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Spring behavior odd for turkeys and hunters

8/17/2005
I can't wait any longer. This news has to get out. Yes, I picked up a turkey call the other day and scratched out a few juicy hen yelps because I need the practice.

In the acorn-size mind of a male wild turkey, the mating game has begun. I know this because the hours of daylight are now noticeably longer (you've noticed, right?).

The other morning, despite snow on the ground and chilly temperatures, there was a definite hint of spring in the air. High in a tree, a male cardinal sang what cheer, cheer, cheer, which is his idea of a pickup line.

Meanwhile, out in the turkey woods, well … in this family Web site, I can't even say why a tom turkey is starting to gobble these days.

Suffice it to say, a tom turkey's gonads in the next few weeks will swell from the size of a pea to larger than a carpenter's hammered thumb. This condition does strange things to the male turkey.

Starting now, most of a tom turkey's days will be spent in a sex stupor, of sorts. For hours upon hours, he'll parade around — tail fanned, wings dragging, chest shuddering — to attract the attention of hen turkeys.

He'll do this with or without hens present. He'll even parade around in front of other male turkeys, which are, of course, parading for him, too. Strange behavior. Chalk it up to swollen testicles.

As for my own strange behavior — standing in the driveway blaring turkey purrs, putts and yelps loud enough to rattle the neighbor's windows — it cannot be explained.

Human body parts do not normally expand in the spring. However, I can't say that for sure about turkey hunters. We're different.

If you're a turkey hunter, you know you're odd, kinda. If you know a turkey hunter, you've witnessed the odd stuff.

Awhile back, the National Wild Turkey Federation wanted to know more about what makes turkey hunters tick, so they paid for a survey.

Some 1,410 turkey hunters from nine states were asked questions about why they did what they did.

When queried about the addiction of turkey hunting, roughly 58 percent admitted they hadn't missed a season for five years running. (My own consecutive streak is 38 years, but I wasn't asked.)

According to the survey, the average turkey hunter spends 7.6 days in pursuit of a gobbler. And 36 percent of those surveyed said the amount of time they spend in a turkey woods is increasing. No surprise there. So what's the attraction?

You should know turkey hunting has all the innuendo of an X-rated activity. This is why:

During the spring mating season, the human hunter goes forth imitating calls of a lonely hen turkey who is interested, perhaps even willing, to participate in a little turkey hanky-panky on some pretty morning in a pleasant meadow with a nice view.

However, this is not why America has more turkey hunters today then ever before. Nearly one-half of the hunters surveyed said they simply sought the challenge of bagging a tom turkey. A much smaller percentage of hunters said they were out for the meat.

To my surprise, roughly 6 percent of the hunters said they had absolutely no idea why they liked turkey hunting. It wasn't the challenge. It wasn't the meat. It wasn't the companionship with other hunters.

Those six percent simply didn't have a clue about why they were drawn into the woods long before dawn, stumbling into thorny things and hearing weird snorts and scary hoots. After years of turkey hunting, I now know what group I'm in.


Ron Schara may be reached at ron@mnbound.com.

Schara's 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling 888-755-3155.

January through March, Ron Schara's short feature "The Outdoor Beat" airs at 7:55 a.m. ET Sundays on ESPN2. Click here to view this week's show descriptions.