Category Archives: turkey and turkey hunting

Not A Fan

In social media circles over the few years, it has become increasingly popular to kill turkeys by “reaping” them.  If you’re reading this, odds are you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t “reaping” a.k.a. “fanning” is the method (if you can even call it a ‘method’) of hiding behind a wild turkey tailfan or strutting decoy and then shooting the gobbler when he comes to fight you.

And, as the salient point in what is about to follow, it is cheating. It is no different than jacklighting deer, or electrofishing, bear-baiting (which is a whole other missive for another day).

Now in a moral sense, I do not have the least issue with someone using a cheat code to win while playing a game. After all, I had a Nintendo Game Genie once. I was a noted pilferer of excess $100 bills when my friends and I would play Monopoly. I even once tried the “ace up the sleeve” in a university poker game but was too inebriated to know that I had dropped the card on the floor.

But cheating just so you can kill an animal? That is a step too far.

In the past, proponents of this reaping dumbfuckery have been vocal with me. Called me grumpy. Called me elitist. Called me a coward or a keyboard warrior. They’ve probably called me other things too that they chose not to write. Whatever. Sticks and stones, and all that.

I think it’s important to note here that we’re not some anonymous troll on the internet. Our name is on this. We are not shy with our unpopular opinions with this topic, but we try to be at least logically sound here. So, in that vein, we will now outline the key arguments we hear most often from people out reaping turkeys, and why those arguments are, by and large, pure nonsense.

“If you haven’t done it, how can you have an opinion on it?”

I have not run my arm through a thresher either, but I have a good idea that the outcome would not be great. This fallacy is so laughable it is hardly to be addressed. But I will here just to be fair.

Every one of us has a choice to make about what our ethical line in the sand is. That’s fair of hunting turkeys, and that’s fair of life. Choose to dishonor yourself if you will, choose to break game laws if you will (some areas that have already banned reaping…and I sincerely hope more areas follow suit), choose to disrespect the game animal if you so desire. These are choices.

Of course “freedom of choice is not freedom from repercussions” should also be an axiom that everyone is familiar with. People are choosing to mortgage the future of the wild turkey, and the future of the tradition at large, just to make a sale, or to get social media attention, or for the sake of their own egos, and those choices are not beyond criticism, just as what follows here is not beyond criticism nor is this a magnum opus meant to be a definitive final statement on the matter. But I and those like me who see the problem here aren’t obliged to lower our ethics just to check and see if we like it or not. Have a higher standard.

“I bought a tag, so I can kill that bird however I want.”

Fair enough, I guess, but since when does buying a tag represent some contract whereby your payment means that a turkey owes you his life?

If he won the game and outmaneuvered you, or if your calling and hunting skills fell short that day, or if biology did what biology does and hens took him away, or maybe it’s just too windy and he’s loafing out in the middle of 250 acres and you’ve got no way to get him that day, my simple question to you is “why do you need to cheat to win”? Almost none of us are sustenance hunting anymore, so although I too thoroughly enjoy fried wild turkey nuggets, I do not need to kill him just to survive. Nor do I have a level of disrespect for the bird so high that I would reap or fan him out of frustration that he’s bested me on that day. Buying the tag gets you the opportunity to hunt him. That’s it.

It’s a ticket to a dance that your prospective partner does not even know they are a part of, and your state or provincial resource managers get some cash in the deal.

That should be enough.

“Hunters need to be united.”

First off, we absolutely do not. As with anything, debate and questioning the status quo is about the only way to make progress. Hunting is a democratic pastime, free to those who wish to pursue it, and so long as there is a sense of right and wrong in any hunter, most of the time you’ll know when you or someone else has done the bird wrong. Saying so is not some taboo, and good faith debate, or even vigorous arguments, will not endanger the tradition.

