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It's only a bird

It's only a bird.

Those who have never hunted one, truly engaged in a battle with a wiley gobbler, will never understand the obsession. But for those of us who have tried, and been defeated more times than we have found success, a turkey will never be considered “only a bird.”

Admittedly, I'm a relative newcomer to the turkey chase. I can remember meeting Terry Smith a year ago at an outdoor show in Moncton, NB as he was there representing his excellent Newfoundland hunting lodge. Here stood a man who was representing a large portion of his livelihood, promoting and attracting people to come and hunt with him in Newfoundland, and yet you could tell where his real passion was. He had the sickness... the turkey obsession.

“I would rather hunt turkeys than hunt moose,” Terry would tell me. Having never hunted turkeys before, I couldn't possibly grasp how that could possibly be true. How could anyone say they would rather chase a 20 pound bird, than to chase an impressive beast often weighing more than 1000 pounds?!?

Try it... and you will be hooked!

The familiar refrain from those who have never hunted a turkey, is that it's only a bird. But is it really? Our outlook is coloured partially by our experiences with domestic turkeys, and partially by hunting experiences with other birds, and perhaps partially by seeing the turkeys out feeding in fields and on lawns and expecting that it should be easy to shoot one.

Jim Wescott, one of the founding members of “Tenth Legion Guide Service” in Southern Maine, and a major influence on the restoration of wild turkeys to Maine, asked me a simple question last fall on my first turkey hunt. “Do you want to hunt turkeys, or do you want to shoot them?”

I didn't realize when he spoke those words that there was even a difference! “Many people,” he explained, “shoot turkeys. But to really appreciate them, you have to hunt them. They deserve more than just to shoot them.”

He explained that because of the allure of the birds and the accomplishment of bringing one home, many people will do whatever it takes to bag one. There are birds shot off lawns and at distances too far to be ethical or even illegally, just so they can brag about their hunt. The temptation is enormous to do so. The taste of a wild turkey makes the domestic bird seem tasteless. And after all, for those of us that are not residents of areas with turkey hunting opportunities, it is an enormous commitment and often a short hunting time. Nobody wants to come home after spending money and time and effort at “bagging a bird” empty handed. The first question everyone wants to ask you is “did you get one?” And in an area where turkeys are just now being established, none of them will truly understand the difficulty of hunting one. It's only a bird.

But it is so much more. To hunt a wild turkey means accepting that you will be beaten far more times than you will have victory. If you set up and really want to hunt one, you need to let go of your pride. Spring turkey hunting means locating a bird, walking into the woods silently in the dark at ungodly hours, attempting to catch his attention before he flies down, and hoping to convince him to come to investigate your calling before he gets hooked up with a hen and you lose all chance. When you get one to gobble (as you often can) you will be amazed with their candour. When you get a glimpse at one in the light, their irredescent feathers shining in brilliance to entrapping that President Benjamin Franklin tried to have them chosen as the national bird of the United States you will be hooked. And should you have one actually come within range, their neck a bright red, their feathers puffed out and their tails fanned, there will be no escaping their allure. Then, you will understand.

In the spring, the attention of gobblers turns to love, and a love struck tom may be beaten. Their uncanny eyesight (reportedly 10x as sharp as a human and nearly 360 degrees) may be blurred with rose-coloured glasses just long enough to get a chance. That amazing hearing (reportedly 5x as good as humans) can be used against them to draw a lonely gobbler in to your calls if you are worthy. If you can sit still and locate a bird, you will get some action. These advantages merely lower the bird enough to be huntable; without them you would be hopeless. The majority of the time, you are still likely to lose. For every bird you see, there could be a dozen more that you don't, as you weren't able to convince to come the last little bit.

Turkeys, it seems, have the uncanny ability to read your mind. If you set up sitting in one direction, they will come in on the opposite side. If you have a comfortable range of 40 yards, they'll come in and stop and gobble and strut just outside that range. An angry hen, coming in to challenge the “hen” that is challenging her range, will come in and bust you just before the tom gives you a shot. And too many times they'll somehow find that one tree or rock or branches obscuring your shot and stay behind that. They will defeat you so many times that you may ascribe God-like qualities to them.

When you are able to get a turkey or multiples coming to your area, it sometimes will feel like the entire woods are alive with them. At other times the silence is deafening and maddening. When you've almost given up on having one come in, you'll stand up and the bird that silently came in outside your view will run off.

I've gone to hunt turkeys in Maine twice now. Once last fall, and again this spring and I can honestly say I am hooked. Terry Smith was right! I have hunted them, and I have had all of those above experiences, missing only the “bang.” And so I will continue practicing my calling and reading everything I can get my hands on and studying and watching videos and obsessing about turkeys until that next opportunity to hunt one again.

It's only a bird.

2014-12-04 11:02:26


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