Thousands of hopeful hunters crept into the fields and forests yesterday hoping to experience one of hunting's most magical moments: bagging a gobbler.
But more than just pulling a trigger is the thrill of being part of one of nature's most colorful rituals. First is the mysterious pull of standing alone, in the dark, against a tree at the head of a valley, waiting for the morning's symphony to begin.
Those who will not hunt spring gobblers because they "have to get up so early" are to be pitied. Focusing on what time you have to get up rather than what awaits you once you get there is short-sighted, at least in my opinion.
You drive to your chosen spot and turn off the truck. You sit there a moment, finishing the last of your coffee. Wow, it is dark! And quiet. Reminds you of being 4 years old and wondering if the bogeyman was really in the closet.
Finally you rouse yourself from your thoughts and assemble your gear and set off through the dark woods. You hope your little mag-light won't spook any gobblers. After a short hike, you settle in against a tree to await the dawn, the magic moment when birds will be gobbling from every direction, you hope. The wind rustles the trees, a sound you seldom notice after daylight. Something disturbs the leaves near your feet and you fervently hope it's a mouse or chipmunk and not a snake.
As the sky begins to get pink with the promise of another day, sounds begin to assault your senses. A couple songbirds in the tree overhead begin to cheep. Then a robin joins the wake up call and if you are really lucky, a cardinal or two. You strain to hear. It's almost time.
You hear the nine-note cadence of the barred owl and wonder if it is a real owl or another hunter. The sky grows a bit lighter. You scan the surrounding treetops to see if you can spot roosting turkeys. Now the woods fill with the trillings of various birds, sometimes so loud you wonder if you will able to hear if a gobbler sounds off.
In the distance a grouse drums. Listening to the birds, the owls, the occasional drumming grouse is a feast for the senses. It's such a privilege to be here. You are deeply grateful that once again, you have been allowed to revel in the spring sounds.
But it gets better. About now, crows begin to call and you know it's time for the gobblers to do their thing. A woodpecker starts to hammer, a blue jay calls and the sounds are so many you just enjoy the whole package now rather than concentrate on any one in particular.
Finally, you hear it! A thundering from the roost that leaves no doubt of the gobbler's location and intentions. Perhaps even a gobble from another direction presents a wonderful quandary: Which one shall I concentrate on? All other sounds are forgotten as you home in on the gobbler. Now you hear some soft hen talk. Is that real hens or another hunter? It is the first question that should come to mind.
If the gobbler you decide to hunt is not close you hurry through the dim woods trying to close the distance, yet alert for other hunters.
Finally you select just the right tree just the right distance away and begin to offer your best, most alluring hen calls. You are now part of the morning's music. All you hear now is the gobbler's booming responses to your yelps and clucks. You keep up the repartee from long moments and finally, you catch a glimpse of movement. After a second or third look you realize the gobbler is skimming through the woods toward you. And then, there he is!
He stops out there 75 yards away, the morning sun now glistening off his damp feathers, the many colors so vivid you can't believe it. His head turns from bright red to neon blue as you watch. He stretches his neck out and gobbles again and the hair on the back of your neck bristles, your breath catches and you wonder if the bird can actually hear you breathing. If it's a chilly morning, your breath spits out clouds of steam, something you most certainly don't want him to see.
Your hands tremble, your back itches, your nose is running under the face mask and you fight to control your physical reactions to the rare and wondrous sight before you. You hold your breath as he begins to step off the distance between you. You scan the woods to determine just when and where you will be able to pull the trigger. Crows are screaming, robins are chirping, grouse are drumming. Other gobblers are talking in the background but you tune out all of it. Only the tableau in front of you matters now.
The moment arrives. You fasten the sights on his neck and squeeze the trigger. The shot sounds to all other woods life like a cymbal crash! Few other hunting pursuits have the audio accompaniment of a spring gobbler hunt. It is the finest morning music on the planet and it is why you are here.