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Turkeys I Have Known — Including Myself

Even with brain size of a walnut, wild turkeys can humble hunters

By: W. H. “Chip” Gross

Take up the sport of wild turkey hunting, and you’ll soon be humbled by a bird with a brain the size of a walnut. A small walnut.

For instance, I was once attacked by a pair of adult gobblers. Well, not exactly, but my two hen turkey decoys were, and for a turkey hunter that’s close to the same thing. Maybe worse. Here’s how it happened.

The two gobblers in question liked to come into an open field to strut every day about mid-morning. I’d sat well hidden at the edge of that field for several days, from before first light until my backside just couldn’t take it anymore. That’s when I’d get up stiffly to stretch my legs and, of course, that’s when the two gobblers would show up, spot me, and run off, laughing.

After several days of this game of hide and seek, I eventually got smart—or so I thought. My plan was to get to the field well before first light and set out my two hen decoys, as usual, but then move about a quarter-mile away up into the woods surrounding the field and try and work a third gobbler down off the roost at first light.I’d heard him gobble on the roost the evening before, so thought this bird was a near slam dunk. And even if I didn’t get a shot at him, I could still beat feet back to the edge of the field and arrive there in plenty of time to greet the two toms that always arrived punctually at mid-morning.

In the dark, I slipped to within 75 yards of the roosted turkey, sat down and waited. At sunrise he gobbled loud and often, as if he knew it was his last morning on earth. Upon hearing my first soft hen calls, the turkey flew down, gobbled once, and disappeared. I never heard him or saw him again. I hadn’t felt so rejected since Junior High School when Sarah Suthers refused my invitation to go to the Friday night dance.

“You…?” she said, astonished, blinking those big, brown doe eyes in disgust. “You want me to go to the dance with you?"

Unfortunately, she said it loud enough for most everyone in the entire cafeteria to hear her response. Junior High is good preparation for the rejection you’ll experience while turkey hunting.

Shaking off the defeat from the roosted gobbler—I still haven’t gotten over Sarah Suthers, by the way—I high-tailed it for the field edge, certain I had plenty of time to get myself situated in the brush blind I’d built for the occasion. And to be extra cautious, just in case the two toms might already be close, I approached the field slowly and deliberately, confident of my plan.

But confidence can be a short-lived concept in turkey hunting. As I neared the brush blind, a single gobble rang out, followed by a quick second. The gobbles sounded so close together that it had to be the two gobblers, and it sounded like they were standing in the exact spot in the field where I had staked my two hen decoys.

Instinctively, I froze at the sound, then after a few anxious seconds tried to slowly slip off the trail I was following and disappear behind the nearest tree. The only problem was that the tree’s trunk was only half my body width. Sure enough, the two gobblers spotted me, laughed, and walked off, not offering even a hint of a shot.

Walking out to the edge of the field, I observed the damage. Both hen decoys had been knocked over by the gobblers, and one decoy even had a broken stake where one of the toms had no doubt tried to mount it.

I stared in disbelief. Had I just sat down at the edge of the field at first light and waited, I’d have had my choice that morning of two trophy toms. Instead, all I had was two muddied hen decoys, one of which now had a broken stake. Even though it was still early, only about an hour and a half after sunrise, I gathered my two girls and went home, disgusted.

“You’re home early…,” my wife said cheerily as I came through the door. "Did you get one this morning?” I’d been turkey hunting unsuccessfully every morning for two weeks at that point, and my expression must have conveyed my answer. “Oh,” she said. “Sorry...”

Another time when it became apparent that I should quit hunting for the day was when a pair of Canada geese landed in my turkey decoys. That’s right, geese, not turkeys. The pair of honkers was flying over, spotted my two hen decoys in a field, and for some unexplained reason decided to join them.

The pair banked and made a perfect landing not 20 yards in front of me. Had I been goose hunting I would have prided myself in arranging such an attractive decoy spread and no doubt would have enjoyed sautéed goose breast for supper that evening. As it was, I gathered up my turkey decoys and went home, again disgusted.

“Get one…?” my wife asked cheerily as I came through the door. “Oh, sorry…”

And then there was the time I walked into the woods at first light and unknowingly sat down beneath a whole flock of roosted wild turkeys, all hens. Seeing me, the birds never made a peep or moved a muscle. They just sat stone still, watching and listening to me some 50 feet below for over an hour.

No doubt, I was quite the morning’s entertainment for them. I went through my entire repertoire of various turkey calls using everything from slate calls, to diaphragm calls, to box calls. The birds probably rolled their eyes after every attempt and shook their heads. I finally gave up after hearing no responding gobble, got up from the base of the tree and walked the few yards to collect my decoys. That’s when the roosted turkeys could stifle their laughter no longer. I can almost hear the dominant hen of the flock saying, “Okay, girls, now!”

Turkeys exploded out of the top of that tree in all directions, surprising me so completely that all I could do was watch them fly away. And yes, they were all laughing.

“Get one…?” my wife asked cheerily as I came through the door later that morning.“Oh, sorry…”

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