Spring turkey hunting can be such an emotional roller coaster. Anticipation gradually rises as opening day draws nearer. Scouting trips take on added meaning as you locate and try to pattern birds. Knowing not only where they are, but where they’re going upon departing the roost will be critical to your success.

But excitement is tempered by doubt. First, you wonder which of the carefully scouted locations you should pick for that all-important first morning. Then you repeatedly question your decision, all of which makes for a restless night’s sleep filled with visions of how the next day may play out.

The fateful day you’ve waited 11 long months for has finally arrived. You feel like that kid on Christmas morning excitement. You’ve done your homework, found a few birds and picked a spot. So far everything is falling into place.

But there are no guarantees someone else hasn’t chosen the same spot, and you won’t know until you get there. You drive anxiously, holding your breath as you round the last corner, hoping your headlights will illuminate an empty parking space. And they do, relieving some of the tension.

Next comes the long walk into the woods. You’ve got to move fast enough to beat impending daylight, but slow enough to not be seen or heard. Making your way through the dark woods without a flashlight is not easy, but the hardest part is crossing the open field, since you don’t know precisely where the birds are roosted. If you get too close, your morning could be over before it even begins; too far away and you’ll have to cover ground in full daylight.

You settle in, lean back against an ancient pine and wait, but not for long. A gobbler sounds off 100 yards away, then another. All is going according to plan. You offer a few faint tree yelps, just to let the randy birds know where you are, give them something to think about as they prepare to leave the roost.

Wait, what’s that? A lonely hen sounds off nearby. Make her jealous and she might pull the gobblers away. Make her angry and she might draw them right into your lap. You opt for the latter, mimicking every sound she makes.

It’s daylight now and the first bird lights in the field. It’s the hen, who has become quite vocal in response to your aggressive calling. More birds land: another hen, three jakes and at the far end, a longbeard. Each looks around as if contemplating their next step. It’s another hold-your-breath moment considering your next move. Too much calling might dissuade them, not enough and they might lose interest. It all comes down to that hen.

She turns for a moment, toward the jakes, and the tom, who is now in full strut. You issue a cacophony of cutts and loud yelps and she turns back, then starts your way, expressing her agitation in a long series of similar yelps concluded with sharp cutts. That, in turn, fires the boys up and they too start your way. “It’s going to happen,” you think.

But halfway to you, the jakes stop and turn their attention back toward the tom. He, upon noticing them, comes out of strut and assumes a more subordinate posture. A single jake would be no match for the longbeard but in groups the youngsters become emboldened and will sometimes run an older bird off. You’ve seen it enough to know and expect that’s probably what will happen next, and all your efforts will be for naught.

Your fortunes hang in the balance. As the hens draw nearer the males hold their ground in a sort of stand-off. You roll the dice and utter one more series of calls. The hen answers vociferously. The jakes turn your way and all gobble simultaneously. The tom puffs up again.

Soon he’s inside 100 yards and it seems certain he’ll close the distance. But the hen, who is now staring conspicuously at your decoys from a few feet away, putts loudly. Or was it a cluck? To the human ear the two are nearly indistinguishable. But in turkey talk one means danger, the other anger. You hold your breath again, much more difficult now as your racing heart craves oxygen. She utters the same note and this time the tom answers with a raucous gobble. It was a cluck after all. In he struts, 50 yards, 40, 30 and a sudden calm comes over you as you know what will happen next.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

[email protected]


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