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.
Hunters' Field-Judging Tips
An exceptionally large male may lay down a track as wide as 5 inches. Tracks of adult females are 3.5 inches wide or less
When walking on impressionable terrain like snow or soft dirt, on level ground a mature male's average stride should stretch more than 40 inches; anything less is likely a female. More than one set of tracks likely indicates a female with young.
Gender isn't easy to determine. Mature males' skulls are larger and more round than that of females', with ears set lower on the head. They may also have tattered ears and scarred faces. Another good indicator is genitalia. Good luck checking that out.
Adults' teeth are usually stained yellow, and the tips of their canines are blunt; their coats are a uniform, tawny color, and their bellies are white. Sub-adults' teeth are bright white, with sharp canines; those less than 3 years old usually display faint spots on their sides and back, barring on the inside of their legs, and spots or barring on their bellies
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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 »
The year that Sumner, Mo., erected a statue of "Maxie" to commemorate being the "Wild Goose Capital of the World."
Maxie sports a 65-foot wingspan while resting on a cinderblock building in a community park.
The number of cackling subspecies.
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.