Preseason scouting is paramount to early season success, but in heavily hunted areas, all that hard effort soon goes by the wayside. Despite weeks of preparation, turkey hunters are forced to “go in cold” in hopes their acumen will carry the day.

Such was the case for me as Maine’s spring season entered its second week. I’d scouted 17 flocks before the season opener, learned their routines and had high hopes. By the end of the first week, most of those birds had been tagged, processed and quite possibly consumed. It was now a matter of picking up scraps fallen from the turkey table, often backwoods birds that the more casual roadside scouting missions never reveal.

Stepping out of my vehicle in the predawn darkness, I was greeted by a distant gobble – game on! A fast-paced jaunt through the jungle brought me half the distance closer, where I paused to refine the bird’s location. A quick look at my ScoutLook app showed a small field ahead that would make a good ambush point, so I raced to arrive before the bird, or birds.

My ears confirmed at least three. My eyes never got a chance, because despite my sweetest serenade, I could not coax the flock into my field. Eventually, all went silent, and after allowing another 45 minutes to be sure they weren’t coming in silently, I yielded the field, favoring discretion over valor.

Plan C would require an even longer walk, a solid 25-minute hike into an isolated beech ridge that had produced in the past. In fact, just a season earlier, I’d made the trek “up in the morning,” after the early morning commotion had subsided, struck a bird, and called it to its demise.

I was nearing the same location under eerily similar circumstances when I heard it, or thought I did. “Was that a gobble?” I asked myself. “Maybe” was enough motivation to make a quick push of several hundred yards before pausing long enough to confirm it was indeed Old Tom.

Little lay ahead except very open hardwoods, making a further advance risky. A quick scan revealed a small stand of softwoods and just enough shade to make me a tad less visible. After hitting the box call and getting an immediate response, I quickly settled in against the bole of the biggest hemlock and readied myself.

The bird took his sweet time, 10, 15, almost 20 minutes. And he’d gone mum, planting the first seeds of doubt in my mind. Had I not caught a quick flash of what looked like a turkey’s head at 100 yards, I might never have known he was there.

Clearly this bird was wary, and probably had several negative encounters with things that sounded like hen turkeys. Not wanting to intimidate him, I opted not to call, but instead reached carefully down by my side and scratched in the leaves, mimicking the sound of turkeys contentedly feeding along the forest floor.

It worked. The tom immediately puffed up, fanned out and began his low-frequency, resonant spitting and drumming dance. Slowly, gradually, he inched forward, as if caught in some alternate time zone.

Coming straight on, I couldn’t tell if he had a full beard, and his full fan seemed to show the taller central tail feathers characteristic of a jake, two characteristics that, if accurate, would cause me to spare him. Then, at 50 yards’ distance, he turned sideways, revealing a full necktie, just before disappearing behind a dead fall.

I’ve seen it enough times to know it’s no mere coincidence. I’m convinced that if there’s any doubt – if anything remotely resembling doubt actually exists in the wild turkey’s walnut-sized brain – the bird will invariably put an obstacle, usually a tree, between itself and the sound it hears. That’s exactly what this bird did.

For 10 agonizingly long minutes, I heard but did not see him strutting, spitting and drumming just feet beyond the range of my fowling piece. Slowly, I reached down again into the dry leaves, “scratch, scratch, scratch.” It worked again. He gobbled loudly, folded up and started my way, at an angle, but still generally in my direction.

When I later grabbed the bird by his scaly legs and hefted him up, I figured he weighed about 20 pounds. By the time I reached the truck, it felt more like 40, but the pain in my shoulders was the satisfying kind that comes from a hard-earned reward and a job well done.

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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