Spring hunt

Bagging a large gobbler like this is a fantastic experience and has its own special rewards. The time, effort, dedication, frustration and emotions, many times close to despair, make their pursuit more of a quest or pilgrimage than a hunt.

A non-hunter happened to overhear a conversation I had with another spring gobbler hunter. I was ecstatic having finally bagged a beautiful bird the day before.

She drew closer and spoke in an accusatory tone, “I don’t see how you can shoot such a creature. Doesn’t it bother you to do so?”

For a second such a statement left me speechless. But, since she had never hunted, had no more idea of what she was speaking about than how to run a nuclear fusion reactor or properly landing the space shuttle, I decided to attempt to portray the sport as it really is, as it is lived.

I asked her, “What do you love so deeply that you’ll get up at 4 a.m. every morning for a month; climb steep hillsides; trip through the woods in the predawn, pitch darkness; run sticks in your eyes; attempt to sit motionless when your legs are screaming at you and asleep; endure stinging insect bites without moving; have to check yourself carefully for possibly Lyme-disease-carrying ticks every evening; burn tankfull after tankfull of gas scouting and hunting; endure frustration, mistakes, poor decisions and days of not hearing a turkey gobble — and yet endure and never miss a single morning?

“And that’s not all. Despite your best efforts and dedication, even if you do everything humanly possible to succeed, almost every turkey hunter I know has gone a season and never shot a gobbler. There are absolutely no guarantees, only the grinding, exhausting effort. So, I ask again, what do you love to pursue to that extent?”

SHE BLINKED and didn’t answer. She’d winced at the mention of ticks, but was having trouble grasping, I believe, the total commitment and effort necessary to get up morning after morning when exhausted and discouraged to the point of despair and giving up, quitting. What did she love that much?

Continuing, I asked, “What have you done recently that so totally captured your attention, so focused your body and mind’s every function that your heart beat wildly, your hands shook with excitement, your breath came in gasps and your eyes, mind and might focused to the exclusion of everything irrelevant to the moment, the anticipation of upcoming, unpredictable events and possibilities? What made you so alive to that moment that a clarity of purpose unknown in everyday life became the single, sharp, sum of your existence?”

She was getting lost and confused, unable to truly grasp what I was saying and also recognizing that the zest and tonic of the sport wasn’t something she had considered.

“When the eastern sky lightens and God paints the dawn with sure brushstrokes of gold and pink, silvers the clouds and invigorates your soul with the birth of a new day you’re filled and deeply touched. When the birds awake and the trees take shape against the sky a reverence for all life fills your soul and the fact that you are there, privileged to be a witness to and part of this magnificent creation fills you with gratitude and thanksgiving. Life is a wonder and so seldom do we take the time to feel and appreciate the fleeting moments we are allowed to be here.

“Dawn is a special time to contemplate our life here, and perhaps eternity.”

I COULD SEE she still held her own belief, first and foremost, but those things of which I spoke were thoughts she’d never considered and strange, even upsetting to her.

“You struggle with taking the bird’s life,” I said. “You seem to feel it is a type of murder, unfair or cruel. It is no such thing. If the bird were tied up, with no chance of escape, no opportunity to use its extraordinary eyesight, swift legs, exceptional hearing, mighty wings or attending hens, I would agree. But, the turkey holds the trump cards almost exclusively, they are extremely difficult to shoot, exceptionally wary and elusive.

“Just finding a tom that gobbles in the morning is challenging. When you do, those bold gobbles thrill the hunter as few sounds can. It is a music that makes the early hours and endless effort worthwhile. It is a vindication of life and the thrill of pursuit. Your hopes soar, but experience tells you your odds of success are small. His hens will jealously lead him away, see you first, suspiciously scout your location as you call and lead him away quickly for no reason at all. The gobbler himself is extremely wary and cautious. His 6-power eyes can see the slightest movement and he’ll use cover as a ninja, approaching so close you would think escape impossible. But, they more often than not never present a shot and slip away unharmed.

“Making a shot on a gobbler can be likened to hitting a homerun off the pitcher who usually strikes you out. It’s a double bank on the 8 ball and winning the game or sinking a hard-breaking, 20-foot putt to win the tournament. It’s doing everything right at the moment of extreme tension, succeeding when the pressures highest, pulling off a winning shot when the slightest error means certain defeat.

“Actually being able to hold that trophy, examine up close the prize that has so long eluded you, marvel at the beard and spurs and wonder how such a heavy bird can leap and fly so swiftly. Gaze upon that oversized, crystal clear eye that has so many times defeated you and marvel at the wonder of it all, the wild turkey supreme. Such success is a high so powerful your emotions soar and a wild joy and thanksgiving fills you. Bagging a gobbler is the pinnacle of an often discouraging quest and a vindication of ones skill and perseverance. I truly believe that the very difficulty of spring gobbler hunting has been ordained by the most high and the lessons, difficulties and beauties it contains all have their lesson. The hunter seldom wins in this sport, but again, in this is purpose and wisdom.

“Life cannot exist without death. Death feeds the earth and its multitudes of species. Many struggle with this and that is fine, but emotion and reality often clash and pure emotion without logic is oftentimes a fickle and dangerous thing.”

SHE REMAINED unconvinced, but no longer hostile, not truly understanding something that must be experienced to be appreciated. As she walked away I truly hoped she would experience in her life, in some way or fashion, the extreme and almost overpowering joy gobbler hunting brings me.

Oh, if only briefly her heart could have soared with mine.

(Wade Robertson is an award-winning outdoor writer whose articles have been published in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur, Fish & Game and other publications. His email is wadewrites3006@gmail.com.)