2003 hunt was Troy Byrd; it was his first season working at Roblyn's Neck. In the years since, he has risen in rank to become the head guide of the operation.
"We shoot mature gobblers only," said the 34-year-old Byrd. "That keeps the gobbling intense.
"We hunt big stands of pines, where we do burns every year. There are also lots of hardwood bottoms and food plots where we hunt. Depends on where the turkeys are concentrated. Sometimes we use decoys, but mostly we just use calls."
There are clover patches and chufa patches at approximately 80 ½- of the 2-acre fields scattered throughout the 14,000-acre historic plantation site, which is surrounded like a peninsula by the Great Pee Dee River.
Getting around on the miles of roads and trails isn't easy for standard vehicles because they are sometimes wet. The clay soils don't give much traction to standard SUVs and pickups so transportation is by big four-wheel drives, golf cart or "mule"-type ATVs. The gates are locked during hunts, and guests arrive at an office a couple of miles away from the lodge, and play follow-the-leader to the lodge behind a Roblyn's Neck vehicle.
The lodge has plenty of room and food is included in the price of the hunt. Up to six hunters can be accommodated at once for turkey season. The property is roughly divided into 12 territories so each hunter has a generous amount of hunting land.
"Our success rate is near 100 percent," Byrd said. "We have between 15 and 20 hunters each year, and most people get to shoot. Every now and then a limb might fall or a sassy hen might steal a gobbler away from your set-up. But most hunters book two or three days and get one or two gobblers.
"The limit is two adult gobblers, one per day. Typical beards or 9 to 11 inches long and spurs are 1 1/8 to 1 ¼ inches. But getting your gobbler also depends on the weather and what the birds are doing at that time."
Hunters can participate in self-guided hunts or choose to use Roblyn's Neck guides. For the few extra bucks, it's worth having the guide along, even if you prefer doing your own calling.
They know the birds and the territory far better than any outsider. Besides Byrd, Woody Middleton and Clay Chapman are the other two turkey guides. These men work all year round with property maintenance, including food-plot upkeep and keeping the 75 miles of roads passable.
The management team also plants sunflowers, oats and wheat. Corn and rice also are grown for a specialty market. Roblyn's Neck has an aromatic, gourmet rice variety called "Della," which is marketed as Carolina Plantation Rice, as well as stone-ground white or yellow grits.
The camp's cooking is out of this world, with biscuits at every meal, and everything else so scrumptious about low-country cooking. Forget the cholesterol counting during a Roblyn's Neck hunt. There'll be fried chicken, bison meatloaf, pork chops and even turkey - if someone is kind enough to shoot one and donate it.
Danny Ray Haney and Bobby Bryant are the camp cooks and serve three hot meals each day. If anyone ever tastes Danny Ray's pecan pie, it's a treat they'll never forget.
Our first hunt occurred during an afternoon.
Byrd and I found gobbler tracks everywhere in a recently-thinned pine plantation. But we took one step too many and saw a gobbler at one of the long openings newly created by the logging operation.
It was late season, hot and the mosquitoes were ferocious. Byrd fired up a ThermaCell insect repellent device. It was so new at the time I'd never seen one.
It worked incredibly well at pushing mosquitoes away, like some sort of force field out of a Star Trek episode. Nevertheless, a mesh jacket and a can of insect repellent were necessities for getting to a hunting spot since the ThermaCell device takes a few minutes to come to its full potential at keeping the whining bugs out of one's ears and other openings.
Byrd let the bird settle down for an hour before he began calling. It wasn't long until a pair of gobblers began answering.
They circled around until they were wooing Byrd's calls right in front of us. While they strutted and gobbled their pride away until sunset, they never came within eyesight. They were in range but hidden from view in thick cover at the edge of the pine plantation.
When we heard the two turkeys fly up to roost, Byrd decided they were so close we had to wait for complete blackness to slip away undetected.
The next morning, another hunter would get a chance at one of them with Troy's uncle, Myron Byrd, doing the calling.
Unfortunately the hunter, Tom Fegely of Pennsylvania, missed the shot. He had neglected to check his sights before the hunt, which is as good an excuse as any for missing a sure-fire chance at a gobbler. Myron seemed more disappointed than Tom.
"A lot of hunters have missed," Myron Byrd said. "A turkey gobbling that close can rattle anyone's nerves."
Troy Byrd and I played with a gobbler the entire next morning. He even called one into crossing a water-filled swamp, which is a difficult feat in turkey hunting. The bird got within range, but we couldn't see him, and he kept gobbling until he was out of hearing range.
We tried calling to other birds and bumped one out of his roost well up in the morning. Byrd said something probably spooked him, so he stayed up there all day - or perhaps he was waiting for a hen to show up.
