So, in case you hadn’t noticed, it is that time of year again. I call it ‘silly season’ and it is the time of year when all the hunting magazines and websites regurgitate a few dozen different articles full of tips, tricks, and gear reviews aimed at perpetuating their existence while simultaneously moving some inventory for their sponsors. I’m not cynical about it anymore, after all staff writers and editors must eat too, and those are the spiritual compromises that come with the territory in the print-media world.
I get it. I don’t like it and I try not to partake too heavily in it, but I do get it.
It is the time to hear about “dirt naps”, “floppage”, “beak-bustin’”, et cetera, et cetera. If you can’t find a headline that boasts a better way to call to a hung-up turkey, or that assures you that these seven pieces of essential equipment will put a longbeard in your lap, or a piece that tackles the thorny issue of turkey reaping while simultaneously advertising for tom decoys that clip right to your mother-loving shotgun barrel, then I can confidently say you aren’t really looking at all. Because that sort of thing is ubiquitous now; it has been since at least mid-January and it won’t disappear until sometime in July.
Somewhere along the line, between the quaint magazine by-lines of the 1950’s and 1960’s and the shift to an advertising-centric approach that materialized in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, we lost our way and nothing was off-limits or unthinkable anymore.
The truth is there aren’t really that many different ways to safely hunt turkeys, and much of the “innovation” we see in the marketplace is flash and gimmick. I’m perfectly content to just sit under a tree, yelp, scratch in the leaves, and listen, but based on social media advertising campaigns set on full-saturation levels, I’m just a throw-back and not nearly extreme enough to be relevant anymore.
Turkey season will approach and take place nonetheless, and I’ll be out there enjoying it on my own terms, but might I suggest that if you don’t find turkey hunting exciting enough the ‘traditional way’ that you at least try not to do something reckless or offensive?
I’m old enough to remember when the conventional wisdom of the culture was to sit under a tree, call like a sexy old hen, and above all else try not to get shot by another hunter; that said I’m not so old that I was indoctrinated into the school of “yelp four times every hour until the tom shows up”, but I’ve read about enough respected elder-statesmen of turkey hunting to see the wisdom in that ethos either. Was it accurate, in the fledgling years when the pastime was a fringe pursuit that lagged far behind deer, quail, and waterfowl hunting, to imbue the wild turkey with some of the feats of wily intelligence attributed to it? Possibly not, but it did breed a healthy respect for the quarry. After all, did Tom Kelly or Charles Elliott ever utter the words “thunder-chicken” with anything other than likely derision for the term? I can’t say for certain, but I can make some inferences.
And what of safety? I was fortunate enough to take the Ontario turkey hunter’s education seminar all those years ago from two of the very men instrumental in the re-introduction of wild turkeys into Ontario. They both scoffed at the idea of stalking gobblers, and each was gravely concerned with the safety ramifications around even entertaining the thought. But this is 2018 and extreme, like sex, sells. So long as someone, somewhere puts ‘if it is safe to do so’ in their piece about fanning, stalking, circling, boasting of 80-yard kills, or hiding in waterfowl layout blinds (yes, this is a thing in the turkey hunting world now) then they have sufficiently rendered themselves culpability-free.
It’s like saying “Go ahead, drink and drive, as long as you’re sure no other drivers are on the road” or something else comparably irresponsible.
Of course, I am not entirely immune and I do have some of the usual trappings of the modern turkey hunter. The decoys, the precision-made crystal friction call and finely-tuned mouth diaphragms, right to my ergonomic and luxuriously thick seat on my turkey vest.
Still, I’ve never once put a tom or jake decoy out on public land because no amount of turkey meat or close-encounter adrenaline is worth a torso full of searing hot lead pellets. I’ve missed birds, but never out to 70+ yards as I’ve heard and seen on modern social media. I have equipment that would have made those Pennsylvania and Alabama forefathers of the hunt sneer and chuckle at my gullibility, but even still my 870 isn’t tricked out for tactical turkey killing, my ammunition didn’t cost me the equivalent of a rib-eye steak per round spent, and while tempting, I’m not really inclined to crawl up to a gobbler just for some much-hyped thrill over and above the one I’ll experience should I be lucky enough to hear a tom sound off in response through the breaking light of an early May morning.
So, what exactly am I hopeless for? I’m bereft of optimism that things will change for the better. There is money to be made, a market to shill for, and so many born every minute that I have a better chance of stopping a freight train with your bare hands than I do of making any meaningful impact on the direction the sport is moving in.
I’m completely aware that I get cantankerous this time of year; just go back through everything I’ve written here in every month of March since 2011. I’m deep into withdrawal. I’m fed-up with the glitzy, whore-like makeup applied in thicker layers every year to the serenity of a spring ritual I’ve grown increasingly addicted to, and most of all I’m helpless in the face of change and pathetically prostrate to the throes of my turkey hunting impulses. Just go ahead and hunt them how you want I suppose, because all my pissing and moaning likely won’t make a convert of anyone that doesn’t already think what I think. Have some fun and try not to get yourself shot.
It only comes around once a year, and if you’re reading this from a region where your season is underway, I hope the gobblers are willing and that your patterns are tight.
If you have not been out there yet in the thick of it, enjoy those “firsts” that might happen this season.
First mornings. First gobbles. First hunts with your kids. First birds ever.
We hope that you enjoy the hunt, respect the bird, eat well, and be merry. All this silliness will seem so very far away soon, and the season will slide past all too quickly, just like it does every year.