Captain Conversation a.k.a. When Gobblers Won’t Shut Up

I woke this morning at 4:25am and reminded myself that I’m an idiot.
A late shift at work tonight left me a window of opportunity to sleep in this morning.  But, as a symptom of the mental illness that is turkey hunting, I chose instead to trade sleep in a comfy, comfy bed for a twenty-five minute drive into the Halton Region Forest Tracts for a mid-week turkey hunt.  Where some see somnolence, I see opportunity!
As Cheap Trick’s Breakfast in America played briefly on my alarm clock, I thought for a second about just switching the blasted thing off and cuddling into the sheets, but I do that the other 300+ days a year, so feeling groggy but hopeful I went zombie-like through the ritual of putting on my hunting clothes.
I slammed back a bowl of Cheerios, grabbed my 870, and hit the road in the dingy pre-dawn.  I slid a mouth call betwixt cheek and gum and flipped on my Greatest Hits of The Animals CD….that’s right I still use CDs.
30 minutes later I pulled into the parking area of the Finney Tract.  The Finney Tract of Halton Forest is on the west side of the Nassagaweya 6th Line.  To the east side of the 6th line is a line of pasture and more forests; this area is strictly off-limits since I have no idea who owns them, and I lack the wherewithal and resources that would allow me to determine who I should contact to get permission to hunt there.  Thus, in this location I’m limited to the rectangle of forest that is the Finney Tract, which is fine because it is a perfectly serviceable little piece of hunting land.
Predominantly coniferous, but with some sparse hardwoods thrown in, the Finney resembles just about every piece of public hunting land I’ve ever tread on.  At first glance this could have been a spot in the Simcoe, Wellington, or Grey County forests respectively, but this spot has the added appeal of being less than 30 minutes from my front door.  I’d walked the area earlier this year and knew exactly where I wanted to get to, which was good because it was very dark when I softly pressed the doors shut on my vehicle, and even though the main trail is wide and the layout basic, I don’t particularly like fumbling around in a dark forest not knowing where “the spot” is.
In this case “the spot” is a nice shaded area at the base of a very broad, very old pine tree about 100 yards from the concession road.  The decades of fallen needles carpet the forest floor in a thick, boot-silencing layer of decaying vegetation, and the base of the old pine has an incline and width that affords a reasonable level of comfort (as tree bases go).  I was travelling light with just my shotgun, ammunition, and vest full of calls…the decoys didn’t make it out of the garage this morning.
Sitting under the tree I check my watch, and am somewhat shocked to find that it read 5:20 in the morning.  Sunrise is scheduled for 5:59am.  At 5:35 (just to be sure I was on the right side of the time) I slide three worn shotshells into the action of my gun.  These shells have been loaded and unloaded into my 870 so many times that the gun considers them to be old friends…I really would rather unload the gun the loud way, but it just hasn’t been that kind of turkey hunting for me these last two years.
Ten minutes later I am watching the thin band of blue that has become the eastern horizon morph into that pale magenta and pink hue of breaking dawn when to the east, almost right below the first sliver of glowing sun, a gobbler sounded off.
My first thought was not a happy one…in fact to quote my brain I believe it was “Shit…He’s across the road.”  As mentioned above, I can’t hunt across the road.
Now I’ve called to a lot of turkeys and carried on some pretty epic conversations with the occasional gobbler, but one thing I’ve never done is pull a gobbler across a roadway, at least not one that I knew of.
But this morning found me doing exactly that, and I went through the whole routine of soft tree talk, a couple of fly down cackles, and then some yelping and purring.  I even did a bit of spirited cutting on the raspiest, cutting-est mouth call I’ve got.  Despite being what I took for maybe 200 yards away, and with a intermittently busy concession road in between us, this old gobbler could hear me (thankfully it was ominously still this morning) and he answered all my tree talk, yelping, cutting, and even a couple of my purrs with throaty gobbles.
Then it got ridiculous.  He sat in his tree and kept gobbling.  At everything.