But if you are completely tied to the concept of hunter unity, I would then propose total unity in a stance that puts the bird first. A standard of unity that places woodsmanship, calling, and the close-range encounters those skills alone an afford you above all other things, including the kill. It does not mean the gobbler gets to walk every time, but it means that a turkey hunter is attuned enough to know when you tricked the old tom and beat him fair and square, versus when you choose to pull the chute, give up, and reap him. We should try to provide a level of unity that does not give ‘the law’ or ‘the antis’ or ‘the tree-huggers’, or whatever other imagined enemies you have an opportunity to point to turkey hunters and say that we are cheating. That would be true unity, not this “any legal means’ aberration.

But that level of unity in the tradition is not what fanning and reaper apologists want. They want their version of unity, only with hunters who think and act like they do and that validate their actions, and that buy their products or watch their videos. Moving on.

“It’s legal, so it’s not unethical.”

Defining fair-chase is the holy grail of the hunting community. One day someone is going to accurately, definitively, and concisely define what fair-chase is, and then (hopefully) a big subsection of the hunting tradition that beaks off about this will know which side of this they fall on. Now, I’m not nearly erudite enough to be that person, so all I can really do is define fair-chase in the context of comparing that ideal to what it most clearly is not. In a philosophical conundrum, what is fair-chase is almost invariably legal, but what is legal is not always necessarily fair-chase. But for the “it’s legal, therefore a-okay” crowd, they either willfully, or through a simple lack of reflection, spend no time concerned with that conundrum. They prefer obedience to introspection and so long as their statutes okay it, then they’ll work within those boundaries. But there’s the rub you see. It is perfectly legal where I reside for me to swat a gobbler out of his roost tree while his head is tucked safely beneath his wing, but that is hardly a sporting way to kill one. I could sneak up on a bearded hen while she incubates the next generation of wild turkeys and whack her with a pile of copper-plated sixes, but why on earth would anyone think that’s okay for just two drumsticks and pair of turkey breasts? If it were legal to smash them from the roadside with a .243WIN, would you do that too? The answers here often say a lot more about the person proposing the argument of legality than they do about the people trying to refute it. Which is unfortunate, because there are a whole hell of a lot of good people saying that in the context of turkey hunting, what is “permitted” is not the same as what is “permissible”.

“It’s a rush.”

At least this argument gets as close as possible to telling the truth about why people fan/reap turkeys. Monstrous as it is, it’s at least the one that I can most clearly understand.

They want to kill things. They need instant-gratification. They get bored waiting for a stubborn gobbler. Fanning is exciting for them, and fair-chase advocates can stick all that ethical bullshit in their ear.

I like being close to turkeys too. A few years back, my cousin and I were working a pair of longbeards in a hardwood edge, and they were absolutely breathing fire. Both birds double and triple-gobbling and getting closer with each call. Their racket called in a hen, and she nearly stepped right on my shoulder in her haste to get to those lover boys, and you can bet that having her so close I could hear her breathing and that I could have pet her with my hand was exhilarating. Close encounters with wildlife are a rush, but you can have all those that you want without scooting along behind a goofy decoy.

Calling a gobbler in and having him completely give it up is also exciting, and I’ve never had a turkey hunt yet where the act of calling the gobbler in didn’t make my motor run high. And if he’s not cooperating? Move on and find one that turns your crank. Or enjoy the woods and have a snooze in the sun, those things are fun too.

“This is the natural progression of turkey hunting.”

Wrong. This is the natural progression of the commercialization of turkey hunting, and no one is immune. I’ve got a high dollar shotgun, and I’ve got optics, and I’ve got expensive turkey calls, and I have even bought moderately expensive turkey decoys, so I get it, these fanning miscreations seem like just one more tool in the arsenal of hunting’s modernity. But they are oh so different. The fixed action pattern these provoke make an animal that is crafty, wily, wary, and supremely adapted for survival (…but hardly “smart”) occasionally helpless in the face of their biology. And that dozens of outdoors companies and industry-professionals, and social media influencers want to make wealth and fame off the back of this blind-spot in a turkey’s biology is frankly sickening. So many of the anti-fanning narratives start with “we are not going to judge how others hunt”, but not this one. We’ll say it plain: if you fan a turkey for notoriety, or financial gain, or for marketing for your company so you can buy another lease on which to fan turkeys, then you are complicit in every piece of bad press and anti-hunting rhetoric this scourge creates. Many of them then make some manner of chimerical super-justification by combining positions mentioned above that any legal means is fine, or that their opponents a dividing the hunting tradition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Marketing a shortcut and the desire to exploit the hunting community for cash via some new and more effective turkey killing product every year are the things that are detrimental to the tradition.

