The other day, late Monday to be exact, I huddled in a turkey blind, mind wandering. The evening was pleasant, the sky clear, and I was continuing a spell, extending two days, in which I had heard no gobbles. Except for the bow and arrows I had with me, and the hillbilly camouflage outfit I wore, pants and shirt ill-fitting, you wouldn’t know I was turkey hunting, the only giveaways being the license in my pocket and the tent-like lair in which I hid.
Bored, I scratched out a few yelps on my box call, briefly animating this with companion pleadings from a diaphragm call in my mouth. Conditioned by now to expect nothing in response, I was pleasantly surprised by the gobble, gobble, gobble that boomeranged back to me from not far away.
Maybe, I thought, I’m not wasting my time.
So I called again, knowing, as I did, that considerable dispute exists among better turkey hunters than I about the appropriateness of such a counteroffensive. To call or not to call, that is the question. Or maybe not: Turkeys and their pursuit are often wildly overthunk, I think, by the sport’s big shots, as well as its little shots, and in quest of these birds sometimes it’s best to do whatever the person holding the firepower pleases. So I talked back to the tom, issuing a series of “lost” yelps. And he gobbled again.
Then for 10 minutes the woods fell quiet.
After which, through an opening in my tent-like blind, I saw a fancy bird strutting in my direction, all fanned out and pirouetting, drawn, it seemed, to the fetching appearance of the two fake hens I had staked into the ground about 20 yards distant. This big fella was dressed for success, its head alternately a lovesick red, white and blue and its tail feathers a half-circle of bold conceit. In quiet submission, two other toms trailed behind, also in full strut, toward my decoys, along with a jake, or young male bird, and a hen.
On its present trajectory, the lead bird would present a chip shot, I figured, of about 18 yards, maybe less.
Nocking an arrow, I watched as the tom disappeared behind a tree. As he did, I went to full draw, prepared to loose an arrow the moment he appeared from the tree’s other side. Time slowed, then froze. The tom never appeared. Instead, he diverted along a slight declination away from my decoys, shielding himself as he did from any danger I and my two-bit archery kit presented.
Tom Kelly, the great Mississippi turkey writer and author of “Tenth Legion,” among other classics, once said that wild turkeys “possess a remarkable ability to turn arrogance into hopelessness.” Tell me about it. And I felt no better when a jake appeared in my decoys moments later from an opposite direction, standing there a long while waiting to be shot — an invitation I passed up.
Time for a second try
The next morning came early.
Shooting time was about 5:30 and by then I was again in my little hovel. The temperature was in the high 30s and I stretched my arms and back with the rubber exercise band I carry in my bow case. This makes drawing back a bowstring in the morning’s first light that much easier, and having achieved this relative comfort, I settled in, offering to the wakening woods, as it struck my fancy, a succession of come-hither yelps.
Now again, remarkably, I was soon into birds. Dawn had come and gone, and not long thereafter a gobbling tom appeared, this one also with two other toms and a hen, the entire bunch bearing down on my position enthusiastically.
Nocking an arrow, I was about to draw back when the bunch of them, in unison, issued warning calls, putt, putt, putt, putt, and ran toward me, lickety-split. Then they lifted into the air and lumbered directly over my blind, a feathery squadron of heavyweights dodging trees clumsily.
Even for whack-job turkeys, this was bizarre behavior.
Then again, maybe not.
Because immediately after the birds flew, along their pathway tiptoed a lone coyote, in hot pursuit of his quarry.
The story would end there, except that the next day, Wednesday, a friend’s shotgun season began, and from the same blind, its position slightly altered, he greased a nice tom just after 6 a.m.
So goes turkey hunting.