Turkeys, gobblers, long beards, Ole' Tom, or Thunder Chicken it doesn't matter what you call them, the annual search for the male Eastern Wild turkey begins in earnest on April 15 this year and runs through May 11. This annual event coincides with the natural breeding season for these big birds and can make for some exciting times in the mountains.
This along with the brilliant colors the males exhibit when showing off their ritualistic mating dance is likely why they have a staunch following of die-hard hunters that look forward to "Gobbler" season all year. Adding fuel to the flame is the fact that the most effective way to hunt the overstuffed bird is not by hiding out of sight and waiting for him to wander by, but to make noise and try to call him to your position.
It is very much like playing hide and seek, except once you hide, you yell out the name of whoever is it and hope they don't see you. I will admit that there is nothing like the feeling when you have that big bird gobbling and answering every sound you make.
There must be something special about that high adrenaline rush that draws hunters in and hooks them once they have a few seasons under their belt. Why else would you purposely tell your quarry where you are knowing that his eyesight is 10 times better than yours and will likely see you long before you see him?
It is a safe bet that that same rush is what has prompted the most afflicted hunters to even develop their own language of sorts. Have you ever overheard, or even participated in, a heated discussion or recount concerning spring turkey hunting? To the lay person they may very well need a Rosetta Stone to make any sense of it. It may go something like this
"That big bird flew down and was hollerin' as soon as he hit. I threw a cackle and clucked at him and Twall, Twall. He was hot. Worked that sucker for an hour and he was on a string. You should have seen the rope he was draggin'. I just needed 3 more steps and he hung on me. Thought he was done so I shut up and then I heard him drumming and struttin'. Felt like he was right on top of me. Finally, he broke the brush and I mushed his head and the flop was on! Had a 10-inch beard and 1-inch hooks and had to weigh 25 pounds."
Now, to a non-turkey hunter, a conversation like this could leave one scratching their head as to what exactly transpired. To the seasoned hunter it simply says that when the turkey flew from his roost to the ground, he was gobbling and looking for a mate. With a few calls from the hunter the turkey was coming toward the hunter but taking his time. The turkey had a long and thick beard which is a sign of being and older or dominant bird.
Just before the turkey got into range of the hunter he stopped for unknown reasons. Finally, the hunter heard the characteristic sound of "drumming" when the male turkey is in full display and showing off for prospective mates making a soft thumping sound. Once the turkey came into view the hunter successfully harvested the bird with a swift shot to the head killing it instantly and causing the muscles to twitch and the bird to flop around.
Regardless of the version that is easiest to understand, it is obvious it was an exciting hunt and a memory the hunter cherishes. Especially because not every hunt goes as planned and as exciting as each hunt is, it is just as humbling when Ole' Tom wins the day and leaves the hunter without so much as a glimpse.
That is all part of the game and it is why it is referred to as "hunting" and not "killing" season. Not every hunt is successful, and even the unsuccessful hunts can be exciting and sometimes the most memorable. It is the roller coaster of emotion and adrenaline that keeps hunters going back and spending hours in the woods and fields day after day, year after year, regardless of the season.
Turkey hunters are special, they try to call their prey in and have developed their own language in doing so. Come to think of it, almost every group passionate about their shared interest seems to take on a dialect of their own. The question that raises in my mind is does it mean hunters are bi-lingual?
Over the next 4 weeks be on the lookout for turkeys and turkey hunters who are out doing what they do. Good luck to all the hunters and I hope everyone gets a chance to get out and enjoy the Spring weather and beauty that is popping up everywhere.
Roger Wolfe is an avid outdoorsman and has spent most of his life hunting and fishing and writes a weekly outdoors column for HD Media. He is a resident of Chapmanville, and can be reached via email at email@example.com.