But let’s say I’m wrong and scientifically accepted fixed action patterns are horseshit, and fanning and reaping is not the magic bullet it is portrayed to be in hunting media and by those who would shill for those companies, then this brings us to the next argument.

“It doesn’t work 100% of the time. It’s not foolproof”

It is an unusual argument to hear that “fanning and reaping isn’t nearly as successful as you think” only to be bombarded constantly by videos and hunting industry television shows and advertisements reporting a precise refutation of that argument, but since when does logic apply to fallacies?

You can find ample proof to the contrary, and way more turkeys are being killed by using this method than might otherwise have died. I appreciate that no hunting method is 100% effective, but since when do we need to tilt the ledger so far towards 100% that we lose our self-respect? At what point did hunting become quantity over quality, and in this modern hunting space (with all the biological information at our mere fingertips) why would we ever believe that the resource is infinite to the point that taking the bird at all costs (both ethical and financial….some of those fanning rigs ain’t cheap) is acceptable?

“Let the biologists worry about populations, they sold the tag, so the population must be able to handle it” is such a brainless argument that it staggers the mind. As though wildlife managers had some crystal ball and were prognosticating based on 100% hunter success…give your damn head a shake. Or conversely, don’t give your damn head a shake, keep overkilling turkeys with unethical tactics, and then reap the reward of reduced tags and opportunities. It is happening now, and it might get worse before it gets better.

But odds are a smattering of those same people will then complain that wildlife managers don’t know what they are doing.

“You’re a hater/elitist.”

So first off, I do not hate other hunters, but there are times when I do hate what they do to hunting, and I am unabashedly vocal in my belief that holding others accountable is not ‘divisive’ or creating a schism in the hunting community that will give anti-hunting organizations leverage. Even if they are not biologically bad for turkey populations (and I’m still inclined to believe that fanning is a tool effective beyond conventional hunting practices, but I’ll concede momentarily there for this purpose) what gives anti-hunting organizations leverage is glorifying some of the stupidity inherent in this reaping nonsense. People behind fans appearing on television and social media trying to grab wild turkeys by the legs, people wounding turkeys at point blank range because their pattern is the size of a golf ball, people swinging hammers at them from behind tailfans or dressing up in Halloween costumes to prove how “effective” fanning a turkey can be. Those things are what degrade the tradition; telling you it degrades the tradition and jeopardizes the hunt is the only defense mechanism against this we as a community have. That’s not hate. I am, like you, imperfect and I have a small and generally minor list of moments afield that bring me shame. I’ve learned from them by having good mentors who told me not to do dumb shit, and by having some self-awareness for how my actions impact the perceptions of others.

As for the elitist bit? Not a thing I ever expected to be called by a faceless social media pundit, but then it happened. Does that mean I’m judging you? No, I’m not judging you as a person, you may be perfectly enjoyable to be around and real fun person to have a beer and watch sports with. But I am unreservedly judging your actions in light of how they represent hunting to a non-hunting public. That’s a judgment more important than whether you’re fun at parties or a good parent.

But even then, I have to ask, why do you give a rat’s ass what I think? Are you yourself the elitist, incredulous that I am so backward that I cannot see this game-changing potential to be found in reaping gobblers? Or maybe, just maybe, you know that you’re cheating the bird, and you know that you’re cheating yourself, and you know that you’re cheating the men and women who fought for decades to bring this abundance back from the brink of an extinction that was nearly caused by the same shit you’re espousing to do now, and perhaps you’re just projecting and justifying and clutching at straws?

