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Turkey Hunting - 10/12/2012

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"So let me get this right, we got up at 4 in the morning, came out here in the frosty freezing cold, listened to these birds fly down all around us, now we have them in sight and you want me to run in there and scatter them?"

"Sounds crazy huh?"

"Sounds like you want to screw up a good day of hunting!"

For all the years I’ve hunted turkey, it never made much sense to me either. Spring is mating season for Wild Turkey, and hunting them then is a real challenge. But by autumn, their behavior has changed. They are no longer enticed by the purr of a hen and males seek the company of the flock rather than going it alone to find a date. This makes it very difficult to get them to come in one at a time by calling. So, tactics have to shift too and, brother, if you thought hunting them in the spring was tough, just try it when the leaves start to fall!

The expert tactic is to find a flock, bust it up and call them back in one at a time. This sounds stupid, but here goes! I hand my gun to my partner and like a lunatic, I break perfect cover and go running, yelling, flapping my "wings" across the field while the flock scurries away a hundred yards in front of me. I stop mid field, shrug my shoulders and head back. Mission accomplished, I have scared off all the birds we worked so hard to find. That was like piling a good car in order to make it go faster.

I sat back down, reclaimed my gun, and we began to "call them back". Only they didn’t come right back. An hour passes with only the occasional bird yelping back to our calls, out of sight. Nuts.

At the edge of the hardwoods I can hardly believe my eyes as six turkeys suddenly step out of the weeds looking every which way, but coming towards us as one. Like a mob they show up ready to rumble, and I mean running. They cross 75-80 yards of open field at a clip and then they all stop in unison, regarding my decoy that is looking glibly back at them like the hunk of foam rubber that he is.

I’ve never had a great mathematical mind, but the abstract ratios are just flying in my head at this point. Do I shoot the long beard for bragging rights or the big one for the table? Actually, the one at the far right provides the clearest shot as the rest of them are all bunched together. But if they spread out just a little, the second one from the left is the closest. I need to be clear of the others, but I need a solid shot too. It’s a little like doing the halfback option play; you are constantly weighing your choices but the crunch is on and you’re making it up as you go. The bead of my shotgun bobs from one head to another. This one, no! That one! I settle in my resolve on one bird at the left all by himself. I check the distance, he’s close enough. There are no birds behind him, he’s clear. My sight picture is good, my barrel is level, and he’s our boy. I push the safety forward as slowly I begin to increase pressure on the trigger…when his big brother steps in from the side.

Did you ever hear yourself talk without thinking what to say? That’s how fast the decisions happen when you’re turkey hunting. I never actually put words into my mind on the big brother, I just lined him up, sensed that he was clear, and pulled the trigger. Down he went and again the other birds scattered for the safety of the woods, leaving the cloud of feathers and big brother’s defeat alone on the field.

Several weeks later I’m sitting at the table at my sister’s home in Columbus. Relatives and loved ones gather 'round while the wonderful smell of roast turkey and garlic potatoes wafts above the cheery room. As each dish comes to the table, the uncles hover over asking "What’s that one?" Green bean casserole, stuffed mushrooms, sweet potato pie and such delight all. But you could hear a pin drop when my sister announces, "That’s the OTHER turkey, the one Byron brought!"

And indeed, it was the "other" turkey!

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