The Sedentary sport of hunting turkeys in the spring is like no other, for it is unnerving and exhausting though little physical effort is involved. The game is to talk like a hen turkey to a gobbler in a forest at dawn so he will come to the gun, strutting and unsuspecting. This sounds simple to people who have never tried it, and perhaps it would be if a wild gobbler were a simple bird.
In the woods a wild gobbler is a thing of unparalleled beauty. Its blue head with white wattles is streaked with red. When the head is down it will appear to be white; when up it will look blue and the wattles will show red. When the bird struts, its head is crimson. The flank feathers show all the iridescent coloration of a peacock. The tail band is a deep reddish brown.
The wild turkey is also the most exasperating bird in creation. It is at once watchful yet stupidly vain, in a hurry for a conquest yet with all the time in the world to pause and stare and listen. I have had the pleasure of observing dozens of gobblers in a lifetime and, trying though they are, they fascinate me, so that when opening day comes in southern Alabama on March 20 I am under a spell in which I do not really want to kill a wild turkey right away.
Besides, you can't count on killing a turkey just when you want to anyway. A member of a hunting club to which I have belonged went seven years without getting a gobbler in the spring. He learned the stealth of an Indian and the stillness of a stump. He learned to call convincingly, progressing through the various devices with which a skilled operator can imitate the small talk of a hen turkey in want of comfort. He advanced through the box caller, the slate and corncob-handled stylus, the wingbone amplified by a trumpet of telescoped pieces of cane, to finally the present-day rubber calling diaphragm used in the roof of the mouth.
Why, with the ardors and disciplines of seven years of spring turkey hunting my friend was never able to kill a gobbler I cannot say. Perhaps, as we accused him in camp, he failed by fidgeting, though he denied this. A recent spring hunt of my own illustrates the need for absolute immobility when a gobbler is near.
I had spent a morning near a gobbler's roost, watching him come almost within range and then disappear—while coming toward me—behind a log. There was a long silence, and when next he gobbled it was 400 yards away, going away for good. When I went to investigate I found a slough I had not known about behind the log. The turkey had walked down it, and away.
The second morning before dawn he gobbled from the same roost. I crept into a little cave of briers where there was a log at my back. He gobbled several times in answer to owls, an amusing habit of turkeys. I waited, until I was sure hens were on the ground. I was close enough to hear them fly down from their roosting places out over the pond. Directly between me and the gobbler a hen yelped a little, the gobgler answering. "Ah," I thought, "this will help me; this will insure that he flies down in my direction."
I heard a hen behind me, which complicated matters. Besides a feeling of being watched, it also gave me a fear that the gobbler might make a longer descending flight than I had anticipated, go behind me and come up from behind. The hens yelped their complaisance; I yelped, and the gobbler generously answered us all. As day broke, I heard turkey footsteps in the leaves all around. The number of hens increased the likelihood of my being seen, thus paralyzing me.
The tension in this phase of turkey hunting is hard to appreciate unless one has experienced it. The hunter must remain agonizingly motionless. Turkeys in the normal routine of their lives have all the time in the world. A gobbler may just stand, still as a stump, for 10 minutes, until you believe that your eyes have deceived you and what you thought was a turkey is a stump. Meanwhile a tick may be crawling up your leg, and the mosquitoes hungry enough to ignore heavy dosages of repellent will be feasting on your face and hands. But if you make the slightest movement to scratch, your hunting will be over for the day.
A GOBBLER APPROACHES