Who knows, these are just thoughts?

The above is far from an exhaustive list of excuses from a segment of the turkey hunting community that is unashamed of this trend, and so long as it grows, as will the scope of ridiculous justifications for trash behaviour. I care a lot about this. I was raised by my hunting mentors to have a high bar for killing animals the right way, and I was raised directly in the turkey hunting tradition by a parent that worked in conservation and loves hunting so much that sketchy practices marked as “progress” were taught to be pure anathema to me. I do not shrink from the accusation that this is a problem of my own opinions, but I can also take a stance that (at least arguably) none of my opinions and actions actively harm the tradition in the way that reaping a turkey has, and that reaping unfortunately continues to do.

As I close, I’ll refrain for now from questioning what kind of individual builds their self-esteem and personal brand around mallet-swatting a turkey in the face with an ounce or two of lead from behind a molded plastic monstrosity. But what I will state is that without a doubt, legal or not, it is not turkey hunting but simply turkey-killing

And that distinction is key to the survival of the bird and of the tradition we all proclaim to love so much.

Excalibur TwinStrike, or, Some of the Reasons That This is Bad Idea

I woke up on January 7th unaware that I was going to see (without hyperbole) the most unnecessary piece of hunting equipment to be marketed in my recent memory. I even managed to make it through half the day, blissfully unaware of its existence. But then during my lunch hour I scrolled through Instagram and was confronted with the Excalibur TwinStrike. I blinked my eyes, hard. Surely, I was experiencing temporary double-vision. I drew my phone closer to my eyes; maybe I needed bifocals now. Then I checked the date to make sure I had not been time-warped ahead to April Fool’s Day. But all the above were incorrect. I was looking at a legitimate picture of a twin-bolt crossbow.

My first, admittedly ineloquent, thought: “This is pretty stupid.”

As I delved deeper, I was heartened that literally hundreds of hunters were likewise confused and incredulous, in fact the vast majority of hunter feedback ranged from scathing to hilarious in their condemnation.

“The answer to a question nobody asked.”

“A chance to break two sets of recurve limbs.”

“Now I can ruin two $20 bolts instead of one.”

And so forth.

Now of course the hunting entities benefitting from Excalibur as a sponsor had excited, glowing, predictable things to say promoting this elegant monstrosity. Praise like ‘game-changer’, and ‘innovative’, and ‘revolutionary’, and ‘a new era in archery’ were being bandied about as though they were true, but it was either transparent or hypocritical or transparently hypocritical.

To anyone (it would seem) outside of those beholden to Excalibur, this should be so obviously awful that the fact this cleared the conceptualization, design, and build phases is utterly shocking.

Now as a disclaimer, writ large, I generally like Excalibur. A stable Canadian company and for a long time the makers of arguably the most reliable and simplistic crossbow interface on the market. And I guess that’s the problem. You see when you sell a solid product, how do you improve on it? The answer is you do not, or more accurately, you probably cannot. So now we have the Excalibur models of recent times. Smaller, lighter, some corners cut (google the limb reliability issues cropping up in more recent models if you’d like), more mass-produced, and ultimately formulated into a take-down model. Because that’s all you can do with an initially strong product; tweak and tinker with it. Try to convince a consumer to get ‘the latest thing’.

Thus, the TwinStrike.

Photo c/o


So enough about how I think we got here, let’s talk about just a few reasons why this looks to be bad for hunting.

The Slippery Slope Away from Traditional Weapons

We are not going to wade into an argument about the place of crossbows in the archery/traditional weapons/special season category because that is a fundamentally fruitless debate. What we will say is there are very contentious feelings around crossbows. For the majority of jurisdictions, they are considered archery equipment, so we’ll leave it at that. But that classification for so long has been predicated on the understanding that the interface is one arrow/bolt then the hunter has to reload the weapon. The only way this new product is innovative is that it is going to challenge that paradigm.

