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Psychological advantage often favors turkeys

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
April 26, 2002
With just a few days left in Mississippi's 2002 spring wild turkey season, those of us who hunt the gobblers of that species reflect on the season. And because this premier game bird is so respected, especially by those most addicted to hunting it, we extol its many traits notably those that enable it to elude us so frequently.
Plenty of gobblers eluded me this season. They wouldn't let me by with several mistakes I made. The noble birds are too sagacious and aren't inclined to charity. Most birds whipped me even when I did everything right. And I am grateful for many opportunities I had to challenge them.
The word I like to use in describing spring gobblers is "wild". Few others in the animal kingdom are as wild as a spring tom turkey. Its ability to detect and avoid danger is unsurpassed by any animal I have hunted or heard of. Isn't it wonderful that we have such a steadfastly wild creature so plentiful that we can hunt them without harming their existence?
Gobbler fever
A turkey hunting episode drifted in from my memory as I pondered this fine bird recently. It has to do with a first- time hunter. I took him to the woods after I had limited out to attempt to call a bird in for him. The story illustrates the mesmerizing effect a strutting, gobbling tom turkey can have on an inexperienced hunter.
Bob and I heard a gobbling tom shortly after entering the Maryland woods near the Appalachian Trail. It was mid-morning, and the bird was sounding off frequently.
I quickly moved onto a hardwood ridge above the gobbler and placed Bob with his back against a tree. Rushing to get set up, I physically pushed his feet in close to his hips. This elevated his knees, onto which I placed his elbows so he was at rest with his shotgun pointed in the direction of the gobbling turkey. As I retreated to hide in the brush behind my camouflaged hunter, I whispered a repeat of my earlier instructions, "Stay still!"
From some 20 feet behind Bob, I called to the gobbler and he came into view almost immediately. Up the leafy ridge he marched, headed straight for us. Bob, who had hunted ducks and a little big game, stayed locked in place, not moving a muscle. I was pleased.
I gave another cluck or two and the bird strutted as he climbed the hill. At 50 yards I held my breath that Bob wouldn't shoot too soon. Then at 40 yards I figured any time would be fine for him to take this big, easy gobbler. At 30 yards I hoped he would shoot before the turkey saw us and while the shot pattern would still be large enough to ensure hitting the turkey's bobbing head.
When the gobbler closed to 20 yards, I was mentally trying to pull Bob's trigger myself. At 10 yards, I saw Bob's arms and shoulders flinch tightly and his head turn hard against the gunstock. The turkey putted, the alarm that means he is taking off, and at the same instant I could no longer control myself and yelled, "Shoot!"
As I yelled and the turkey swapped ends and took to the air, Bob's gun finally fired and of course he missed the bird. When I asked what happened, Bob said he had pulled the trigger when the turkey was at 30 yards. The gun hadn't fired and he continued to pull it, harder each time until he used even his arm and shoulder muscles in the attempt. He finally realized he had not disengaged the gun's safety about the time the turkey took off and I shouted.
This is how a tom turkey can hypnotize a hunter and make a clean getaway even when he has been completely fooled into coming within shooting range. Bob felt bad about the miss, though I tried to console him. As far as I know, my friend never hunted wild turkeys again.
This crafty bird can have a significant effect on any hunter who challenges it. And the impact can influence hunters to react differently from giving up turkey hunting to nourishing an obsession to hunt the fine birds and thus take on a plethora of defeats along with a few successes. Spring gobbler hunting is one of our finest outdoor pursuits, but it is not for those who must win all the time.