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Talking turkey humor

7/10/2003
Rio Grande turkey 

SAN PATRICIO COUNTY, Texas — Humor, as much as wildflowers,
colors many spring turkey hunts in South Texas.

But this dubious comedy isn't always apparent to or appreciated
by hunters until long after the chase has ended and we've left the
field.

I've experienced my share of senseless stakeouts and fidgety
follies, which left my shotgun barrel cool and my humility intact.

Blame squarely has fallen on my own incompetence and/or impatience
to properly pursue the elusive tom. As a result, I rarely get to
enjoy a wild turkey feast or the thrill of bagging the American
eagle of game birds.

But this season would be different. Because beside me in the
brambles would be world-famous game caller Johnny Stewart. Not the
actual Mr. Stewart — he's no longer with us — but the electronic
equivalent of his exquisite chords.

I'm talking about the Prey Master digital caller, the great
gobbler equalizer, with digitally mastered turkey sounds, 60 feet
of speaker cord, weather-resistant speaker attached to a handheld,
lightweight and rugged keypad. That's right. Instead of practicing
my turkey-talking technique in the offseason, I discovered years
of electric-powered experience in a shrink-wrapped plastic package,
batteries not included.

And then I set out to fool — rather than be fooled by — a tom.
This really is great sport when done properly and when the right
set of circumstances, including luck, falls into place.

One such circumstance generally required for a successful spring
turkey hunt would be the absence of an intense brush-rustling
breeze. Turkeys and turkey hunters hate wind. Turkeys are wary to
start with. They rely heavily on keen sight as an effective
defense.

At the same time, hunters rely on the vocal nature of Rio Grande
turkeys during mating season. Too much wind and this advantage is
lost. The object of this springtime game is to lure gobblers into
shotgun range by mimicking the sounds of hens.

Encounters with reluctant toms might require a combination of
gobbler and hen sounds, to fool the wary bird into thinking he
might steal the affections of a willing hen from a rival. This is
how it's supposed to work.

Have I mentioned the time five lovesick gobblers that were
coming my way flew in the opposite direction when I attempted to
slowly crush a mosquito against my cheek with my shoulder one still
morning?

The insect had gotten under my camouflaged facemask as I sat
atop a tripod blind, about 40 yards away. I figured the gobblers
were preoccupied with breakfast and the possibility of mating. They
appeared nonchalant, pecking insects and seeds from the grass as
they approached.

What I failed to realize is that five birds equal 10 peepers.
And it only takes one turkey eye to detect a blink at 100 yards, as
lore has it.

Detecting motion against relative stillness is a turkey's
premier advantage. So rather than risking danger, turkeys tend to
restrict their movement on windy days. The noise associated with
wind also muffles most turkey-calling devices, including the Prey
Master at peak volume.

So this season's first attempt at luring in a gobbler with my
newfound gadget came up empty. I welcomed another chance.

Then I met David Edwards III. His family's ranch is crawling
with turkeys. I hear this a lot. But Edwards backed his confidence
with an offer to let me test the caller. He even offered the
services of longtime guide, Chris Boscamp, who also manages the
healthy populations of deer, quail, dove, hogs, javelina, turkey
and even alligator for this San Patricio County operation, Encino
Outdoor Services.

Boscamp had prepared well for a turkey hunt by scouting the
whereabouts of roosting locations and then setting up several
makeshift blinds near the most likely paths of birds.

We arrived at the ranch well before sunrise and hiked by
flashlight to a tree surrounded by brush within 200 yards of a
river, where I could see the jagged silhouette of tall oaks and
pecans against an overcast night sky.

A sleepy gobble from the trees told me that Boscamp's hunch was
more than a hunch. He set out a couple of hen decoys and a jake
decoy about 30 to 40 feet from our position, while I unraveled cord
and wedged the cone speaker into branches overhead. We settled into
our folding camo chairs — yes, chairs — and waited for the sun.

Gobbles from near and far pierced the dawn after each crow caw
and owl hoot. We did not hear the near birds fly from their roost.
This was odd, considering the morning's hush. But something told us
they were down and disbursed.

Boscamp started talking turkey, first with quiet hen yelps,
clucks and purrs, careful not to over do it with the electronic
caller. Each sound elicited at least one gobble, usually more. Soon
we had singled out one from the flock.

This gobble grew closer and more responsive to our calls. I
expected to spot the interested tom near the decoys soon. Then,
following a prolonged silence, a gobble came from our extreme left
and somewhat behind us. Was this a second bird? Or had the original
gobbler circled around.

It was the latter. Boscamp later told me the curious bird had
come to within 20 yards of our position, but it was obscured by
brush. A clear shot would have been impossible. Disappointment grew
as our first opportunity faded down river.

Boscamp continued to call, this time with a little more
enthusiasm, punching out more excited yelps and raising the volume
to broaden his range.

This drew interest from a couple of gobblers. And one clearly
was headed our way. Boscamp had never used the device before this
day. But soon he was playing it with dexterity and confidence.
Boscamp agreed this caller is idiot-proof. And in the hands of a
hunter with some experience, it's a simple and effective tool that
could boost confidence.

Had our hunt been earlier in the season, I believe we would have
drawn more gobblers into range. The second one came more quickly
toward us, but this time I confess that it might have busted me for
moving. I had shifted slightly in my seat, only to watch golden
tail feathers bob past us, through the wildflowers.

Both birds had escaped to the same portion of the ranch. And we
could hear other toms in this vicinity. Funny, we never heard a hen
that morning. Must be a late-season thing.

Boscamp suggested we go for a hike.

Carrying the caller in a small camo bag slung over my shoulder,
we stopped periodically to locate birds with digital yelps. Near
the crest of a deep draw that ran perpendicular to the river, we
heard gobbles that appeared to be distant. But an astute Boscamp
suspected the gobbles could have come from the bottom of the gully.

So we crept to the edge of the wide depression, only to startle
three mature gobblers that were closer than expected. We retreated
quickly and tried to calm them with soothing hen clucks and purrs.

"I don't think they're sure what they saw," Boscamp whispered
as he peered over the cliff. "Otherwise they'd be running scared.
And they're not."

Boscamp had a plan. He expected the birds to follow the draw to
a steep riverbank and then meander along a path that parallels the
river.

We could beat them there, he said. And so we hurried and hoped.

At the riverbank, Boscamp hastily set up two decoys at the foot
of a small berm. We climbed the hill and laid on our stomachs for
the ambush. About 10 minutes passed. This was a long shot, I
thought until the first red and blue head bobbed into view on the
path below.

This bird was beyond cautious, causing Boscamp to question the
wisdom of setting out decoys. The gobbler's attention was fixed on
the fake birds and didn't seem to mind us. Slowly, the lead gobbler
stepped into full view, with the second bird a yard behind.

Apparently, the OK had been given. All three birds started up
the path toward us. The surliest tom arrived first at the decoys
and greeted the fake jake with a violent peck to its head. The
others crowded the deek like bullies at a playground. This was
enough. Boscamp shot.

I expected the blast to frighten off the birds. But instead, one
of two left standing leapt off the ground, spread its wings and
attacked its elder with talons and spurs slashing. Apparently this
agitated tom believed the downed bird was covering a hen, if you
know what I mean.

I stood for a better look. The frenzy continued for several
seconds before the birds disbanded and began to retreat.

What would you have done?

That's what I did.

Distributed by The Associated Press