Now, do traditions and classifications change? As a firearm owning Canadian, I can assure you that classifications do change, but rarely to the ‘inclusive’ side of that ledger. Imagine dropping over $2k on a weapon that (I honestly hope) will not allowed for bowhunting.

Of course, a modern compound bow is also technically advanced, and hardly a traditional weapon either, but it is still one shot at a time. What would anyone think of a hunter with a compound bow if they drew back a bow string and arrow in each finger?! I have no doubt that modern muzzle-loading firearms are again nothing more than accurate single shot high-powered rifles, but still, one shot at a time. Progress is absolutely inevitable, but what amounts to a ‘double-barreled crossbow” is hardly the technical progress hunting needs.

Wounding Game

Even if I could concede ground that this mutant crossbow is still “technically” archery equipment, a much more pressing issue here is my belief (and the belief of many other hunters based on social media commentary and banter) that this will contribute to more wounded animals. I believe that as much as I believe the sun will rise tomorrow.

Now of course I can hear you stammering a riposte that the weapon is not to blame, hunters must take responsibility for ethical shots, know the capabilities of their weapon, etc, etc, etc and I agree with all that, in a vacuum. But I’ve been in situations where I have that second shot in my rifle or shotgun so that I can back up a miss, and I can tell you that in 100% of cases when I have to use that second shot, it has been more challenging than the first shot.

If the first shot you took at a deer or a turkey or a bear or whatever else you are shooting a TwinStrike at was poor, it is not unreasonable to think that the animal will likely be moving away, making the follow-up shot likely longer, likely at an alert and moving target, and likely at a range that will need to be guessed at, since the thought being able to pull out the trusty range-finder and ensuring the follow-up is true seems about as likely as me purchasing a TwinStrike. And, for that one time that you miss that first shot and the animal takes one or two steps and just stops dumbfounded, well, I’ll ask if that one scenario is worth all the others where the second shot is rushed and at indeterminate distance?

It is all a matter of risk reward when you boil it down, and if you as a serious hunter can look at me straight-faced and without a shred of doubt tell me that this gives hunters anything more than an opportunity to wound more game, that tells me a lot about your level of responsibility, braggadocio, and capacity for cognitive dissonance. Yes, I (and others) will be rightfully judging you.

 Just Because You Can, Does Not Mean That You Should

All hunters make mistakes, I do it, hunters in my circle do it, hunters you know do it, and ‘professionals’ on TV and social media do it. There are all kinds of ways to screw up, but for me all fall into either errors of omission or are errors of commission. You either forget to do something and it leads to a mistake, or you actively (although I hope unintentionally) do things that lead to a mistake.

I recall being in my Hunter’s Education class with ten other candidates some decades ago, in the converted basement of a suburban home, the small space lit by the glow of an old overhead projector, listening to my instructor talk about the above two points. In this lecture, my instructors stressed with much gravity that the key difference between a gun and an arrow is that while both require practice and expertise, archery was a vocation requiring much more precision, composure, and required the elimination of as many errors of commission as possible. If I make a mistake with a shotgun slug or a high-powered rifle bullet, there is still a chance the animal will sustain hydro-static shock and trauma on even a marginal shot; an arrow wound in a marginal spot may just end up with your deer being a lame piece of coyote bait one county over. I have four other rounds in my .308 to redeem myself with, and for turkeys, two more rounds of lead pellets that wallop like a hammer. At the time, crossbows gave you one chance to get it right. You owed it to the animal then to be sure, and you still do now.

I like to file the TwinStrike under what I call errors of false security which are type of ‘commission error’. The belief that ‘there’s another round in the chamber’ (in a pseudo-metaphorical sense for this particular weapon) can actually create the circumstances for the excess wounding that I’m concerned about above.

