Humans very rarely trick wild animals into believing something is real when it is not. This is true even of hunters, the more experienced of whom concede the odds are stacked against them, no matter the quarry.
I was thinking of this Monday morning. I had arrived home from fishing Sunday evening, and now, at 5 a.m. Monday, was in a pop-up blind listening to toms gobble while perched in trees somewhere in the middle distance, among a stand of tall red pines.
Gobble, gobble, gobble. Gobble, gobble, gobble.
To which in return I offered a series of soft yelps, or hen turkey calls, laying down my initial attempts at tomfoolery.
The sun was not yet above the horizon, but the early morning’s clear sky was gaining in gradations a diffused glow that foretold its imminent arrival.
I had given up hunting these birds with a gun a long time ago, preferring instead a bow and arrow. This method ratchets up the hunt’s challenge. Which is part of it. But for me my firepower choice is more a recognition that archery, whatever the quarry, is a satisfying exercise unto itself.
So, too, usually, for my two sons.
A decade or more back, in fact, my then early teenage son, Trevor, and I were hunting on this same property with bows when a pair of toms strutted toward our blind, enamored by our decoys and perhaps even our calling.
Our plan, made in whispers, was for us to draw back at the same time, and loose our arrows in synchrony, dropping both birds. Which, however fantastically ambitious, might have worked had not the toms, strutting and pirouetting, swapped positions at the last moment, allowing only me a shot, and I took a nice gobbler.
Now by coincidence Trevor was home from Montana for a long weekend and was with me in the blind Monday morning. A friend of his, Dominic Schneider, had combined his bachelor party with the fishing opener, and Trevor, with a morning to spare before heading back west, was alongside me, ostensibly to observe my handiwork, but more likely, however unsaid, to see whether the old man still had it.
Gobble, gobble, gobble. Gobble, gobble, gobble.
Regularly, outdoor TV shows and magazines extoll the miracle appearances of big toms in front of blinds only moments after the birds descend from their nightly roosts. But in truth in turkey hunting very little of what is planned actually occurs on schedule.
So when my yelps gained no immediate return gobbles, I accepted the non-replies as routine. Also we knew, Trevor and I, as anyone familiar with wild turkeys knows, that silence does not necessarily mean toms within earshot are heading for the hills. They could instead be quietly coming to a hunter’s call.
It was, then, not a total surprise when a gobbler, ghostlike, crested a grassy knoll that rose 60 yards from our blind. Having been tricked, it appeared, by my calling, the bird waddled in full strut in a relative beeline for the two seductress mannequins that stood 15 yards from our blind.
On my knees, with an arrow nocked, I was, I admit — actually, this is the outing’s point — mainlining adrenaline.
The tricked tom, meanwhile, at 30 yards out seemed entirely unaware he was being set up, and unaware also that behind him by about 20 yards, showing itself atop the same grassy knoll, was another gobbler, this one bigger, with a ground-dragging beard
Tempting, yes, to wait for the bigger tom. But my plan was arrow the first gobbler, the bird in the hand being the surer thing.
Moments passed, and at 20 yards out, and then at 15, when he was alongside the decoys, the smaller tom, hopelessly lovestruck, should have slowed his pace and adjusted his course.
Instead, he blew by the decoys and, mysteriously, advanced toward the blind, still strutting, the decoys now in his wake.
As if being pulled on a string, the bigger bird was closing fast, and I suspected that, should the two toms’ presumed rivalry be allowed to play out, they would dual for the decoys’ attention, or, alternatively, the smaller bird would cede its inferior status, and scram.
To be successful, turkey-hunting archers need a chance to draw back their bowstrings unseen. Such opportunities usually present themselves when tricked toms are near or alongside the decoys of their affection, where they pirouette and strut their stuff in full color.
Prepared for such an opening, I calculated the sight adjustment I would apply while targeting the nearer bird.
But the tom never hammed it up for the decoys, and instead closed ever closer to the blind, 10 yards out, then 9, 8, 7 and 6, its eyes fixed, eagle-like, on us.
Having few good choices, I drew back my bowstring as quickly and quietly as possible.
On another day, the first tom would have stood like a statue at 15 yards out, a chip shot.
Or the bigger tom would have taken center stage and made itself an easy target.
On this day, as I drew back, the smaller tom made me out for the threat I was, folded its feathers and ran. So, too, his bigger buddy.