Late in the morning, we heard two gobblers at a hardwood bottom. Setting up on the opposite side of a road from them, Byrd began calling with a slate call. Within moments a pair of huge gobblers ran to the edge of the road in response to his calls.
With nothing but air between the front sight and the birds, I lifted the 20 gauge, getting off a shot as they headed away from the movement. One of them ducked his head to go under a limb and the lightweight gun was the perfect choice for such a fast-action shot.
At a measured 33 yards, the little gun put 8 No. 5 Hevi-shot into his head and neck and he fell instantly. The bird weighed 17 pounds, had a pair of 1 ¼-inch spurs and nearly 12 inches of beard.
Recently, Remington let the licensing of Hevi-shot pellets lapse and in its place is now manufacturing ammo loaded with Wingmaster HD (High Density), a tungsten-copper-nickel alloy than the original tungsten-nickel Hevi-shot alloy. The new alloy creates a pellet that is softer, denser and more uniformly round and responds better to choke constrictions. In the smaller gauges especially, these super alloys based on tungsten make good sense for turkey hunting where dense patterns and deep penetration are necessities for one-shot kills.
Byrd and I carried the turkey to the clubhouse and donated it as camp meat. Danny Ray Haney cut it into strips and grilled it after marinating it all day in a sweet sauce, serving it for Sunday dinner that night.
Since I am from North Carolina, where hunting on Sunday isn't allowed, it was a treat for me to be able to hunt and have the game taken that day served as a special feast among friends in the evening.
The following morning, the weather was the bane of all turkey hunters. The rain fell not from buckets but 20-gallon trash cans. Even the accompanying thunder didn't shock the gobblers into sounding off.
Sometimes, if thunder occurs all night long, the gobblers are "all gobbled out" by daybreak Byrd said. So he guided me to several locations where gobblers had been seen in inclement weather. He used a mouth diaphragm call and friction calls to no avail. We heard nothing except a distant gunshot.
The gunshot was fired by Linda Powell of Remington, who had connected on her first Eastern gobbler during one of her most exciting hunts. She had taken other wild turkey species in exotic locations over several years of hunting. But the eastern variety had eluded her, despite being the bird of her home state (also North Carolina).
"It was incredible," she said. "We saw all these turkeys in a field, just sitting there in the rain. We called from a position along the edge of the field and a gobbler came out of the trees into the field so close to use I was afraid to move."
She inched her Remington 870 SPS-T 20-gauge up so slowly the movement was imperceptible to the gobbler. She essentially fired it from the hip, not daring to bring it to her shoulder. The body shot ruined the mounting quality because the Hevi-shot was devastating to the gobbler, which nevertheless still weighed 22 pounds despite missing much of his anatomy. That's a big turkey anywhere, but an especially big one for Roblyn's Neck, where typical adult gobblers weigh between 17 and 20 pounds.
Only one hunter didn't get a shot at a gobbler, but he often came close, demonstrating the outstanding success rate for trophy gobblers produced by the huge, swamp-forest tract.
In the years since my first visit, some changes occurred in the routine that has increased opportunities for hunters.
"We call the birds in the mornings," Byrd said. "In the afternoons the hunters can call for themselves.
"We might have blinds at the edges of the fields and food plots or set the hunters up in an open area in the hardwood bottoms. We get them out a couple of hours before dark to give the birds a chance to roost near the hunting spots.
"We also offer completely self-guided hunts. I pick an area out for the hunter and tell him what the birds have been doing - if the hens are nesting or where they roost, the type of terrain, locations of roads or food plots and let them go from there.
"I give them a scouting report and turn them loose. The hunters that are self-guided have just as good a success rate because they tend to be the most experienced turkey hunters."
Another option is participation in a feral pig hunt. Roblyn's Neck is noted for its trophy pig and deer hunts. If a hunter wants to try for a hog in the afternoon, Byrd or one of the other guides will set him up in a tree stand overlooking some good pig sign and the success rate for that type of hunt is high as well.
"We listen to our hunters and try to do what they like," Byrd said. "We want everyone to have a good experience.
"We also have corporate dove hunts on the farming operation, and are beginning to offer wild quail and released bird hunts for chukar, quail and pheasant."
A recently-constructed log cabin adjoins the lodge and cookhouse and accommodates family groups. But the bunkhouse also offers excellent sleeping arrangements for lots of guests.
Considering the meals, lodging and on-site transportation and guide fees are included in Roblyn's Neck Trophy Club hunts, this deal is a steal. Toss in the high success rate for trophy gobblers, the best pecan pie to melt a dollop of vanilla ice cream, and the days are even sweeter.