Three Days Hunting the Wild Turkey

A hunter’s unlearned lessons in the spring woods

BY Robert Rehder

the forester looks through binoculars

Day 1

Up at 4 a.m., the hunter walked quietly through his dark kitchen and out the back door to his truck, careful not to disturb his family. It was the opening week of the spring gobbler season. He had permission to hunt on a friend’s farm and three days of vacation.

He layered his gear on the back seat and drove slowly into the dark morning.

He was new to turkey hunting, but he was seduced by the breathtaking accounts of friends who hunted the great bird. He had a mentor at a sporting goods shop who claimed to be an expert. The hunter had purchased a full camouflaged outfit, three turkey calls, a decoy, binoculars, a rangefinder, and a technical vest with many hidden pockets.

As he drove to the farm, a recurring vision entered his mind. Peacefully secluded in a mystic, wild forest heavy with the scent of spring, he was surrounded by the sound of turkey gobbles.

The vision had become a consistent pattern now for many weeks and was indelibly embedded in the hunter’s mind. The conclusion was always the same — a magnificent gobbler, expertly called into range, suddenly appeared from the early morning mist.

At the farm, the quiet woods were still asleep. He found a game trail the owner had described and walked down it until it forked. He set out his decoy and settled in beneath an ancient oak tree with a view of both sides of the trail.

The stars winked and sparkled just before dawn, and the vision returned, the big tom irrefutably drawn to the hunter’s alluring calls. Self-assured, he breathed in the morning air and patiently waited.   

As dawn broke, the forest came alive with sound and color. He heard the first gobble echoing down the trail and his heart began to race. Immediately he responded, calling excitedly from each of his new calls. He anxiously waited for a reply, but there was none. He repeated the sequence, louder this time. He finally heard gobbles but now they were far away. He left the blind and jogged in their direction, calling more intently as he went.

An hour later he had neither seen the birds nor heard any further gobbles. Puzzled, he sat waiting for the vision to come true, but the best part of the morning was gone. He recalled that his mentor said that turkeys retreat to their cool forest haunts in the heat of the day. Confused by his misfortune, he left the forest, but he knew the mentor would help him plan a strategy for the next morning.

The turkeys saw him, however, and heard him. He was in the right place because they love to roost above the trail and fly down and feed on clover and acorns close to the big oak. But they were disturbed by the truck door slamming a mile away and his clumsy entry into their woods. They heard the peculiar sounds from the three separate calls, and they saw the hunter jogging behind them in the forest. They simply flew in the opposite direction, and he never saw them.

The hunter drove to the sporting goods store and relayed his sad tale. The expert explained that a turkey can see three times greater than 20/20, has a view of almost 360 degrees, and each eye moves independently. If there is any movement anywhere around him, he could surely see it. There lay the problem — the turkeys had obviously seen the hunter with their spectacular vision.

The solution, he said, was a portable, pop-up blind that would hide the hunter from the turkey’s keen eyesight. He should set it up well before light and stay in it.

The hunter purchased the blind and a special chair. He returned home and attempted to set it up in his backyard, but the directions proved quite difficult. He was finally successful after fighting with it for an hour. Exhausted, he entered and collapsed into the special chair.

Day 2

After another night of little sleep, the hunter was up at 3 a.m. for an earlier start, convinced his new equipment would bring success. He arrived at the farm, and after another long walk hauling his shotgun, vest, decoys, blind and special chair, he arrived at the towering oak.

The blind was difficult to set up in his backyard in daylight, but even more so in the dark.  Finally, with all his strength, he pulled out one side of the pop-up blind, making a sound like a launched mortar round. Feeling and scratching, he unzipped the door and entered. 

As dawn broke, he heard the lovely sounds of spring and the first gobbles echoing down the trail. Excitedly, he responded with all three calls. But to his horror, the gobbling again began to fade.  Frustrated, he could not bring himself to stay in the blind. He emerged in a rush, trotting after the escaping turkeys, calling more intently.

His long chase was fruitless. He had not seen a bird, nor had he heard any further gobbles. The best part of the morning had again escaped him.

The turkeys had seen and heard him again. He was in the right place, but they again heard the truck door slamming and the calls they did not recognize, which sounded like animals in distress.  They saw the hunter sprinting through the woods, and alarmed flew even farther in the opposite direction.

Sad, irritated and dejected, the hunter went back to the mentor and recounted his sad tale. The expert responded with new information — a turkey can hear 10 times better than a human and place the position of a sound exactly where it came from in the forest. The turkeys had obviously heard him.

The solution was to go into the forest even earlier the next morning with great stealth and remain in the blind. Happy with his new knowledge, the hunter left the sporting goods store with great anticipation, his confidence restored.

Day 3

After a night of little sleep, his dreams haunted by the elusive wild gobbler, the hunter was up at 2 a.m. hoping today he would be victorious. Sleepy and tired, he awoke the family dog, his daughter, and his wife with dire consequences. It was cold, and on the way to the farm he noticed a slight rain beading on his windshield. He winced, realizing he had no rain gear. He arrived at the farm, closed the truck door quietly, and crept into the forest.

After another long and tiresome walk hauling his shotgun, vest, decoys, blind and special chair, he set up on the familiar trail. He had practiced opening and unzipping the blind at home and entered it quietly. It was before light as he settled into his chair. Sounds of the forest filled his hearing.

Whip-poor-wills and doves called from their roosts, and the patter of light rain on the blind was peaceful. He was warm and comfortable, and his eyes slowly began to close. Yielding to the forest’s spell, he drifted into a deep sleep, the vision dancing in his dreams.

The turkeys heard no slamming door that morning, and the rain muffled the step of the approaching hunter. There were no snapping twigs and no boot shuffle. There was no alarm from the three distressful calls, and they did not see any strange human forms ranging about the forest. They glided down from their high roost to the trail below, where they preened and pecked and chased each other playfully. They paid no attention to the pop-up blind and munched clover and acorns all around it.

As the hunter slept peacefully, the hens happily clucked and purred near the blind door. A giant gobbler, bronze and golden, swelled into strut, his head white as a ghost, prancing, drumming, and pirouetting beside the zippered blind entrance. The flock fed slowly down the trail, chuckling, and cooing out of sight. 

The hunter awoke, rubbed his eyes, and resumed his watch, listening patiently for the roar of a gobbler and the vision to come true. He waited until the best part of the morning had passed, never seeing or hearing the birds, never knowing they had been there.

He thought about it all, and wondered just how a bird with a brain the size of a walnut could outsmart him three times.

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