Mike Gardell has a wild turkey decal on the side of the old pickup he bought to go wild turkey hunting in.
He has shelves full of books on turkey hunting, records by the best turkey callers, tape recordings of the sounds of past hunts, photos and paintings of gobblers in strut. He has diaphragm calls and turtle shell box calls he built, corncobs, and slate and every other imaginable contrivance for duplicating turkey sounds.
Gardell is public relations chairman for the Bull Run Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and he signs his letters, personal or otherwise, "yours for the American wild turkey."
Mike gardell is just a little bit fond of turkey hunting.
"love it?" he boomed in the cab of the truck on the way home after opening day of spring season Saturday. "man, I live for it."
The absolute best thing that can happen to a turkey hunter like Gardell is to get permission from a private landowner to hunt a big tract of good turkey range. Gardell has it.
In fact, as far as he knew Saturday he had sole permission to hunt more than 1,000 acres near Bull Run Mountain in Loudoun County. And the place was crawling with big birds.
"who else do we have to look out for?" I asked as we gently shut the truck doors before dawn at the end of a bumpy woods road.
"just you and me," he said gleefully. Gardell smeared green grease-paint on his face and beckoned me over for some of the same. "keeps the reflection down," he explained.
We set off toward a cornfield with a faint pink dawn tinge behind us. It was 4:40 a.m. We'd been up better than two hours already.
"whoo-whoo; who - who - who - who - hooo." Gardell cupped his hand to his mouth and made his owl call, which sometimes starts a tom turkey gobbling.
All it started this time was a rooster crowing in a distant farmyard. Gardell pressed on in the beautiful spring dawn, and as he trekked, more birds awakened -- songbirds began singing, woodpeckers pecking, crow crowing, until we were surrounded by a sweet cacophony.
He stalked across a cornfield and paused while I hiked a scrunched sock back up in my gum boot.
"who-whoo; who-who who who-hooo."
"there he is," Gardell said, grinning.
His pace quickened as he hurried in the direction of the turkey's calling. The gobbling, which is a resonant, throaty, grating racket, is the tom's way of advising nearby hens that he is ready for love.
The hens are to respond by flying down from nighttime roosts to his lair, where he services them all day long if he can get away with it.
Gardell stomped down into a hollow and back up along a woods path to a high place above the origin of the gobbling. He picked out a good thick tree and pointed me at another. We sat down hastily.
He pulled a camouflage head net over his face and I yanked mine down. He pulled on camouflage gloves and jerked his hat brim down. He was camouflaged head to foot. Even his gun butt was covered with camouflage cloth, and the barrel was spray-painted dull brown.
Gardell stuck a small diaphragm device into his mouth and began simulating the cry of a lovesick hen, starting softly and building.
"kyow, kyow, kyow, KYOW, KYOW."
From the woods below came another earthshaking gobble.
Gardell rasised an arm and balled fist in triumph. He had one working.
We sat motionless for an hour as the woods turned gentle green with the rising sun. The gobbler answered infrequently, and after awhile we heard another hen calling from a ridge to our left. Gardell started calling more vigorously in an effort to keep the gobbler on his wavelength.
The woods were still at 6 a.m. We heard the hen on the hill cry one last time. A breeze swished through bare oak limbs.
I looked up and saw a hen turkey gliding above the trees. Then another. There were three in all and they scattered in three directions.
Gardell said a nasty word.
We gathered gear and made for the hill of the hen noises. There was no hen there. But Ed Reno was, and Ed Reno had beside him a huge gobbler he had slain with one shot.
"do you have permission to hunt here?" Gardell demanded.
"buddy," answered the laconic Reno, "i live here." He said the gobbler had walked to with 25 yards of him, following the three hens.
So it goes. The gobbler was far from the only one on the 1,000 acres near Bull Run Mountain. We criss-crossed the hills and draws until quitting time at 11 a.m. and saw at least three more, plus several hens. We caught one tom in full strut, far across a cornfield, in hot pursuit of a reluctant hen, who was racing the gobbler for the woods.
Gardell bellyached all day about Reno bagging "my turkey," but I suspect he actually was glad. If that turkey had turned the other way Gardell would have had his bird and his season limit.
And a month more of springtime to sit home and wish he was out turkey hunting.