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Why Turkeys


The excitement of turkey hunting is as strong as when iI started 35 years ago.

The excitement of turkey hunting is as strong as when I  started 35 years ago.

Archibald Rutledge, a South Carolina native known the world over as a great southern writer, sportsman and hunter once commented: “Some men are mere hunters; others are turkey hunters.” Rutledge recognized that all who pursued the most glorious of game birds were indeed a breed apart. Chasing after the wild turkey gobbler is different than chasing any other game animal in North America. For those who have tasted the delicacy of hunting the wild turkey know, nothing else satisfies the soul as does the pursuit of this marvelous game bird.

Another excellent writer and perhaps the best to ever pen the challenge of hunting the wild turkey, Tom Kelly, in his classic book “The Tenth Legion” states, “You don’t hunt turkeys because you want to; you hunt turkeys because you have to.” And anyone who has ever spent time drinking from the fountain of turkey hunting knows, once you begin, your life is never the same. There is something about the mesmerizing lure of the gobbling and strutting bird that causes you to become unrecognizable outside of the turkey hunting world.

Many a turkey hunter has come to the belief that male turkeys are born with an irony in their veins. An irony that allows them to tease, manipulate and fool the wisest of men just for the shear fun of it, and when he chooses will flaunt his arrogance in such a way that it has left many men contemplating the asylum. There is little doubt to the turkey hunter that as Rutledge said, “the bird possesses a remarkable ability to turn arrogance into hopelessness.” Far too often the turkey hunter who believes he has the game figured out has not challenged himself with a wise old bird.

In the world of turkey hunters birds are ranked by their age. There are the ever vocal and naïve two year old birds who really do not understand the game that is at hand. They readily announce their presence much like the teenage boy full of hormones spends far too much time trying to impress the ladies, all the while the men are sneaking off with the finest catch. These two year old turkeys prance around, gobble nonstop, and parade in front of the ladies making a mockery of the time tested ritual of courtship.  turkey up close 2

Conversely, the three year old and the rarer four year old turkeys understand the game at hand and he knows the instant I wake up what my intentions are that specific day. The old mature turkey seems to know before I do which tree I will sit against and which call I will use first. His mind is so keen, he not only knows where I will be and how I will sound, but he also seems to know what I had for breakfast and what I plan to have for dinner. This bird has spent most of his time in the egg plotting against men that would one day try and convince him that we were female turkeys.

The very thing we are trying to convince him we are, is the very thing he knows we are not. Except for the thirty or forty days a year we mere humans are after these majestic birds, they spend the remainder of the year plotting against all of the powers we possess. These birds know every tree, shrub and hen by sight and sound. They are familiar with not only the hens in the area, but also all distant cousins, aunts, and nieces of three or four generations. The sight of these fine ladies and sound of their voices are as recognizable as are the sight and sounds of our wives in a crowd of strangers.

Every man knows that regardless of the size of the crowd, his wife need only mention his name and he will hear it above and beyond all other distractions and noises and come immediately to the source of the calling. Old Tom too, knows the voice of every hen, within twenty miles of his home. He made a point of it during the off season to pay a visit to the relatives and get to know them and learn their faces and voices. Making it all the more difficult for the turkey hunter to convince him that our slate, box or diaphragm is indeed one of the ladies he recognizes.

Many turkey hunters, dare I say most of us fail because we do not try and sound like hen turkeys, rather we mimic hen turkeys. We emulate sounds hen turkeys are apt to make, but we do not sound like hen turkeys. It is one thing to make a beautiful yelp that will convince a judge at a calling contest, quite another to convince a four year old turkey that you are his girlfriend.

All turkey hunters have had those rare moments when we situate ourselves in just the right location in the predawn light. And the woods awaken to the subtle purrs, and clucks of tree roosting birds. We sit quietly as the birds awaken and just like that, the old gobbler flies down and lands within shotgun range and the hunt is over before it ever really started. But for the majority of the opportunities in the turkey woods, as Tom Kelly says; “you have to pay for every bird you kill and the coin you use to pay for them is time.”

Time spent in the turkey woods is the most transforming time afield any hunter can spend. The challenges of hunting the wild turkey, bring out of the sportsman the best he has to offer. He is challenged in more ways and with more intelligence than any other animals God ever created. No other animal is as wily, or as worthy as is the wild turkey. The time spent paying for the Tom turkey is one of the grandest investments we ever make. For no time spent in pursuit of the turkey is a bad investment.

So when asked why I hunt turkeys, my answer is simple. I hunt turkeys because no other animal I have had the pleasure of hunting has moved me, and caused me such excitement and joy as has the wild turkey.

Thirty five years ago, when I called in my first mature gobbler, I knew there was something different about hunting turkeys. I was transfixed by the sight of a strutting bird at fifteen yards. Nothing in nature is a beautiful or as captivating as a mature gobbler in full strut. My heart was beating so loud I still cannot believe he did not hear it. I struggled to breath and my legs were so weak, after I shot I could only crawl over to him. Last week when I called in and killed my most recent, I had the exact same reaction. The wild turkey is without question the most addicting of all game animals to hunt, and if you have not tried hunting him, well, then, you have not hunted.