Bronzed Kings Of The Spring

Posted on May 1, 2012



“Make no mistake about this: some men are mere hunters; others are turkey hunters.”

                                                         –  Archibald Rutledge


The gobble shattered the pre-dawn darkness sending a twinge of excitement that reverberated through my very core. It was reminiscent to my childhood days when you just knew something exciting was going to happen, but you weren’t exactly sure how or when it was coming. This lone verbal solo uttered by the roosted gobbler was hopefully a prelude to a chorus that would eventually crescendo at daylight in front of my gun.

Hurriedly I pulled the decoys from the bag, fumbling in the dark to assemble the trio, two hens and a Jake. The positioning was critical, at least to my thinking and I wanted this set-up to be perfect. Once I had the Jake’s realistic fan placed, I quietly tiptoed the scant 15-yards to my lair to wait.

A turkey hunter is indeed a rare bird. Every step he takes is a wary one. He keeps silent for long durations of time even in the company of a partner. He’s seemingly oblivious to weather, temperatures and the passing of time unless of course it’s nearing noon. He is a great listener, despite what his wife may say, and he can wait. Like me, Rutledge writes, “I myself at times have been a hunter of turkeys, and I know what it takes; among other things it requires boundless persistence, endless patience, and the ability to absorb more than a normal degree of disappointment.”

At long last the light from the eastern horizon was finally eroding the darkness. A phenomenon that takes place each morning, but one that most of us take for granted; that is until you’re seated beneath a tree during turkey season with nothing else to occupy your time than watch the forest and fields awaken. The songbirds began to sing in unison, a lone owl made his final screech as if to let all know that night was now over. Yet, I heard no gobbles, near or far.

Turkeys are like that, for reasons known only to them they just shut up. There are days that no matter what you do, or how badly the sound you are making on a call may sound, a Tom will gobble. You can slam your car door and they will gobble, drop your box call and they respond, bark like a dog and they vocalize. And then there are those deathly quiet mornings without even the hint of a breeze and you have just played the most romantic yelp on the slate and get absolutely no response. Indifference, I’m not sure. Tired from days of strutting, perhaps. A case of laryngitis preventing vocal cords from operating properly, could be, but not with every bird. A consortium pledge, a vow – if you will – amongst the feathered fowl to not break the silence as if they had all joined a fraternity of Monks, is not likely. Let’s just leave it as you cannot count on turkeys; even they don’t quite understand why they act like they do.

Not to be deterred by the lack of turkey chatter, I began to cut on my box call, throwing in an occasional yelp for good measure. Nothing! Arguably it could be said that I’m not patient, although some may suggest I am a patient, or at least should be. Much to their chagrin, I patiently spread my next volley of calls out over the space of an hour; still no response. It was time to resort to my entire bag of tricks.

The turkey hunter’s vest is like Norm Abram’s workshop on This Old House; it’s full of neat gadgets, a potpourri of various calls some of which have not seen the light of day since being purchased. My vest is no different. I shake my head in disbelief when I think of what I carry for turkey gear as opposed to what I tramp around with during deer season. If I had all of these accruements while tracking deer I’d be worn out before straying a quarter mile from my car. But this is turkey hunting and at some point I convinced myself that everything in this vest was vital to my success. And it seems that today I would need to pull out every last call including the kitchen sink.

Three hours of sitting was now beginning to become a real pain in my fanny. Seriously, I’m not a sitter and my gluteus maximus was really starting to hurt. After exhausting my full arsenal of calls, I was sitting, listening and watching when I spied a red head bobbing across the field sixty yards below my decoys. He was walking along a drainage when I gave what I believed to be my best rendition of a hen yelping for company. Not only did he not respond, with seeming indignation he never even looked in my direction. Talk about feeling like you’ve been left at the alter on your wedding day; it was demoralizing at best.

Not one to be outdone, as soon as the long beard had disappeared I got up, ooh, that felt so good, gathered up my decoys and moved my operation 100-yards down the hedgerow in the direction of the departed bird. I reset my decoys with a lot less anxiety, found a good tree with surrounding brush to conceal my frame and trimmed the limbs that might block a shot. After a few additional readjustments to the decoys I sat to wait.

Upon completing the first sequence of calls from my new position I noticed movement from the corner of the front field. Out paraded six whitetail deer. This would have been outstanding had it been deer season. Maybe I was onto something, turkey calls draw deer, hmmm, something to consider, perhaps if I did a couple of snort-wheezes and a grunt that would bring in the turkeys? Doubtful, but it sure couldn’t hurt to have a field full of deer grazing towards you to put the resident turkey population at ease.

Rutledge reminds us, “A hunter’s success with game is usually in proportion to the game’s wariness, and to his knowledge of what moves to make in this life-and-death chess game of the wilds. He may bring in twenty rabbits for every single ruffed grouse; ten grouse for every wild turkey. For this premier game bird of the world has eyesight second to none other in nature, and hearing as acute as any we know, and a mind of rare intelligence. He walks warily, with wild and springy grace, as if he were forever poised for instant escape by running or by flight. He knows all the dangers, and he is qualified by nature to escape them. He can stand watchfully still for a long time.”

Those words never proved truer than by what transpired next. The water I had drunk thirty minutes ago was now having a direct affect on my being able to sit comfortably still; I had to go! The deer were now below the slope and temporarily out of sight; I didn’t want to spook them with any movement. With no turkeys visible I began to get on my knees when, of course, there they were, like wooden toy soldiers standing statuesquely and  staring in my direction; three long beards not forty yards out. “What do I do,” I thought. I’ve been busted. Being the resourceful guy that I am, and a quick thinker, I opted to sit back down with as little disturbance as is humanly possible. Once seated, slowly, ever so slowly, I reached for my gun and got it in shooting position. Oh the drama of it all, you can almost hear the drum roll.

Fortunately I still had a diaphragm call in my mouth, on which I began to purr and cut. I dared not move a single muscle only straining my eyes as far as they would rotate to my left to see if I’d enticed any of the group. Much to my delight and great surprise, they were cautiously making their way towards the decoys. “Bernier, if you pull this off it will indeed be quite a feat,” I thought to myself.

Continuing with the most enticing mouth calls I could muster, onward they marched. I could now see all of them with their heads all aglow in patriotic red, white and blue colors. At first they just sort of mingled together much like a bunch of middle school boys shyly standing at the edge of the dance floor watching all of the girls. Despite the birds being a mere fifteen feet away I could not shoot with them all clumped together. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the end gobbler decided to break the stale mate and headed directly into the midst of the decoys; although it was a noble act on his part, it was his final act as my shotgun boomed.

As is most fitting, the parting words when it comes to bronzed kings is granted to the wordsmith Rutledge who writes, “Yet for all his smartness, for all his equipment for safety, the wild turkey meets more than his match in certain individuals of the outdoor fraternity known as turkey hunters.”

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Posted in: Turkey