The Allure of A Bird

Posted on May 10, 2021



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. It’s because of its difficulty and uncertainty. It offers a challenge that only those naturally gifted with woods sense and patience can master. – Archibald Rutledge, Turkey Hunting Tales



To the casual observer who, might I add, generally only see turkeys standing or crossing the road in front of their car, under the neighbor’s bird feeder or making pitiful attempts at getting through a fence, they seem to be a dumb and sightly creature. In fact, the only beauty to be mentioned is when the Tom is fully fanned and fully colored, all for show to entice the hens.

I believe if that were my only interaction with this bird there would be no doubt, I would think of the whole flock of them as indeed, turkeys in the dumbest sense of the word possible.



However, due to my close association with turkeys through photography, observation and hunting of this grand bird, my appreciation of the whole species of them is rooted in admiration and respect. In his book, Broken Promises, my late friend Walt Hampton best articulates my sentiments when he writes,

“It is the conundrum of my life, the life-conflict in my heart and my guts that I have to pursue and kill that which I love so dearly. I do not know why I love you, only that I do, even though your sinful pride and wanton arrogance are thrown in my face every time we meet; I only know that your scream of dominance and sexual hunger and your brazen indifference to the other living things of your world brings me to the razor edge of my predatory senses, no less today than the first time I was witness to these things, over 50 years ago. I have such a great admiration and deep awe for the marvelous evolution that created you, that fit you into your world and gave you the instinct to survive; the color of every feather has a reason behind it as do the scales and hooks on your terrible legs or the position of your all-seeing eyes on your horrible, beautiful head. In His infinite wisdom God has given you to us, you marvelous creature; we are locked together in life’s oldest dance, a dance where when the music stops only one of us will walk away. If you weighed a few more pounds the woods would be a dangerous place for us, those that would chase you. I have spent years studying ways to kill you, devoted a lifetime to uncovering the secrets of your life-way and honed my skills to use those secrets to end your life, a life that no other animal so clings to with such tenacious ferocity and it is the supreme challenge of hunting to kill you on your own ground, pitting what I have learned against your marvelous senses.”



Regarding their formidable behavior as a mean antagonist, there is none better. No other big game animal of either hoof, paw or feather has caused me more cramping, physical discomfort and placed my body in contortionist like positions quite like the turkey.

Never have I sat motionless for two hours straight, staring in the same exact direction with only my ears following the direction from which the gobbles were approaching. To my knowledge, never have I attempted to turn my entire torso 180 degrees while sitting in order to shoot at a buck, but that has not been the case when it comes to a big gobbler strutting to my blind side.

Perhaps it is just me, but it seems when it comes to turkeys I am forever aiming and firing at them from the most contorted positions imaginable. Maybe, just maybe that is one of the many reasons I find this bird so alluring.



But for all the discomforts associated with hunting this bird, there are indeed a whole host of indelible occurrences that continue to keep us coming back, time after time. For instance, when you have set your decoys (dummies) up to not only lure the Tom into the trap, but captivate his curiosity as well, and it works, you feel like a genius. Why? Because oftener indeed, despite our best efforts these birds will leave us feeling like we’ve barely made it out of first grade.

Understand, as Rutledge did, “…as a rule, this sport exacts from the woodsman the maximum of patience, endurance, intelligence, and woodcraft. And I believe that any sport that lays down these exactions is a mighty good type of recreation to have in these days when too many men expect to get their game with no more effort on their part than to pull a trigger with a lazy and effete finger.”



Each hunt is different. Each day the birds, for reasons known only to them will act differently than they did yesterday. Just when you believe you’ve got one patterned, he will pull the plug and go in the direct opposite direction from whence you sit. Maddening, yes. Surprising, no, not anymore.

For example, for five days in a row a flock of hens would arrive with the gobblers taking up the rear within relatively the same time each morning. I set-up with camera and captured some great images. And then, on day six, without anything changing in weather, surroundings, noise etc., no birds show, not a one. I call without as much as a cheap gobble from a Jake to be heard. It is as if the whole world has become extinct of the species. What could have happened? Where could they have gone? Why would they suddenly change their routine?

Answer in short: because they are turkeys.

“There are mornings when every turkey in the county will begin to gobble at daylight, writes Tom Kelly in his classic turkey book, Tenth Legion, and will do it so much it sounds as if he were in danger of choking himself. The very next morning you can go and stand in yesterday’s footprints, as far as you can tell under identical conditions of wind, temperature and barometric pressure, and you will stand in the midst of silence.”



Hence, with the never-ending uncertainties of this sport, primarily due to the very nature of the bird, it undoubtedly sucks us in, thirsting for more. It becomes the doubt that often arises as to how seductive the sound you’ve tried to imitate from that of a hen; the constant questioning of how long to stay in one spot; your set-up or choice of calls. Will he come, or will he stay? These are all the dynamics that lure this hunter into showing up each day.

The turkey has advantages that does indeed make him for a formidable foe. He can fly, you cannot. His eyesight and capability for detecting motion from great distances is uncanny, yet he can walk right up to you sitting motionless and has no idea that you are close at hand, regardless of what you are wearing. And when it comes to hearing, he knows within six inches of the exact spot the yelp you just made came from. At that, it sure gives the hunter lots to be thinking about and ultimately leads him to understand the resounding words of Kelly that I will leave you with:



When it comes to turkeys and the hunting of them, “You are going to find that you have to work at it, and you are going to have to work at it over a long period of time.”


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Posted in: Turkey