I cannot see into hunter’s minds and souls, but as fallible humans, I can reasonably presume that someone with this weapon may take a risky shot at a quartering or moving deer, because they have that second bolt primed. A hail-Mary second bolt arcing into a rear ham or up a turkey’s cloaca. Elegant isn’t it?

Likewise, I cannot wait for the rapid-fire YouTube videos I’ll no doubt have to witness where sportsmen and amateur marksmen try to show how quickly, and in their minds accurately, that they can send two bolts downrange. Just keep building up that hubris, because I also know eventually a non-sportsman is going to post a picture or a video of a deer with two non-lethal crossbow bolts sticking out of it. And then we’ll all have some explaining to do, even if we were morally opposed to this weapon from the get-go.

Standing Up to Ridiculous Things

This ties directly to that last paragraph. We all like to have cool things, and a lot of us also like to have the newest cool things. I’ve fallen for it, but generally for harmless things like overpriced under-engineered duck, goose, deer, and turkey calls, or gimmicky ammunition that promised good things and let me down emptied my wallet faster than I could empty my gun. But this is different. This is bad for the sport, for all the reasons above and likely more if you’d care to add your opinion.  I can assure you that I will never own one of these, even if given as a gift, because I believe each of us has a personal responsibility not to encourage things that negatively impact the tradition, the perception of the tradition to the non-hunting public by whom we have the privilege, and the debt of respect we owe to the wild game in making their end as prompt, clean, and precise as we humanly can.

It is dirty business, killing for your food, and the reverence for the act lies in its expedience.

I am not going to over-philosophize you here, but this weapon does not pass that test, not even a little. So, please just call it what it is, a gimmick designed to appeal in its controversy and peculiarity, and devised to increase a corporate bottom line. But as a sound and ethical means of killing game? Hardly.

Now of course, “you do you” dear reader. I’m not talking about banning or boycotting or pulling anything off the shelves. I am not some crotchety old man who hates progress; in fact, I was looking at an Excalibur Matrix on New Year’s Day as a way to extend my deer seasons. I’ve been given pause for reconsideration right now. But if this appeals to you, I’m shocked honestly that you made it this far into my missive against it. I congratulate and thank you for sticking it out through almost 2000 words of contrary opinion, the world needs more of that these days.

I am also fully aware that no one is forcing myself or anyone else to buy this terrible, terrible idea. Yes, I am also sure that there are many equally ridiculous and unnecessary things out there being marketed to hunters, and I’m likewise sure this is a business and product marketing decision equally as much as it is about really improving the state of hunting as a tradition.

After all, no reputable hunting company would mortgage out the future of hunting or the fair and ethical pursuit of game simply to make a buck, would they?

A Turkey Tale – Back to the Turkey Woods

This short and sweet story first appeared on in February, 2018.  You can also follow our guest writer Jordan from Hunt Trap Outdoors on Instagram here and on Facebook here.

6:30 a.m. – A loud gobble erupted from a close distance,  “Run and Gun” would be my only chance to bag a tom for the day.

I approached the field where the nearby gobble came from and was quickly immobilized by six grazing deer.  I feared getting too close may spook them.

While debating my next move, two turkeys appeared on top of the knoll.  I quickly doubled back and slipped through the bush.  There was some cover midway on the field’s edge, I was hopeful it would put me into position.  As I approached the cover – a longstanding lumber pile, I slowly poked my head up over the weathered lumber pile and to my surprise, the boss tom had already made his way to the middle of the field.  I quickly sat down and delivered a few box calls.

He continued to make his way to the corner of the field, at first glimpse I could see his fan of tail feathers before his body came into full view over a small rolling hill.  My silhouette now glued to the weathered lumber pile, shotgun ready – I let a few mouth calls out.
At 45 yards, with his interest fastened on the second turkey, I was confident he wasn’t going to move in any closer. I realized my opportunity to harvest this tom was soon to fade away.

