Turkey hunting season is just a few days away, and even though it appears Mother Nature is struggling over what season it is, I am going this year no matter what the weather is like.
For no particular reason -- other than having way too many other outdoor pursuits -- I really haven't done much turkey hunting in the past two or three years. But that wasn't always the case -- for nearly two decades I got up at 4 every morning to go turkey hunting every single day of the season. Nothing would stop me from chasing these big ole birds, especially not the cold. To illustrate just how addicted I was to this particular pursuit, even the rain rarely stopped me. It is the ultimate game of man vs. beast (or fowl in this case), where every sense comes into play, and anything can and usually will happen.
If you are not a hunter or have never turkey hunted, you probably regard this as an absolute mismatch. How difficult can it be pitting the superior human mind to the pea brain of a wild turkey? I might be able to answer that best by saying that turkey hunting is like a game of chess. It is a game of moves, and all it takes is one wrong one to end the game. Let me give you a classic example of just such a chess match that happened to me a few years back.
In the area that is now Sun City Hilton Head, there was a hunting club called Bill John. It was absolutely loaded with wild turkeys. Back then, there were only a handful of turkey hunters, and the few of us who hunted there pretty much had our own areas so you didn't have to worry about running into other hunters. Every morning before work I was out there, and I got to know that huge space like the back of my hand. I knew where the birds usually roosted, the areas where they fed, and I even got to know some of the gobblers just by the tone of their gobbles.
The woods were pristine with sloping hardwood ridges, edged by low-lying cypress swamps. On one particular morning that I can still remember like it was yesterday, I had eased through the pitch-black woods just before sunrise and set up in a small opening that faced the swamp so I could watch, or hear, the turkeys as they hit the ground at first light. Just when it was light enough to make out what was what, I heard a gobbler gobble, followed by a second one, then a third. If that wasn't enough to get my heart pounding, I could also hear a whole lot of clucking going on as a large group of hens began flying to the ground for what I will delicately call "an early morning love fest."
Putting on my best hen face, I began a series of soft, sexy clucks and whines on my box call -- and every darn gobbler in the woods answered. I knew it was just a question of time before I saw them, and then, almost like magic, there they were. Standing 50 or so yards in front of me were six gobblers and a whole bunch of hens. One particular gobbler was a true monster and, with hands shaking, I hit my box call the best I could but they simply stood there, just out of gun range. All six gobbled in unison, every time I called. This went on for maybe 10 minutes before they ambled off.
This same scenario replayed itself over and over again every morning for a solid week. I would move here, they would move there. I tried everything, but they wouldn't commit to the best flirting calls I could muster. Just like a man, huh, ladies? Anyway, I finally decided I would try a whole new move and go after them in the afternoon. Maybe that way I could trick that big gobbler, his buddies and their harem as they headed back to roost. So I took off from work early and headed into the woods around 3-ish, which is way too early, but I wanted to make sure I was in place when and if they came by.
Taking great pains to quietly ease into the area I knew they would be coming through, I found an open space with lots of signs that turkeys had been scratching in the leaves. I sat down at the base of a big oak tree and waited. It was a warm spring afternoon, and I began to nod off -- you know that head-snapping thing that usually gives in to a deep slumber? I can't tell you how long I was asleep but when I woke up, it was with a panicked start. All I could hear was what sounded like a crowd of people walking through the woods behind me. But it wasn't people, it was turkeys, and it was all of them.
Immediately, I knew I was facing the wrong direction, so all I could do was listen as the sound got louder and louder and louder. With my head turned to the right and my gun to the left, there was nothing I could do except pray. If I moved at all, it was game over.
With my eyeballs reaching as far to the right as they could go before they popped out of the back of my head, I saw bobbing white heads that I knew had to be gobblers. One, two, three, four ... they just kept on coming. The gobblers, including the boss gobbler, were to my right, and hens were all around me. They were so close, some hens even tossing leaves on my legs as they scratched the ground looking for bugs and stuff. My heart was about to bust out of my chest -- just a few more steps, and that big one was mine. My eyes got all blurry, the sound of my heart pounding in my ears as I counted down. Almost there, almost there and then it happened.
A hen came within two inches of my left ear and let out an ear-splitting CLUCK!,
I was busted.
With turkeys running this way, and others flying that-a-way, I swung my gun and fired. Not once, mind you, but four times. I don't think I touched a single feather. Even then, I still had turkeys running everywhere -- one hen even ran between my legs. Standing there shaking like a leaf, out of bullets and not believing I had blown such a perfect setup, I looked up. Sitting there on the limb, not 10 yards over my head, was the big gobbler.
All I could do was smile.
God does not subtract from the allotted span of a man's life the hours spent in fishing. Columnist Collins Doughtie, a graphic designer by trade and fishing guide by choice, sure hopes that's true.