It’s one of the most popular hunting seasons in the nation.
And most outdoorsmen agree that real turkey hunters fall into a special class.
The reason is simple: the sport is so exacting that few ever qualify for the master turkey-hunter status.
Anyone, if he wanders the wild turkeys’ territory long enough, sooner or later may luck upon this magnificent bird.
The wild turkey bears little similarity to the domesticated fowl.
The wild variety roosts in trees. Unless disturbed, they usually keep to the same territory for as much as a couple of weeks if the mast is sufficient.
At this time of year, they like fresh greens and insects.
About dawn, dropping down to strut about on the forest floor, the male bird is somewhat preoccupied, gathering and guarding his harem.
Big feet scratching away at the forest duff—it’s not hard to locate active grounds.
The trick is to anticipate their movements, slip in silently and let them come to you.
At least, that’s the idea.
A wild turkey exercises uncanny vision and excellent hearing. He is wary and on guard.
The ability to approach a flock of feeding wild turkeys undetected is worthy of the most skilled Indian stealth.
For modern man, the answer to any possibility of a successful turkey hunt is by ambush.
I’ve tried to photograph wild turkeys over the years and found out in a hurry that the practice is no picnic.
Still, the difficulty of the assignment hasn’t eroded my enthusiasm.
I spent the better part of an afternoon not long ago trying to photograph a wily old tom who kept calling from the timbers near a stream I’d been fishing.
I had experienced a disappointing encounter with a fish that had escaped into the channel after some youngsters appeared on the scene.
It was only when the distant sounds of a gobbling turkey echoed through the open forest that I was reminded of a higher calling.
How soon my sorrows departed as I contemplated the lone-wandering bird.
I recounted many youthful hunts with family and friends, hunts that weren’t particularly productive from a harvest perspective, but were bountiful from the standpoint of providing a lifetime of memories.
At that instant, the gobbler seemed to personify everything wonderful in the world.
I remember scuttling the rod and reel in favor of my old Nikon and long lens.
As I climbed the steep, rhododendron-laden slope in front of the murmuring stream, I advanced the film lever stealthily as any camo-clad warrior might load his weapon.
I eased my way under the budding forest canopy as if I were completely camouflaged and wearing face paint. I even flirted with the image that I was some ancient Cherokee huntsman armed with bow and flint.
I found my way to an opening in the trees that now, nearing sunset, were dulled to dusky forest colors. A silhouette-breaking tree to lean against, some low bushes and wispy foreground gave me confidence.
Time dragged on: distant hooting of owls, the low rumble of faraway jets burning through the heavens.
I lifted the heavy lens as quietly as possible and turned the f-stop ring to wide open.
A woodpecker drummed his thudding percussion amid a procession of pines.
Suddenly a scuffling of brush; a mourning dove mourned; more brushy sounds, then movement.
Scarcely breathing, all senses at high alert I watched and waited—and waited.
Knee cramping, bug crawling around inside my left ear, I remained frozen, tense, camera at the ready.
Somewhere, far off, a faint cluck echoed, or was it just the wind?
By then I could see the fast-fading sun avoiding me. Blood-thirsty gnats and snarling mosquitoes made for a free meal on my ear lobes.
The hunt was over.
I had nothing to print from the film in the camera.
But I had a vision of a gobbler etched on my brain.
For the rest of the evening, I enjoyed the thrill of that vision.
I could accept some of the blame for not catching a glimpse of the gobbler.
Maybe he saw me coming and simply faded away.
Maybe he was never there to begin with: only a ghost or spirit of the perennial forest.
Or maybe he just answered to a higher calling.
Top of the morning!