Spring Thunder

Posted on May 10, 2016



“A big mouth don’t make a big man.” – John Wayne, The Cowboys

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Nothing, and I mean nothing, solicits more internal convulsions to a die-hard turkey hunter than the notes resonating from deep within the gut of a spring gobbler. Oh what beautiful music to be heard; melodies the likes of which can turn an otherwise ho-hum morning into an exciting thrill ride for the duration of the contest. When that bird responds to a call being made by you or me, our immediate reaction is, “game on.”

Getting a Tom to gobble is not nearly as difficult as making the determination as to whether he will commit to our enticements, and herein lies the conundrum. Some would suggest we’re essentially taking the birds temperature; making attempts to discern his libido. Sometimes that determination is easy, while on other occasions it requires much more time. I had a situation a few years ago where I spent more than two hours in a constant back-and-forth serenade until finally seducing the bird within pellet range.

In the far distance from behind me I heard a faint gobble. Immediately I responded with a very loud yelp. The gobbler responded. “Okay”, I thought, “he is at least somewhat interested.” Each time he would gobble I would respond in kind with a love language that hopefully he couldn’t resist. With each gobble he was definitely getting closer, but due to my position I was unable to see just how close. This back and forth went on for an hour before a second bird began gobbling from behind me and to my left. So, now I have two gobblers bellowing from behind me, neither with any real urgency to close the distance.

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What to do, what to do? How do I sell this setup and really turn these guys on? I decided to gobble a couple of time in hopes of creating a little jealousy and guess what? It worked. These two really ramped up their gobbling. In kind, I really hammered on the Hot Mamma diaphragm made by Mouthy Maynard Calls. Every time one of them would gobble I would cut them off with cutting and yelping. All this, yet they still seemed to be hung up.

Now further questions arise in my head (you have lots of time to think when hunting turkeys): Can they see the decoys? Do they look realistic? Thankfully, my hen would move slightly left and then right each time the breeze struck her. In fact, it was admirable at how well an inanimate blow up dummy was performing seemingly on cue. All I could do at this point is remain motionless and continue to try and sell the charade to a pair of males I had yet to lay eyes on. After all, nothing happens until it sells.

The silence was now killing me. It had been 15 long minutes since I last heard a gobble. More questions: “Did they lose interest and depart?” “Are they coming in silent?” “Has this drawn out skirmish all been for naught?” And then, out of the corner of my left eye, it seemed like there was something black that wasn’t there a moment ago. I dared not swivel my head even an inch. “Was it a gobbler or is it just my imagination?” Finally the suspense was broken with the tell-tale sound of a turned-on gobbler spitting and drumming.

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As the bird fixated on the fully fanned dummy, I slowly raised my gun, found his head in the peep and folded him at 10-paces.

It is well known that a turkey will gobble to a variety of external stimuli such as owls, ravens, hens, other gobbles, and even my my car door. Yet we think, “Oh yeah man, I’m really fooling a clever fowl with the notes resonating from my new favorite call.” Once, as I had a long beard double and triple gobbling, he doesn’t seem to be closing the distance. And then, while basking in my turkey talk I inadvertently drop my box call, which clangs as it hits the rock next to me. No sooner had this noise hit the air waves when, yup, you guessed it, the turkey double gobbles at the strange sound, which served to deflate my false sense of proficiency in turkey linguistics. “Truly, as Rutledge emphatically points out in his essay, Talking Turkey, pride has her fall, and a hunter’s pride ends in an avalanche.”

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. Turkeys are like that. For reasons known only to them, they just shut up. 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 – among 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 at this: you cannot count on turkeys.

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Everyone loves to hear turkeys gobbling in the spring. Except perhaps for those whose bedroom window is within earshot of roosted birds. Gobbling takes the otherwise mundane out of a hunt. It allows the pulse to quicken, especially when the old gent sounds off unexpectedly just behind your position. A turkey gobbling, no matter the time of day, reminds us that we are still in the game. And if you think turkey hunting is difficult when the birds are gobbling, wait until you experience a few days in a row of dead silence; it’s as if every turkey had left the planet. Gobbling just makes the entire experience fun… and a bit nerve racking.

With my back securely positioned against an ancient oak, not daring to move a muscle or breathe hard, 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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Onward his course he came, as if on a string. Rutledge once heard an old woodsman exclaim, “There ain’t a surveyor who can run a straighter line than a gobbler will make for a hen.” True or not for every Tom I do not know, however, for this old boy, on this given day he was bee-lining for the seductive temptress spinning on a stake. When he reached the deceptive prize, no gentlemanly greeting was issued, no courtship offered; he was all business. When the fake refused to cooperate he decided to further stimulate with a raucous sequence of gobbling, that is until I sealed his fate from the business end of a 12 gauge.

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Loud mouthed show-offs aside, according to Rutledge, “There is a psychology about turkey-calling that the hunter should do well to heed. The old gobbler is an aristocrat, a patrician. When he hears a call, what stirs him is exactly what stirs a man. He visions some wildwood princess, some enchantress, demure and elusive.” And now comes the lesson as he continues,

“If ever I get an answer, however faint and far away, I stop calling.” Why you ask? “That silence intrigues the gobbler’s soul. He just has to see what kind of wonderful creature shows indifference toward him.” Final lesson: “If I call too much, he will not come; not because he is afraid, but because he is disgusted. He says to himself, “That girl must be a common sort after all; she’s too eager.”

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May that gobble resonate in our hearts, minds and most importantly, in our ears each spring with its thunder.


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