What Turkeys Do To Us

Posted on April 23, 2013

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“You don’t hunt turkeys because you want to; you hunt turkeys because you have to.”

–                                                                                                                 Tom Kelly

 

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Little could I have realized what turkeys would do to me when I first began chasing the bronzed kings back in the spring of ’02. Yes, I got started late in this elusive game due to few birds and a difficult lottery system. I swear, if I had to rely on being selected through drawing a tag for deer I’d probably have been retired a long time ago. As a result of this, I shot my first bearded man in neighboring Vermont, and from that point forward I was spurred to continue this springtime fling.

With my back securely positioned against an ancient oak, not daring to move a muscle, I intently listened as the booming gobbles drew closer and closer. My raised leg on which my shotgun rested began to twitch and shake. Each breath became shallow and erratic, and the thumping of my heart reached all the way into my throat and reverberated through my ears. “This was not supposed to happen”, I thought, “after all, it’s only a bird.”

However, in the words of the legendary turkey master Tom Kelly, that’s exactly what should happen.

“The first turkey that ever came to me on the ground did it a long time ago. I sat there with my hands shaking and my breath short and my heart hammering so hard I could not understand why he could not hear it. The last turkey that came to me last spring had exactly the same effect, and the day that this does not happen to me is the day that I quit.”

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Well, I can assure you that I’m nowhere ready to quit, and despite having only a little over a decade of chasing this grand bird under my turkey vest, I’ve come to realize the difficulties of both the nature of the game and hopefully, somewhat of the bird himself. Initially, in greenhorn naiveté, my sentiments were akin to those of which Rutledge described: “Some men suppose, probably judging by the domestic variety, that wild turkeys are dumb, and they don’t understand why others consider hunting them such fine sport.” But, it only took a few outings of being bettered by a bird with a brain the size of a walnut to help me understand just how challenging turkey hunting actually was. Rutledge concludes his thought: “It’s because of its difficulty and uncertainty. It offers a challenge that only those naturally gifted with woods sense and great patience can master.”

So, much like how the pretty blonde standing across the dance floor glancing in your direction can suddenly turn an otherwise confident man into a nervous, babbling pile of mush; like the ability of a majestic whitetail buck standing statuesque and broadside can induce an otherwise stable huntsmen to become a wreck, ejecting all of his bullets to the forest floor without ever squeezing the trigger. The following is some of the many things turkeys can and will do to us.

Sound the Alarm

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I don’t know why it is, but having an alarm clock sound off at 3:30 a.m. during the month of May almost seems like punishment. Why is that? During deer season in the fall it seems quite normal and expected. Let’s be honest, with a smattering of exceptions, most of us normal human beings are not all too excited about being roused out of sound slumber at a time of day when I’m not sure even God is awake. As the season progresses, that bell gets increasingly more difficult to respond to. Yet, despite the sleep deprivation, we like good soldiers, for as many days as necessary rise to the occasion to test our mettle against this feathered foe.

Operating in the Dark

 

Due entirely to the way my eyes were designed to operate, I don’t see so well in the dark. And given the fact that I’m neither trained in special ops, am not a sniper, nor have ever participated in any covert operation under the cover of darkness, it is difficult to get into position or set-up dummies (plastic turkey decoys) without light. Of course, I know that I could use a flashlight, but that would alert the bird I’m after and ultimately defeat the purpose of why I rose to an alarm going off at what my wife thinks is a ridiculous hour.

The Recliner

 

In all my years as a deer hunter I have never experienced the kind of contorted positions I routinely find myself in during turkey season. Whoever would have thought that sitting on your butt could ultimately be that painful? The act of concealment amidst the natural green and brown tapestry of the forest and fields isn’t quite as simple as, ‘have a seat.’ And then, just about the time that you think, ‘if I don’t move I may well be frozen in this position forever,’ the sound or sight of an approaching bird forces you to remain motionless. Add in that second cup of coffee you drank as you drove to your hunting spot and the self-inflicted pain only intensifies. I’ve often wondered while sitting immobile how long it would take for my bladder to actually explode? Is it just me or does it seem that when you have lots of time on your hands waiting for a gobbler to approach the need to relieve yourself happens far more frequently and usually at the most inopportune time of the hunt.

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Unlike deer hunting, according to Kelly, “Turkeys, you see, are going to come up from behind you. They are going to walk up over your right shoulder. They are going to appear downhill, under your knees. You are repeatedly and regularly going to have to lean eight inches out of plumb either to the right or left to shoot around trees. You are going to have to shoot with the stock mounted on your arm anywhere from the elbow to the collar bone. And you are going to be trapped into positions on downhill lies, that force you to keep yourself propped up with the left hand and shoot one-handed, the grip under the fore end being done with either knee.”

Shooting positions the likes of which none of us will ever practice or even want to for that matter.

Staying power

 

Whoever penned the famous line, “Patience is a virtue” wasn’t kidding; it really does take fortitude to accomplish. We live in a culture that operates in 8-second sound bytes and expects instant gratification. We are easily irritated when our technology is slower than immediate. Leaving behind that fast-paced daily routine for a few subdued hours in the turkey woods can be a difficult transition.

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I’ve often said, “I’m not patient, I am a patient.” Sitting still for long durations has and continues to be an exercise of mind over matter for me. But well I know from both experience and the sound adage of one of America’s greatest turkey slayers, Archibald Rutledge, “Movement is the thing to avoid-movement and sound-in the hunting of this great bird…As a rule, when once a wild turkey has seen the hunter, why, it’s all off. If he makes you out, an old woodsman once said to me, he’ll quit the country; he’ll quit the world.”

Conclusion

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Never in my wildest imagination would I have ever thought that a feathered fowl that does far more walking than it does flying would have the kind of effect on me that it has. Never would I have believed that a bird could actually cause me to do some of the things that transpire each spring in my life. And never would anyone ever have convinced me that I would hunt turkeys because I have to…but I do!

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                                © 2013 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

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