Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Of all the wild game the outdoors has to offer, no species is more predictably unpredictable than the elusive wild turkey. To pursue the bird is to engage in a never ending cycle of extreme highs and extreme lows.
Yesterday, the turkeys had it going their way. I didn’t hear many birds at daybreak, but was finally able to strike up a mid-morning conversation with a pair of seemingly aggressive gobblers. The timber was thick and by the time I spotted the advancing birds they had already approached to around 40 yards. The loud mouthed toms were closing fast and I never had a clear shot until the birds were standing by my decoy at a distance of 3 or 4 feet. That’s right; standing at a distance of just 3 or 4 feet.
Hurriedly drawing the bow, I loosed an arrow. The turkeys jumped, ran off about 30 feet, and resumed gobbling. Although the racket continued for another five minutes, the birds refused to move closer and vegetation prevented a second clean shot. The gobblers had come in so loud and so fast that I guess I just plain panicked. I had rushed the shot, sending the arrow completely over the top of a giant bird standing at one yard.
That was an example of the humbling side of turkey hunting. Today was much better. After hearing a single gobble, I called to the bird and he answered from what I guessed to be around 200 yards. I waited a bit, called again, and the gobbler immediately responded. Better yet; he had already cut the distance by half.
I waited, called again, and the tom’s roaring response nearly blew my hat off. A few seconds later I spotted him, charging through the gooseberry studded oaks on a beeline course for my position. At a distance of around 25 yards, he slowed the pace and began craning his neck in an effort to locate the hen he’d been communicating with. As the tom continued his advance, a sudden movement caught my eye. It was a second [and until now silent] gobbler, racing in from higher on the ridge, obviously anxious to join the festivities. Their paths merged and the turkeys arrived at my jake decoy a couple of seconds apart. As the lead bird passed, I could see that he sported an admirable set of sickle-shaped spurs. The moment was surreal. For the second time in two days, I had a pair of magnificent wild turkey gobblers – in full strut — standing at a distance of 3 or 4 feet. What an incredible sight!
I was carrying a handmade longbow crafted by Lake Mills Police Chief, Dave Thomas. Fashioned from a single stave of Iowa Osage orange, the bow has a 45 pound draw weight and throws a straight arrow — especially when you take time to aim at your target. Remembering yesterday’s botched opportunity, I reminded myself to stay calm; or at least as calm as anyone can be when twin gobblers are strutting so close that you can hear them breathe. Remember the famous movie line, “Aim small; miss small”? That’s what I tried to do. Doing my best to concentrate on a single feather, I drew the bow and released the arrow.
The closest gobbler jumped, took off running, flew into the air, and then fell back to earth — all in about the length of time that it took to read this sentence. As the second gobbler raced after the first, another pair of mature toms came running – as hard as they could go — to where the first turkey had crashed landed. Until that moment, I hadn’t known there were any more birds nearby. Seizing the opportunity for immediate social advancement, the agitated newcomers began to circle the fallen bird. The show quickly escalated as the toms began to strut and gobble themselves into an absolute frenzy. So much for turkey politics. Not much different than our own, I guess.
The convention eventually wound down. After all birds had cleared the vicinity, I rose to claim my prize. The gobbler weighed 23 pounds and had a good thick beard. But the spurs were what I loved most. Perfectly matched and needle sharp, each measured just on the edge of 1 3/8 inches.
Yesterday morning, I was in turkey hunting’s deepest valley. Today, I had been transported to the very summit of the highest peak. Regardless of how many seasons we’re allowed to spend in the turkey woods, each and every sunrise begins a brand new game.