Did you ever go on a turkey hunt? Not a turkey shoot, which is a contest of skill at an inanimate target, but a real woods hunt to provide a dinner. For those who care to try, the first requirement in turkey hunting is to find an area with a tom turkey population worthy of the salt, pepper and time it takes to bring one to your sideboard.
Search out a spot that meets the turkey's special food terrain requirements. All turkeys like grapes, berries, seeds, acorns, greens and insects. And a year-round drinking source must be available. If your chosen area shows plenty of turkey scratch and droppings, return before dawn of the next day and set up your surprise.
Shoot a poor defenseless bird? you ask. Well he doesn't carry a gun, if that's what you mean. But Tom Turkey seems especially equipped to foil the human hunter.Author Tom Kelly in his book of nostalgia, "The Tenth Legion," says. "A turkey's brain development exceeds that of nearly all vice presidents. And even though he is sometimes capable of abysmal stupidity, he normally reasons on a par with (Sherlock) Holmes."
When I think of a turkey, I visualize a creature with ears like tent flaps and eyes out on stems.
To combat old Tom's keen cunning you must select a good hiding place. On arrival pick it clean of all snapping twigs and crackling leaves. Eat a good breakfast. It's no time for a growling stomach.
Wear a camouflage suit with a net over face and hands and carry a 12-or 16-gauge shotgun with a modified or full choke. A dull colored water-proof air cushion, which you can inflate on arrival, is a luxury you will soon consider a necessity. For you will wait and wait and wait some more.
If you uncross your legs, let your head nod in sleep, scratch, or wave off an insect, the Tom is sure to be nearby, and you'll quickly ruin your day by scaring him away.
It's possible to hunt all season and not feed your oven once. I have successfully hunted bob white quail, pheasant, grouse, duck, geese, dove and chucka. So I can modestly call myself a pursuer of game birds. But I shudder at the shock my memory serves up of turkey hunting. For this first experience I was furnished with a real Black Belt turkey guide. To the uninformed Yankee, that belt is not a karati plaudit but a section of Alabama containing a fertile black soil.
The guide must be an expert caller because you just don't hunt turkeys - you stumble through night-blackened woods in order to arrive at the feeding grounds before they do. While you wait, somebody has to be the early turkey and yelp out messages about the good food, the beautiful morning, and the sexy females. This used to be accomplished by dragging a stick across a uniquely designed little box. Everything from a turkey wing to a corn cob has also been tried. But if it fails to fool the turkey you might as well be tooting the jaw-bone of an ass.
My special caller-guide used a little rubber encased ring sometimes referred to as the diaphram caller, which is placed in the roof of the mouth and vibrated. The sound, if produced correctly, is irresistible to Tom.
My guide sat me down in a clump of prickly bushes well fed by freshets of water, and walked away. Sleepy in no time, I fought to stay alert. The first songbirds chirped - in fact a cardinal settled in the small dogwood beside me and began to construct a nest. The dawn spread and the mist lifted, leaving me damp, chilled and sluggish. I wished for coffee. Forget that wish. I was forbidden to bend my elbow.
Suddenly a gobbling sound issued from the nearby bushes. Was it my guide or the real thing? Rule one, don't shoot until you see the red of his eye and the blue of his beard. My swallow froze. My gun was carelessly lying across my knees, the barrel between two small saplings. How to get it out and up without moving? The camouflage net rose and fell quietly as I tried not to breathe. Again the ratching call.
Next came the thunder of a devil's dance, as a hidden Tom - somewhere behind me - spread his huge tail and drummed his long feathers together in a mighty roar. All other forest sounds ceased. Nearer and nearer the strutting drummer came. The caller yelped to my right, the Tom thundered behind me. Somehow I felt I had to get up before he ran me down. Pressing my back against the tall tree behind me, I pushed like a mountain climber until I stood erect, shotgun muzzle-down in my hands. I was as ready as I would ever get.
The flickering shadows cast by the forest moved, and a parade of three hens passed within thirty feet of me. The call on my right ceased. Let the real thing take over. They did - slowly pacing, clucking - uring in the Tom. Deafening drumming continued, then ceased and the quiet seemed even more intense. I tried to eyeball around my tree without moving my head. Silence.
For five heart-stopping minutes the world held its breath. And there he was, incredible ugly, looking right at me.
I turned and he lifted toward the tree tops; tail feathers, like armor, drooped behind. I fired at the shape and cut an intervening seedling pine in half. Running stiff-legged into the open, I fired again. There was nothing - only a shadow dappled world of falling leaves and pine needles. My heart was pounding with a wildness exceeded only by the turkey's flight.
Perhaps it's the long periods of nothing before the crash of sound that is not to be denied by Tom or man.
There are five subspecies of the wild turkey in North America. Though our bird is indeed indigenous to the new world, his new world, his title is a misnomer. Tasty Tom was introduced to Europe about the same time as the African quinea fowl arrived there via the Turkish empire. The two birds were confused and both were named for the country of Turkey.
Early in this century wild turkeys had almost disappeared.Now in many states, through conservation partly financed by hunter dollars, the national turkey population has increased from 97,000 in 1952 to more than 1,250,000 today. Forty states offer spring or fall hunting.
In Alabama, where turkeys are prevalent, the limit is one a day, or four in a season. Around our D.C. area the rules vary. Information is available from game commisions.