The Folly of Turkeys

Posted on May 13, 2014





Life’s hard…It’s even harder if you’re stupid.

                                                             John Wayne


Do you think turkeys are stupid? I guess that would all depend on whether or not you’re shouldering a lifeless, bearded bird or bemoaning the fact you’ve been given the slip by a very sneaky red head. It’s often been rhetorically asked, how smart can a bird be that has a brain the size of a walnut? It’s Tom Kelly’s assertion, “There are, strangely enough, stupid turkeys, or at least there are turkeys who perform irrational acts…Some of them, like a great many men you may have met, have a tendency to open their mouths too much. And, as with younger men, the younger turkeys sin principally in this respect.”

 DSC_0678-11 Turkey 09

Big Mouth


So it is, that one of the most revealing characteristics routinely displayed by spring-time gobblers is their propensity to gobble. Their verbal diarrhea, a machismo that verbalizes not only their availability to any nearby skirt wearing hen, but also affirms positional hierarchy within the pecking order, makes life incredibly harder for the turkey due to it being stupid and revealing its whereabouts. Of course the turkey doesn’t know it’s hunting season, nor does he actually know he’s placed himself in eminent danger by gobbling. Yet, even after encountering potential danger, (#5’s whizzing past his tail feathers) come next morning you can hear him once again, bellowing from the limb in the pre-dawn darkness for all the world to hear.


Will Anderson, played by the Duke in the movie The Cowboys, uttered this simple phrase to one his hired boys: “A big mouth don’t make a big man!” And it darn well won’t help a gobbler further grow or keep his spurs. To further illustrate this, while hunting with a friend who asked to join me on a turkey hunt, our first morning out began with a roosted male answering each of my plea-full notes. The problem was a 100-yard open field between us and him and he wasn’t budging. “There’s more than one way to skin a skittish cat,” I exclaimed. “If the bird won’t come to us, we’ll go to the bird, but not today.”

The next morning I set a blow-up hen dummy 15-yards slightly up hill from an ancient oak that we’d be sitting beneath. At daybreak I began to softly and seductively call and it wasn’t long before the gobbles resonated from the exact spot of the morning before. Grinning at my partner, I continued to play love songs to a lonely feathered bachelor.

Ten minutes after he began hollering, we heard him fly down and hit the field, just as he had done the day before. Now if my mouse trap was to work, the bird would have to replay his movements from yesterday. The only difference would be him seeing what he believed was a willing, ready hen seducing him.

Each time he responded to my call provided us with his exact location.  “He’s in the hedgerow right now,” I whispered. Ten-minutes later, “He’s on the trail leading between the rock walls heading right for the hen.” In 45 minutes he had done almost a complete circle.


As legendary turkey hunter Tom Kelly puts it,

“It is a firm rule that you are going to kill the most turkeys when you don’t need any, or worst of all, when you have taken someone with you who hasn’t killed one. Or you take a man who needs to kill one badly, and you move heaven and  earth to put him in the right place, so that you can call turkeys past him or run turkeys over him…Find however many turkeys you can, plan your tactics however carefully you wish, set up the situation as meticulously as you possibly can contrive to give the other man the advantage and the turkey will walk around him and up to you and make you kill him – or if you have left your gun unloaded to make sure you can’t kill him, he will run into your leg and break his neck.

I am not implying that turkeys understand these things, or that they have equal intellectual development with men. That would be wholly unjust. A turkey’s brain development exceeds that of nearly all vice presidents for instance. And even though he is sometimes capable of abysmal stupidity, he normally reasons on a par with Mycroft Holmes.”

“Get ready, man. He is going to come in from your side,” I whispered. Within seconds, the bird appeared completely fanned out; you guessed it, on my side. When he spied the dummy hen he unleashed a booming gobble. At this point, with no other alternative, I placed the gun sight on the bird, I gave one more soft purr, and as he stretched his neck and began to gobble, silhouetted against dawns orange glow, my shotgun roared felling the bearded big mouth.


Strutting Your Stuff


If we think hard enough, most of us could come up with names of flashy dressing, flamboyant guys that we know. It’s usually the loudest, and often the most obnoxious person in the room who wants and desperately needs all of the attention focused on him. These are what some would classify as the life of the party where they are not only being laughed with, but laughed at.

Drawing attention to one self in order to get noticed is nothing unusual, especially for those who think more highly of themselves than perhaps they should. However, for a Tom sporting long spurs and paint brush beards it may not be such a good idea. In fact, due to just how perilous this colorful display can be the turkey would be better served sticking with absolute anonymity. But, some birds, like some men just can’t help themselves when it comes to strutting their stuff in the presence of females; and in the end the result of this behavior seldom works out for either. It is the one that flies under the radar, goes about his business quietly, without fanfare that typically comes out on top, and in the case of gobblers, keep their spurs.


In the world of turkeys it is indeed in the DNA of all males to strut about in unabashed full display in order to win the affection of a hen. And typically, in accordance with their innate behavior, the damsel gravitates to her suitor; the romance is consummated without the Tom compromising his safety or ‘manhood.’ The stupidity begins when the male decides, as a result of impatience, lack of self-control, sexual arousal, and curiosity to dash head long towards the yelping hen. “With much seductive speech she persuades him” as the writer of Proverbs pens, “with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver, as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life.”




The age old process among males, when in embroiled in jealousy, envy, strife, anger, dominance and disagreements is to just go ahead and duke it out. Well, that is how things were once worked out before we all became civilized. Now we hire lawyers, go to court and instead of using fists or bullets, words are the weapon of choice to verbally assault one another in what turns out to be a lucrative deal for attorneys.

Those of a more chivalric bent would argue that fighting to defend the honor of a women is legit and when done for that purpose is both refreshing and admirable. However, more often than not, most rivalries that have a certain female at the center ultimately stems fromone or more males being jealous. After all, many a bar room brawl has been initiated as a result of a woman.


Within the animal kingdom, fighting, particularly between males, is common practice. As to whether or not they have the emotional capabilities to react to perceived internal feelings beyond the basics (hunger, thirst, fatigue, procreation) is debatable, however, when it comes to being the ‘Cock of the walk’, turkeys, Toms and Jakes alike, will kick and spar against each other with relentless fury. They will fight for territory and breeding rites; and although I can’t prove this, just because they dislike the looks of a certain bearded thug.




A flashy big mouth and readiness to fight at the drop of a hat are not attributes that would be endearing to most. In fact, guys with résumés like that are typically classified as fools. Yet, without these vulnerabilities in an otherwise fool-proof armor, gobblers would be far more difficult for us to capture. And so it is come turkey season once again. I’ll be off on what may well be a fool’s errand.



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Posted in: Turkey