I guess I have been on a roll lately talking about fishing. First it was shad, then it was wahoo, and it wasn't until yesterday that I realized I had totally neglected one of the finest spring outdoor pursuits there is.
I got a phone call from a buddy asking me if I wanted to do some hunting on property he had leased that was "et up" with turkeys. After saying yes, it took me all of 30 seconds to grab my turkey call and start practicing -- in the process, driving my two beagles absolutely nuts as they bayed their little hearts out at every swipe of my box call.
I started turkey hunting long before it became popular. To illustrate just how long ago that was, the area I hunted a lot is where Sun City Hilton Head is today. I was so addicted to turkey hunting, I hunted just about every day of the season and even then I couldn't get enough.
What makes it so appealing? Being out in the woods in spring. Wild dogwoods are blooming, white lilies dot swamp bottoms, and the new leaves of spring are as green as green can be. It truly is a magical time. Harvesting a big gobbler is all right, but what leads up to that moment is the real icing on the cake.
I've never been a deer hunter, nor have I had any real interest in big game hunting. But bird hunting is a whole different story. Doves, quail, ducks, geese and turkeys -- if it has feathers I'm all over it. But I regard turkey hunting as the most challenging hunting there is. Unlike dove or quail hunting -- which are as much a social event as they are a hunting event -- turkey hunting is a one-on-one encounter between you and the turkey, in which the slightest little mistake means game over.
A turkey's uncanny eyesight can detect something as minute as your little finger moving a fraction of an inch -- at which point the bird seems to disappear into the landscape. What really amazes me about these creatures is just how something so big can suddenly be 10 feet away from you and you never even see him coming.
In a typical hunt, you can't use a flashlight. Stumbling around in the woods -- or, better yet, a swamp -- at 5 in the morning is, well, a bit spooky. I have startled deer, wild pigs and even a beaver or two while walking in pitch-black woods -- and believe me when I say this: the boogieman is alive and well. Wild turkeys roost in trees, so you need to get to the area you plan to hunt before daybreak. In the dark, they don't know what is walking through the woods. For all they know, you could be a deer.
Camouflaged from head to toe, I try and find an opening with a large hardwood tree that I can comfortably lean against while seated. As dawn breaks, I call lightly with the seductive sounds of a hen turkey. If a gobbler answers with a booming gobble, you know he knows exactly where you are. That's when the game begins, and this is one game where there are no guarantees.
Amazingly, even if you hear a gobble that sounds way off, chances are that gobbler is not far away at all. Trees muffle the sound so if you can hear him, he can hear you. Every gobbler acts differently. Some come right on in and others will stop gobbling and circle around behind you, the worst place they can be. When they stop responding to my calls, I often start scratching in the leaves like a hen looking for food. I have fooled many a wary gobbler with this tactic.
If you are lucky enough to get one, his drumming is usually the first thing you hear before he steps into view. You can actually feel the sound hitting your chest. Akin to the feeling you get when there's a sonic boom, yet subtler. Almost like magic, in a flash he's there right in front of you all puffed up, his fan wide open and wings dragging the ground. Whether you pull the trigger or not, it is one of nature's grandest shows.
I'll let you know how it goes, but for right now I got to get my hounds to quit all that darn baying!
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic desigher by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.