The waning moon hangs in the haze just above the treetops, and a thin band of gray creeps above the eastern horizon. A robin has already begun its merry “chir-up, chur-eep, cher-ip” carols and warbles – even though sunup is still an hour away.
It seemed pitch black when the alarm clock jolted you awake at 5 a.m. – but now you’re surprised at how well you can see, as you walk along the trail toward the woods.
“Gobble-gobble-obble-obble!” You grin and stop to listen – both to the distant turkey and your pounding heart – as an old tom greets the coming dawn from his roost in a tree along the creek bluff.
By the time you’re settled in your blind at the edge of a hilltop field, several more gobblers have joined the chorus – set off by the plaintive “yelp-yelp-yelp” from the nearby hens. You strain to translate the series of coarse, raspy screeps, cackles, purrs, and putts. Maybe it’s not melodious – but spring turkey talk is music to the ears of a hunter or naturalist.
Gradually, you realize that the turkeys must share the stage with a host of other avian performers. A lone towhee suggests a breakfast beverage: “Drink-your-tea!” The cardinal whistles urgently: “Cheer! Cheer! Cheer!” Periodically, a rooster pheasant stakes out his territory with a two-note squawk.
When the barred owl asks “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” the turkeys gobble defiantly in response. The “CAW” of a passing crow triggers another gobbling frenzy from the turkeys.
When the turkeys finally take a rest, you tune in to the quiet, “fee-bee” whistle of a chickadee, the trill of a field sparrow, the “twwrrr” of a red-bellied woodpecker, and the gentle chortling of the bluebird. Far up the river, a Canada goose and her gander trade good-morning honks.
The pink of the sunrise lights up the clouds on the western horizon, casting a glow over the awakening woods. A blue jay screams “jay, jay, jay” – apparently not the least self-conscious about sleeping so much later than many of the other cast members of the avian opera.
From the deep woods comes the raucous “kuk-kuk-kuk-kuk” of an unseen pileated woodpecker, followed by the bird’s loud, staccato drumming on a hollow tree. Big birds should be expected to make big sounds, you conclude.
But the pileated’s call jolts you back top the reality that you’re supposedly in the woods to hunt. So you scrape quietly on the cedar box call, doing your best to produces yelps that will sound even more seductive than the real hens’ pleas for attention.
Ha! How desperate would a tom have to be to fall for such an imposter’s pitiful attempts at turkey-talk?
A couple of gobblers eventually answer your pleading yelps – but soon realize they’re much better off courting the hens they can see. You listen in frustration as they all ignore you and wander off to another part of the woods. You wander off, too – to discover the first spring beauties, anemonellas, and bloodroots blooming on the south slopes.
What a delightful morning! The music plays on in your mind, and the images appear in your dreams.
But what does it take to actually fool a turkey, and to shoot a turkey? Well, persistence and patience – and maybe a little luck.
My son, Andy, and grandson Isaac, proved that point by going back into the woods before sunset, and calling to silent gobblers whose curiosity led to their downfall. As father and son were about to call it a day, a pair of toms finally strutted their stuff in front of the two camouflaged hunters. Isaac dropped one with a head shot from his 20-gauge.
Dad and son exchanged high fives, ear-to-ear grins, and the long trek back to the house lugging a 22-pound trophy. And the proud but turkey-less Grandpa? He at least got to share the satisfaction of admiring, cleaning, and eating the harvest.