He gobbled at the crows, and then he gobbled at some geese as they brayed their way past.  He took time to holler at some blue jays, and he even got some shouts in at the cars as they whipped down the concession road in excess of 80km/h.  In between this he rang the treetops with hearty gobbling at every sound I made.  My push-pin call clucked when I shifted my weight and he even gobbled at that coincidental noise.  I’ve never doubted that a turkey can clearly hear you at distance out past a hundred yards so I wasn’t surprised at all at his noise, but I was surprised by the sheer mass of calling that this bird was doing; he gobbled non-stop for half an hour and at about 6:20am I heard the tone of his calls change.  They became more muffled but just as frequent: I knew he had flown down.
Still he gobbled on and on.  I can safely say that in all the time I talked to him he gobbled more than any turkey I’ve ever heard before.  That he was gobbling was good news, that he was getting closer and louder was great news.
Now, a quick time out for a word about calling frequency.  I tend to be of the “call often” philosophy, with a small caveat.  If a bird is answering, I’ll keep pouring on the coals.  I want to keep him as hot as I can for as long as I can.  I do this because it lets me keep tabs on his whereabouts, and I’ve found that it usually keeps them coming in even if small obstacles (blow-downs, puddles, low fences) intervene.  The caveat is that I’ll stop calling if the gobbler stops answering.  If I call and don’t get an answer then I switch over to a minute or so of soft purring, clucking, and scratching in the leaves before (if there is no response and I don’t see a gobbler sneaking in) I clam right up for about a half-hour.  Then I just call every so often, with occasional cutting thrown in, to see what the gobbler wants to do.  It is an inexact science that works as often as it fails, but I’m comfortable with it so I keep doing it.
But back to this loudmouth from this morning.  As I said, he was getting closer, and my heart was starting to pound a bit harder, but I knew there was still one thing that was going to queer this all up for me: the north-south line of page wire fence surrounding the private property on the wrong side of the concession road.
Sure enough, the tom turkey stopped approaching but he kept gobbling.  And he was getting mad.  Now I know some people that don’t believe turkeys get angry, and I know some that believe they do.  I’m in the “belief camp” and just to prove it to me this bird’s gobble changed.  He just started frantically gobbling, and even though I couldn’t see him I could tell by the way his gobble seemed to be moving back and forth that he was at the fence and likely running back and forth looking for an opening (as I’ve seen gobblers do many times before…don’t these damn birds know they can fly?!).  For one brief period his gobbling became so panicked that I thought he may have tried to leap the fence and gotten caught.
Now I’ll admit it.  A part of me really, really wanted to sneak closer and get look at this freaky bird, but given that I was on public land with the most vocal gobbler I’d ever been confronted, such a move seemed to just be asking for trouble.  I make it a point to follow all of the unbelievably important rules of turkey hunting, but above all else I try to abide most strictly by the turkey hunting commandment that states roughly “Thou shalt not stalk gobbling” for no other reason than that it seems to be the one most often overlooked, and the one that can most rapidly devolve into getting shot in the face.
This went on for about ten minutes when, inexplicably, he just left.  I knew he left because he never quit gobbling.  His gobbles just became softer, and he receded farther and farther back into the impenetrable acreage of land on which I had no ability to hunt.  Did he just get fed up with this persnickety hen that refused to meet him halfway?  Maybe someone slowed down to look at him on the road and he got spooked?  Who knows?  It is imminently pointless to try to deconstruct what a turkey is thinking about, because for all their wariness, cunning, and superbly evolved natural defense systems, they just don’t reason on a level that we can lower ourselves to.  Nothing has ever tried to make me food, so I can’t conceive the level of paranoia and instinctive flight response ingrained into the psyche of a wild turkey.
I can only say two things with any degree of certainty.
The first is that he just walked off and left me worse off than I was before.  Not only did I not have a turkey to hunt that day, but I had a goddamn apparition to chase after.  The second is that I’ll be right back there in the morning hoping to lure him to right side of the road.  Right for me that is.
To get my mind off the bird across the road from the Finney Tract, I went to my vehicle and cruised up to the Acton Tract to see if anything would answer my romantic hen turkey sounds there.  A vehicle was already parked in the lot, so I was about to leave when I saw the hunter coming up the trail.  We had a brief chat and he said he’d had no luck with the spot, which gave me no reason to go in and rattle around some calls to birds that either weren’t there or weren’t answering.  Besides I had to get home, get showered and changed for work, and write this post.
Maybe tomorrow night I’ll have a better story (and some pictures of a dead turkey to share with everyone).  As I’ve said before….who knows?

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