Nature's orchestra is warming up as you exit the truck and inhale an electric breeze. The sky is a gray curtain flush with burgeoning pink pleats that will soon flood the natural amphitheater below in glorious light. Wearing a long-sleeve camo T-shirt and snake boots, you unsheathe your shotgun and step into lush grass heavy with dew. You cup an ear toward the swaying cottonwoods before planning your sneak to the front row. A whippoorwill calls. Showtime is near.
Birds in particular anticipate the sunshine and rejoice. Your owl hoots roust a throaty crow, and in turn the jays fill chorus, and then, as if reading sheet music, a gobbler reminds them all who's the maestro. It's your cue to slip in. You pick an oak and sit, knees up, gun on knee, eyes forward. You give a soft tree call. He answers.
It could be a short hunt, you think, just before a tree ripe with hens reminds you that your calling is second-rate. Finally you hear wings. A tom turkey is grounded.
Meanwhile it's bedlam as a squirrel chases another into your lap and a spider uses your hat brim for a hangout. But you don't dare wriggle despite your waning confidence. Did he follow the hens? You ease a slate from your pocket and groove some yelps. Nothing. Did I spook him?
In the distance you hear a faint gobble. Instinctively you rise to pursue, but experience makes you give one more call. As you strike slate a gobble explodes, nearly lifting your hat. All you can do is slink back down. Somehow your leg is folded grotesquely underneath you. You try to call, but shaking fingers struggle to produce a sound. Miraculously he gobbles again, even closer!
Then you hear the slight, steady crunch of leaves. Of course it's 90 degrees over your right shoulder. You strain your eyeballs against their sockets and spy a glowing white ball hover through the woods. And there he is! Fifty yards, full strut and looking right at you, and you can't do anything except sit on your bloodless leg and endure his earth-shaking drums as they wreck your nerves. He unleashes a violent KAAA! and your heart almost stops. Surely he saw you lurch! Your mouth call is in your pocket. Your arms quiver under the weight of the mal-aligned gun. Your leg is beginning to rot. Mosquitoes feast on your face and your neck hurts so bad you know you can't maintain for another minute. So you use your forefinger and thumb to work the 870's safety. As the gobbler grows nervous and pirouettes to fan goodbye, you push yourself up and swing. The bird with a rope for a beard hears you and snaps out of strut. You're braced so firmly against the mighty 3 1/2 that you nearly fall forward when the gun goes click. The bird putts and is gone. Confused, you pump the 870 and peer into an empty chamber. You forgot to load it!
Your head hangs. If you could punt yourself into the creek you would. But while you pout, the ensemble resumes its springtime medley. And then, in the distance, you hear a faint gobble. Your ears perk. You slip ahead with a loaded shotgun and fresh hope. You are a turkey hunter, and this is opening day.
Tips to Lay Out Ol' Tom
Fly-down time at dawn
is, quite naturally, assumed by many hunters to be the best time all day to bag a tom. Trouble is, the hen or hens that old fella is visiting at that time of day may not let him off the hook long enough to pay attention to your calls and come anywhere near your setup. But during the peak of the breeding season, those hens are apt to visit their nests by noon. Your best shot at calling him close may come then, when old tom is lonely for attention.
Many times a tom hangs up
not because of an obstacle, but because he's walked far enough toward your call and, having not seen a hen, walks away. Your mistake: setting up too far outside that all-important range and never seeing him. When you call, be sure of a good line of sight through terrain and vegetation, and depending on cover, try to get within 100 yards of him before plopping down.
If you hear a gobbler moving away from you,
don't waste more time and breath trying to call him back. Instead, get up and hustle in a wide circle around him. If you need to hear him for reference, use a locator call. When you feel you are ahead of him, quickly set up and give a series of aggressive yelps with a call you haven't used yet. Many times this "fresh hen" tactic will prove successful.
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Like the fossilized skeletons of its ancestors displayed in the Smithsonian, a 12-foot alligator can be scary even when it's dead—something that Shooting Illustrated's Adam Heggenstaller learned in person during a gator hunt in Florida. Read More »
Could 2011 be the year of the work truck? If so, the Ram Tradesman is ready to clock in. Equipped with a juiced-up HEMI® engine.... Read More »
Average age black bears live to in the wild
15-80 square miles
Range of a male black bear within a loosely defined home range, depending on habitat
Speed a black bear can run for short distances
Oldest documented wild bear killed in Virginia
Largest known black bear ever killed by a hunter (North Carolina)
The cackling goose, a smaller-bodied goose prominent in Canada and Alaska, is a tundra-breeder with considerably more black plumage than the Canada. At one time, the cackling goose was considered the smallest subspecies of the Canada, but is now recognized as a separate species.