Patience As a Virtue For Turkey Hunters
I’m sitting on a tree line overlooking a large pasture. There are woods on every side, and if something steps out, I’m going to see it. It’s afternoon and nothing much stirs. I like turkey hunting late in the day. I like it in the morning too, when incessant gobbling on the roost brings my blood to a boil. But the afternoon is peaceful. Not too much calling. Toms have collected a gaggle of hens and are strutting and breeding contentedly or are just silent for whatever reason they choose.
Some of the best naps of my life have occurred on afternoon turkey hunts. And I’m not even a napper. But when the sun shines warmly down upon me and I have about four or five early mornings under my belt and I’m sitting in a spot that looks like it’d be comfortable if I were to lay down for just a minute, then a quick snooze is not out of the question.
As I lay back, my head resting upon the seat of my vest, I hear a gobble. It’s to my right, and likely in a field we call Tommy’s Shooting House, about 400 yards away. Years ago, an old farmer, who used to help us out, shot a doe in the field and the recoil from his rifle kicked him out the back of an elevated shooting house. He was so drunk the fall did nothing more than give him a place to sleep it off for a while. I think the name got shortened from us saying “I’m going to hunt in the shooting house where Mr. Tommy shot that doe and rolled out the back because he was so drunk” to “I’m hunting Tommy’s Shooting House.” There are times when we simply call it Tommy’s. The frame of the elevated box blind is still there though these days we hunt out of a shooting house we built that sits on the ground.
The sound of gobbling heats my insides as it always does as the thought of a nap dissipates. I yelp a bit. He continues sounding off though I can’t tell if it’s for me or something else. Is he moving closer?
I think about patience and “how important it is to be patient if you’re going to be a good hunter.” My dad’s words. So I sit there and keep calling and the gobbler keeps gobbling down in Tommy’s Shooting House. At the 20-minute mark, I’m still doing pretty good, just sitting there, patient. Ten minutes later I’m already heading down to Tommy’s. I leave my decoy staked in the ground and take off my vest. Less noise that way. There’s a diaphragm call in resting in my cheek.
I take off through the pasture at a good pace until I reach the path leading into Tommy’s. I take off my boots. Even less noise this way. My boots are knee-high rubber boots. On a good day, it typically takes two people to pull them off. Undeterred by this thought, I get to work removing them first by sitting on the ground, knee bent at a 90-degree angle, tongue between teeth, trying to wrench them off with my bare hands. That doesn’t work, so I find a fallen log that I’ll use as a natural boot remover. I am trying to do this quietly by placing my heel on the far side of the log and pulling gently. Still nothing. Frustrated, I begin tapping my heel in little backward kicks that quickly evolve into something you probably learn in karate class. The whole log is shaking by the time I’m able to get my foot above the ankle threshold and slide my foot out. One boot down…
Creeping down the narrow trail to Tommy’s I notice that the gobbler hasn’t made a sound in some time. Has he heard me? Did he see me? I call. Nothing. I wait a couple minutes and continue on to the field where I ease my head up enough so I can see everything and find that nothing stirs.
I gather my boots, put them on and head up into the pasture and back toward my vest and decoy. To my utter disbelief, there’s a gobbler strutting right in front of my decoy. Could it be the same one? Where did he come from? The answer is who cares. I consider going through the process of taking my boots off again and trying to put the sneak on him, but it’s too late. He sees me and takes off.
Now, you think, here comes the lesson to this story, right? Even though it should be blatantly obvious to me, I’ve gone on to screw up plenty of turkey hunts in my life by moving too soon. Had I just sat there, that gobbler would likely be over my shoulder as I skip back to the cabin. Instead, he’s running with a full head of steam in the other direction.
When I look back at this hunt, I realize the bird hovering over my decoy was probably the same one I set out after. If you can hear a gobbler, then he can probably hear you calling. If he’s answering back but you don’t see him, give him plenty of time before making a move. Often times, they’re looking. And in dense woods and big open landscapes, pinpointing the location of a sound, even for an animal that’s so innately tuned in to its surroundings, can be difficult.
I have to remind myself sometimes that turkeys are birds. They’re not out to deceive me, just going about their days in an odd, birdlike way. And maybe it’s part of getting older, but when it comes to should I stay or should I go, the answer is typically stay.