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Turkeys aren't giving up

4/9/2009

When I first saw the brown blob perched in the tree, my mind instantly thought "turkey."

My body froze, and I waited for the bird to putt and pitch out of the tree, a sight and sound that is particularly heartbreaking when the season has been tough.

But nothing happened.

I quickly rationalized there was a 50-50 chance the turkey had not seen me, so I attempted to get out of sight.

It was 6:25 a.m., and I was walking slowly beside a pine plantation toward a food plot where two gobblers had been sounding off during the past week. The plan was to get close and either try to work a bird or wait one out near the food plot.

But the unmoving brown blob perched in the leafless oak tree changed all that. It was not the type of thing you plan for, especially when you have nowhere to go but down.

Hiding a 200-pound frame in open ground isn't easy. It's like trying to hide a bull in a china cabinet. You do the best you can with what you have, but invariably something gets broken or messed on.

In this case, the only hiding spot was a briar patch. It wasn't comfortable, but it was functional.

I sat there, waiting and wondering about the brown blob. Would it greet the day with a tom's gobble or a hen's tree yelp? If it was a tom, how much should I call, if at all? Maybe it did see me. Maybe it wasn't a turkey at all.

Ten minutes of waiting, and not so much as a peep from the brown blob on the other side of the briar patch. I started wondering if I might be waiting for a squirrel nest to make sounds that resembled a turkey. In the first minutes of a morning turkey hunt, time is precious. I reasoned that waiting for a squirrel nest to wake up is not the ideal way to spend time.

To back up the point, I reasoned that if it were a turkey it would have either flown down, gobbled or yelped.

Still not convinced, I slowly peeked over the briar patch. The brown blob had not moved an inch. At the very least, if it was alive, it would have moved, I thought.

Deciding it was a squirrel nest, I stood and was reassured when the nest didn't move. A step later, and the nest putted and pitched out of the tree, its beard evident as it soared out of sight. Another step, and a second putt and the bearded squirrel nest pitched out of another tree.

It was the perfect example of how turkey season can become frustrating.

Especially when turkeys still have not gotten in the full swing of the spring breeding cycle. Most gobblers are ready to breed, but hens don't seem to be in the right frame of mind. So the gobblers are staying with them all day, waiting for a good time that has yet to come.

They go on the roost together, because many hens are not hitting the nest during the day. By the next morning, the tom turkeys don't have to gobble much since they are spending the night in the same trees with the hens.

It pretty much leaves the hunter in a fix, and it has produced a lot of trying times for those of us who have chased them almost every day.

The first for me was on a full-grown gobbler that weighed 24 pounds, if it weighed an ounce. He sported at least a 12-inch beard.

For nine hours, six on one day and three the next, I had stayed with this gobbler and its harem of 30 hens. It wouldn't come to the call.

Why should he? I'm sure there is a saying in turkey lingo that 30 babes in hand is better than one noisy chick in the bush.

So for nine hours, I patiently worked around and sneaked through the bushes trying to get within range of the bird. Once I was within 20 steps of him and not able to get a shot.

By the ninth hour, he was strutting 35 steps away and I missed.

Since then, I have thought many times that another hour more or less wouldn't have mattered if I could have gotten a better shot. The same has been true with the squirrel nests.

Unfortunately, turkey season is, and probably always will be, an inexact science. Every day is a learning experience where you are confronted with a situation that probably never will repeat itself, but it tests you on how well you will perform under that particular situation. You don't get second chances, so you better do things right the first time.

But something needs to happen quick. We are running out first chances.