It’s spring gobbler season once again.
It’s a fact few spring turkey hunters make it through the entire season without missing many mornings of hunting or just plain quitting. Anyone who doesn’t quit must be as pathologically addicted as my sleep-deprived, red-eyed friends and I. Spring gobbler is really an exquisite type of torture difficult to endure.
First, there are those never ending 4 a.m. mornings. The first week isn’t too bad; you are still excited, probably have a few birds located, the adrenalin still pumping. But, if things don’t go according to plan, and they seldom do, getting up becomes a tremendous effort of will, especially if you have to rush back to the house and get to work by 8. Then, the days start getting very, very long.
Of course, since there is opposition in all things, one inevitably finds himself at odds with the poor wife who starts getting a little testy about the early alarm ruining her beauty sleep. When you try and explain that you are the real victim, have to actually get out of bed, dress, climb hills, be made a fool by a bird with a brain the size of a pea and then go to work, the sympathy you may think you deserve is not forthcoming. In fact, you may hear about a lot of things you really didn’t care to know; none particularly flattering.
But, the turkeys would be disappointed if they were not shown as the real stars of this article; after all, they are the elusive and exasperating center of this exhausting quest.
A BIG gobbler is a maddening blend of acute sight, perfect hearing, fantastic instincts and flashes almost of brilliance.
These first rate survival skills are aided and enhanced by a fidgety bunch of girlfriends, hens, which complement the gobbler’s survival skills, creating an almost unbeatable combination. In turkey hunting talk, when one hunter says to the other that the bird he’s after is “henned up” everyone sighs. Those sharp-eyed hens will keep watch for him, leading him away from any hint of real or perceived danger. Calling to a “henned up” gobbler is futile a great majority of the time; his jealous ladies will lead him directly away from you. That long beard will gobble his head off in the roost, gathering his little harem, then fly down among them, never gobble again and follow his ladies. Oh, well, another 4 a.m. morning wasted.
Some gobblers unexpectedly sneak in on you without making a sound. These satellite birds can’t beat the area’s boss gobbler in a fight, but they are not adverse to sneaking in on a cute hen and stealing off with her. They show up when the big bird is gobbling from one spot and not moving. Knowing the coast is clear they may attempt a little piracy. Of course, you have no idea they’re coming until they see something suspicious, putt and run. Then you can berate yourself for not paying more attention or break down and cry when one gobbles from the exact area you just left 10 minutes ago.
SMARTER gobblers sit in the tree until they see their hens. If no hens show up they may sit there till noon. Give me a break.
Setting up on a gobbler actually answering your calls is a task laden with pitfalls and potential mistakes. You rush to find a good spot, can’t find the right large tree to sit against because you either can see too far or not far enough. You’re also unaware of an old road or trail the turkeys like to use or an opening just ahead they strut in. A thousand other potential disasters lie in wait. Finally, the long beards sneaks in, but you screw up for one reason or another. Now you can exquisitely torment yourself, thinking of all you should have done, could have done or, “if only that had happened.” It will haunt you for the rest of the season.
If you have managed to stick it out for two weeks without bagging a gobbler, doubt, lack of sleep and frustration start to add up. These failures bundle, creating an almost insurmountable weight and burden. You begin second guessing all your decisions, you may have to find another gobbler, discover other hunters are messing with “your” bird, smartening him up or causing him to go silent. You begin to feel your chances of shooting a gobbler are so slim it simply isn’t worth the effort. Something will just go wrong, like it always does.
You are exhausted, discouraged, defeatist, hopeless and ready to hang it up. The alarm goes off, waking you from a dead sleep; can you really drag yourself from bed?
NOT ONLY have those gobblers been wearing you down to a physical frazzle, they have also been breaking you down mentally; messing with your mind as only wily gobblers can. The big bird’s elusiveness is waging a behind the scenes psychological warfare of constant defeat difficult to overcome.
Obviously, hunting pressure begins to drop off rapidly after the second week as deteriorating, sleep-starved hunters crack under the strain.
Again, the hated alarm drags you from the bliss of oblivion during the dreaded third week of the season. Such a deep, deep sleep, beautiful and so necessary. Your wife elbows you impatiently, cracking a rib it seems. Peering out the window, you see it is raining lightly outside, a perfect morning to sleep in. You have noticed more and more toms are no longer gobbling; they’re harder to find and many no longer roost in the same area. Getting out of bed is like running a
marathon on broken glass or volunteering to have a perfectly sound tooth jerked out without anesthetic. Why would anyone in their right mind get up?
Only the real, die-hard ironmen hunt the third and fourth weeks of the season.
Is it any wonder?