There are two types of hunting: ordinary hunting and turkey hunting. Nowhere is that more evident than here in the South where we take turkey hunting seriously. Each spring we take to the fields and forests, enduring mosquitoes, poison ivy thickets, ticks, spring storms, and anything else Mother Nature can dish out, all for the chance to indulge our fanaticism.
But who can blame us? Sometimes brash, sometimes aloof, but always keenly alert, a springtime gobbler certainly is America’s greatest game bird, and he’s been testing the patience, wit, and even sanity of hunters for centuries. If you have never stood in the predawn glow and listened to a gobbler sound off through the Southern timber you have missed something special. The echo of a turkey gobble at daybreak is among the most stirring of wild calls, carrying with it the vitality of the hunt and the reckless exuberance of spring.
A wild turkey may not be the Einstein of the woods, but their finely-tuned awareness and keen eyesight is more than enough to keep us on our toes. Getting within shotgun range of a hormonally-charged gobbler is a worthy challenge indeed, and to watch him charge in, heady and arrogant, is to witness the finest display of wild intensity. On the other hand, to have him suddenly change his mind and disappear, as often happens, is to endure the most gut-wrenching frustration. Such are the peaks and valleys of our springtime obsession.
Turkeys disband from their large winter flocks in early March, preferring to travel alone or in small groups, their alertness heightening without the security of the flock. As the days lengthen and the hens become receptive to breeding, the gobblers become increasingly brash and competitive. In short order, the toms settle the “who’s who” through dominance displays, sparing, and the occasional all-out, spur-slinging, brawl.
Wild turkeys boast an extensive repertoire of calls and are the most vocal of all big game species. Thus, it is no wonder that calling has become the hallmark of the sport. Even the calls themselves can be quite a novelty, and those craftsmen who hand-wrought the first finely-tuned box calls out of cedar planks earned a distinguished place in turkey hunting history. Names like Archibald Rutledge, Ben Lee, and Neil “Gobbler” Cost are now synonymous with the sport they loved so much, and their original calls carry some heavy price tags.
No doubt, chasing April gobblers is as much a part of our Southern heritage as cane poles, bare feet and cotton fields. To sit in the spring forest and watch the eastern horizon glow above a pulsating symphony of whippoorwills and frogs is what Wild Carolina is all about. Keep your ear cocked towards the treetops, and if you are lucky, you will hear the old gobbler fire off with the authority of the rising sun, and like the spring, he leaves little to understatement.
Hunter S. Bridges