Who’s Really the Turkey?

Posted on May 12, 2015



Magnificent they were-all old birds, any one of which would be a noble prize. Yet what was a poor hunter to do? Go home, I supposed, with a grand hard-luck story; but you can’t put a hard-luck story on the table. – Archibald Rutledge



It’s oft been said that we’re hunting a bird with a brain the size of a walnut. Therefore, you’d think that it would be a shoe-in to bring the bird to bag more regularly. But that is simply not the case, not by a long shot. The reality is that we all too often go home birdless and are the ones left feeling more like a turkey than the fowl itself. Yet, despite this reality, most of us really have a difficult time making that admission.

Tom Kelly writes:

We believe,, that we are instinctively born knowing the wilderness, that we are nowhere so comfortable as in the forest primeval, and that we are quite fully capable of hunting and killing with dispatch anything from hummingbirds to elephants, even if we choose not to do it. To admit ignorance, to admit even by inference, that there is a species of game bird or animal that flies, walks, or crawls across the face of the North American continent that we are unable to hunt skillfully and kill effortlessly, somehow runs against our grain. Not only does it offend us to think it, we flatly refuse to admit that it could ever happen.


Well folks, if truth be told, and trust me there’s no better antidote to curing a good case of pride than to reveal what we secretly know actually happens to all turkey hunters, seasoned vets or rank green horns alike, each of us screw up from time to time. And dependent on the circumstances, a fully fanned, strutting, spitting and drumming, mature gobbler can make mush out of even the solidest of forms.


The Misses


No, that header is not a mistype and for those of you whose dialect is more rural than urban, I’m not talking about your wife. It’s about how one could possibly miss something while shooting a shotgun that literally sprays lead (steel if you want to be environmentally correct.)

I can still see the flabbergasted look on my dad’s face after just such an occurrence happened last spring; a look that I have felt on numerous occasions while hunting this grand bird. I had worked on calling this bachelor group consisting of 4 long beards for more than two-hours. Finally, as a result of the birds having nothing else on their agenda rather than my expertise in speaking turkey, they began flowing in single file towards the dummies. That would be the decoys, not the two trying to kill a turkey. I softly told pop, take the first one that gives you the best shot.


This will be a cinch and once he has his final bird for the season, I no longer will have to get out of bed at a time I’m not sure even God is up. I’d seen this played out twice before in the past two seasons while calling for Pop and was quite confident in what was about to happen.

Bang goes the gun and instead of seeing a flopping bird on the ground, much to my surprise, and quite certainly to Pop’s chagrin, the birds made a rather hasty retreat over the nearest hill. In utter disbelief, with a hint of scorned infallibility Pop says, “I can’t believe I just missed.” It happens more frequently than you think.

For me, I miss at least once during a typical turkey season for any number of reasons. Over confident; looking over the sight; attempting a shot further than the gun can pattern; turkey fever; under-estimating distance, etc. When I first began hunting turkeys I missed more birds due to thinking this shotgun only had to be pointed to be effective. Oh how humiliatingly wrong I was. And to make matters worse, I really felt badly that my woeful shooting skills were performed before an audience of whoever was graciously doing the calling for me. Without belaboring the point, none of us are immune to missing, and when we do, the turkey really does get the last laugh.




I have never been one that cared much for surprises and have prided myself on always being prepared for the unexpected. Well, once again the bird with the minute brain has seen fit on multiple occasions to serve me up some astonishing maneuvers that left me both speechless and turkey-less.

For instance, after considerable scouting and observation, I determined the exact spot I needed to be sitting, which direction to face, and the exact tree I would wait beneath come morning. It was a glorious dawn painted with a brilliant orange sky, comfortable temperatures and a symphonic cacophony of gobbles emanating from several nearby trees. It wasn’t hard to be enthusiastic at the prospect of what was about to take place.


But when reality smacked up against wishful thinking, the end result was very different than I had planned or expected. First, no turkey came from the direction they were supposed to; apparently they never received the memo. Secondly, when they did arrive it was in total silence; sneaking up on me like Comanches. Third, and most embarrassing, two very mature gobblers silently fanned out directly behind and on a hill above the tree my back was against. If you would, allow me to break strut here and inquire, have you ever tried to quietly contort your body 180 degrees, position weapon, and get a sight picture from your belly while looking up hill at a 45 degree angle? After having tried I can assure you that if it is indeed possible, this guy can’t do it. Talk about feeling foolish.

On another outing I had unsuccessfully called from what I felt was a really good position for nearly two hours. Not one to give up too easily, I stayed my ground and hoped mid-morning would bring some action. Approximately 15-minutes after my last calling sequence, without so much as a faint, halfhearted gobble to be heard in return, I deemed it safe to relieve myself of some early morning coffee. After thoroughly looking in every direction, I slowly rose from my bottom to my knees, unzipped and began the pause that refreshes. And sure enough, right in mid-stream in walks three bearded gents whom I’m sure were not there for the bathroom. Talk about being caught with your pants down. That was as embarrassing as it gets.


 Like Rutledge, “I never regret seeing a wild creature escape, especially if it does so after a bold decision and by a crafty maneuver.” What is terribly humiliating and ego bruising is when they escape laughing at me as they vanish.


Mental Gymnastics


While never having been accused of being an intellectual, perhaps some would opine with far less flattering comments such as… well, discuss amongst yourselves, but bear in mind that I’ve expressed some self-disparaging remarks that may well rival anything one could verbally sling in my direction. And furthermore, where I come up short in intellect, I more than make up for in persistence and painstaking study of the bird’s characteristics. I’ve read the book, of which Rutledge speaks:


Now, here is a thing about a wild turkey that too few hunters consider carefully: it is that he is the victim of routine. If you know what his range is, and if the food to which he has been accustomed is still to be had, he will be there; moreover, he will be at a certain place at a certain time of day. So much is the lordly wild turkey a creature of habit that I have frequently killed the finest and wildest gobblers merely by waiting for them on a certain old road at a certain time of day.

And despite his claim that a turkey goes through life on schedule, which I certainly concur, it’s how frequently that schedule changes for no apparent reason that makes my life frustrating during the season.

Here I sit with my back against a rock wall overlooking a rolling emerald field in a location that reeks with turkey traffic. Yet, after two straight mornings of watchful waiting, the birds show up on the opposite side heading directly away from me. Okay, note to self: move over there for tomorrow mornings set-up. Of course  those of you that have extra sharp pencils have probably figured out what happens next. The turkeys conveniently show up in the exact spot I had set up the previous two days. Not willing to concede that the bird with the walnut sized brain is smarter than a… didn’t Jeff Foxworthy have a show called, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?


I can recall yet another morning where I felt I’d put myself in the very center of all the action and was quite pleased with myself for actually discovering such a location. I felt like the gunner positioned on a turret where regardless of the direction the bearded foe appears, I would have it covered. My wait wasn’t long before a pair of fine large bronzed specimens appeared out in front some 70 yards distance. They, in tandem would return verbal volleys each time I yelped. This set-up feels almost like cheating, I thought, but hey, who am I to argue with topography and how the birds choose to utilize the lay of the land. Well, needless to say, my confident grin turned to teeth clenching frustration as not only did these two Toms not belly up to within shooting distance, but they actually sauntered off laughing hysterically, all the while giving me the full fan salute.




Stand down and at ease turkey-hunting enthusiasts all. This grand bronzed king of the spring has a way of making us all look and feel as foolish as… well, a turkey. No one is exempt and some get a bigger dose than others. All I can yelp for pointing this out is, you’re welcome!



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