This Saturday, I will be among the horde of hunters out to begin the month-long spring gobbler season. Only the opening of deer season rivals the sheer excitement I experience on this day.
The raucous gobbling of tom turkeys is to me a symphony of sound unmatched by any other sound in my life. If I never pull the trigger - and some years I don't - I wouldn't miss the sweaty, heart-thumping, trembly anticipation of what the day may bring.
"Ambush hunting, that's all it is. You won't catch me out there trying anything so easy," another hunter once said to me. My answer was, "well said by someone who obviously never tried it."
Anyone who has hunted spring gobblers for more than one season knows what a laughable premise it is, that hunting turkeys in the spring is somehow taking advantage of them. The Game Commission tells us that only 5 or 6 percent of all spring hunters will bag a turkey. So if spring gobblers are rendered so witless by the mating urge that they come running every time a hunter strokes out a yelp on his box call, like these "experts" claim, I'd like to know what it is 95 percent of us are doing wrong.
For every gobbler that comes right on in when you call to it, four others will drive you to the brink of madness with their suspicious, frustrating habits. I've bagged a few gobblers that came easy. But I've paid my dues. I've spent countless hours waiting in cold and rain and wind waiting for one to sound off that never did.
I've climbed many a hill and mountain only to have the bird disappear when I finally heaved over the top. I've had more gobblers than I'll ever admit to hang up on me and taunt me with their gobbling until I was reduced to a knot of nerves.
I've chased around after gobblers from ridge to ridge and never caught up. I've sat for hours, hot and sweaty, gnats chewing at my ears and eyes, all for nothing.
So when the occasional year comes along that yields up a gobbler without all the sweat and strain, well, I just figure I've earned it other days,
Another statistic that bothers me is this one: that 62 percent of all accidents that occur in turkey season are those in which one hunter mistakes another for a turkey and shoots. I enjoy contending with gobblers in a battle of wits. I do not enjoy contending with careless hunters in a battle for my safety. Most turkey hunting accidents happen when a hunter is trying to stalk or sneak up on a turkey. I have more than a little personal experience with this, having been myself mistaken for a gobbler and shot by a fellow hunter.
Given the turkey's superior eyesight, sneaking up on one undetected is just about impossible. Also, while red, white and blue may be patriotic colors, these colors only mean danger for the thousands of hunters heading into the spring woods. Wearing these colors while spring turkey hunting can be an invitation to disaster. Many times, over-excited hunters, foolishly stalking a turkey get into the area where they hear some turkey voices, then see a dark shape or a bit of movement and often a flash of color - red, white or blue. They believe those clues add up to turkey and they shoot.
If you spot another hunter, don't make any sudden movements or wave your hands or blow on a turkey call. Any of those things can trigger a tired, nerves-taut hunter to whirl and shoot! Always assume that any turkey sounds you hear are being made by hunters until you absolutely know differently.
For sheer excitement and exhilaration, nothing matches spring gobbler hunting. Little else in the outdoors will tie your nerves in knots like chasing a wild gobbler. I believe this is due to the vocal element present in the spring. The toms greet almost every dawn from March to June with lusty gobbling, which tells every hen and every hunter for a mile radius his location. He's got sex on the mind and doesn't mind advertising it.
It also draws every hunter within hearing distance to that location. Some hunters simply get so excited watching for the bird that they forget that other hunters are out there also calling and walking around.
So the spring gobbler hunter crawls out of bed about 3:30 a.m., dresses in camouflage and hikes through the woods before daylight to do something that no other kind of hunting calls for: convincing the quarry to come to him. It is not easy.