Every year, I come up with a new plan for outfoxing the wild turkey. This year, I was going to be bold, but now I'm not so sure.
Opening day of spring gobbler season came to these steep, shale-strewn hills on schedule at 5:15 a.m. today, and sure enough the turkeys were around to cooperate. Sort of.
Luther had scouted the morning before and encountered several gobbling gobblers that were raising a ruckus in the deepest recesses of the forest. He even scared one off its roost, "and if I'd had a shotgun I believe I could have shot that bird," he said.
So we three, old hands now in these woods although none of us yet has shot at a turkey here, mapped out plans while spring rain spattered the tin cabin roof and darkness gathered.
We were up, as prescribed in all the turkey-hunting manuals, long before dawn. Ruff ran the two of us around to the far corner of the 2,000-acre property in his truck. Then he drove off to virgin ground and Luther and I took separate paths. At least we wouldn't shoot each other.
I had told those fellows before we went to bed that I was through fooling around with these turkeys. If I erred, it would be on the side of audacity.
I was plenty fed up with hunts where you hear a gobbler off in the distance, you sit down, begin calling, and an hour later you get up and walk off to look for another bird, the first having faded away for lack of interest.
The ground was soft and quiet underfoot. Night rains had bedded the oak leaves nicely. In the pitch dark, every sound seemed strange, and when there came the familiar call of a whippoorwill, something recognizable, it was like hearing the refrigerator click on in the house.
I followed the old abandoned woods road along the ridge top until it ended at the power line right-of-way. Then I backtracked, following my plan, about 50 yards and set out through untrammeled woods to a place where Luther had seen turkey scratchings.
Black sky was giving way to pale grey when the owl's cry came clear and distinct across the draw from the next ridge.
In the book, it says owls sometimes will start a gobbler gobbling, and the book does not lie. Instantly on the heels of the owl call came the unmistakable clatter of a sex-hungry male turkey soliciting his harem.
The owl called again; the gobbler rattled his reply.
Now I could put into effect my new action plan. No more sitting around, squeaking on a pitiful little box call, trying to sound like a love-starved hen and getting nowhere.
I had to hurry, the book said, to a place just far enough away from the gobbler that he couldn't detect me, but close enough that he couldn't resist my squeaks. I would stroke the caller a few quick licks, the gobbler would strut to me like a lottery winner heading toward the Mercedes dealer and I would dispatch the greedy beast.
Now where was that gobble coming from?
I made my choice and set off at a good clip through the woods. I ran 100 yards and stopped and when the turkey gobbled again he evidently had run all the way around me and was now directly at my back.
I ran 200 yards that way and stopped again. By golly, the great galumphing, pompous beast had swung around and now cackled at me from his initial position.
In the book, it says it can occasionally be difficult to determine the exact location of the turkey from its gobbling. The book doesn't lie.
We ran around in circles for a while but in the end I tired the bird and he quit his gobbling altogether.
A half-mile hike and 20 minutes later another gobbler began rattling away. He gobbled once and gobbled again, then gobbled again and again and again, so rapidly it sounded as if he was choking on an oversized acorn.
"This one's hot," I concluded, and set off at a full run down the draw and up the hill on the far side.
When I got to the top, the gobbler had somehow scrambled over to the next ridge, so I went down and up again, and by then he was another ridge over.
I'm not one to worry much about property lines when in pursuit of a hot gobbler, but this turkey led me on such a merry chase I started to concern myself with county lines.
The no-trespassing signs were whizzing by like billboards along the highway. At the third ridge, I called a halt and flopped against a tree.
"Gobblegobblegobblegobble," came the mocking cry from across the hollow.
It was a wonderful morning for turkey hunting: windless, warm and hazy. In all, I pursued four gobblers and each was quicker than the last. By eight, they had gobbled themselves out and it was quiet in the woods. I snoozed a while, then spent the remainder of the morning picking my way back to the cabin.
Ruff came trundling through the woods with a similar sad tale. "I was presented with every critical decision in turkey hunting," he said."Should you move? Do you go downhill? Do you circle? Do you call? Do you lay silence on them?
"As far as I can tell, I made the wrong choice every time."