With the bead of my shotgun fixed for a kill shot, I squeezed the trigger and confronted him with a face full of Winchester pellets, before flopping around on the ground, he was down! One of the quickest stalks I have ever made on a turkey – what a rush!
Six years had passed since I last entered the turkey woods – a great looking tom, terrific come back and one for the memory bank!

A great Ontario wild turkey for our guest writer. Photo courtesy of

Some Thoughts on an Obsession

It’s a total cliché to call turkey hunting an obsession. There is a camo pattern bearing that label, there is a web series about it, and there are thousands and thousands of people who have written about it, many of them in arguably better fashion than I have.

Yep, it is an absolutely tired cliché. But the reason it is tired is because it is all-too-true.

I’ve always thought of myself as reasonably level-headed.  On occasion, especially in my much younger decades, I did some unusual things. Early in my turkey hunting career I was obstinate and inflexible, and it cost me birds.  I still sometimes have impulses like that, even though I seem to have learned that a hunter has to sometimes adapt in order to kill turkeys. Last year was one such example, and it paid off in absolutely unexpected success.   But this year, through a combination of opportunity and frequency, I can say without reservation that I was officially “obsessed”.  This obsession was with three ornery tom turkeys that live around a patch of ground I hunt in Simcoe County.  This is my tragic story.

I was in my local spot on the opening Saturday of the season with my Dad a few hundred yards southwest of me.  This spot is on a privately-owned chunk of hardwood and some swamp surrounded by a couple fields and some more privately-owned hardwoods and fields.  The other locations are closed to us, although I have seen vehicles in the past parked at those areas so no doubt other turkey hunters frequent them on occasion. Access locally can be tough, so we’ve always been very cautious about staying on ‘our side of the line’, but that adds to an already challenging hunt. My first solo tom came off this local property and I’ve had frequent close encounters there when, through fate or hubris, I was not able to seal a bird.

Just a few days prior, Dad had been in a run-in at this location with a couple of cagey toms that snuck in silent on him, and he couldn’t contort himself into a shot.  It was a frustrating hunt he said, but it gave me hope that birds would be frequenting the area.  I settled in against a large boulder as the breaking dawn brightened everything around me. As if on cue, three gobblers fired off at 5:20am in the posted land to the north.  They gobbled well, once breaking into a musical round that saw one tom finish and another immediately start, only to have the third bird holler as the second finished his chorus.  It was “Row-Row-Row Your Boat” wild turkey style, and it went on for three minutes.

I had chills and I could sense I was grinning idiotically behind my camo face mask.

Their gobbles changed as they hit the ground and then they fell silent.  A hen rasped away in the woods behind me and the toms briefly made their way in my direction.  They went quiet again before moving off to the west, and I got a text message from Dad that he could see them half a kilometer away strutting and not showing any interest in moving our way.  We called it a morning.

The weekend after, I killed a bird on the Bruce Peninsula in very memorable fashion, and it gave me hope that I’d be able to tag out on a Simcoe County bird with the remaining three weeks of turkey season still laid out in front of me.

The following weekend, while my brother and father were on the Bruce Peninsula themselves each harvesting turkeys, I was back at the local spot.  Once again, the three gobblers were loud and proud, roosted in the exact same property north of our access that they had been in the weekend before.  Once again, they were responsive on the roost and once again they flew down and showed passing interest in my calling before once again heading due west into inaccessible areas.  Of course, while all this was happening I was fortunate enough to be treated to a wonderful, if not slightly cool, spring morning with sightings of deer, coyotes, waterfowl, and hundreds of raucous songbirds.  That afternoon, my six-year old son went with me for his first ever turkey hunt, and although a hen circled us at twenty yards for a good fifteen minutes, the gobblers were silent.  Driving out, I spotted them in that same area they had been moving to every morning.

They had a pattern, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.  Not legally, at least.

Fast forward ahead to the next weekend, a glorious three-day weekend with the promise of incredible turkey hunting weather. The forecast was sunny and calm, but also just a few degrees on the cool side.  I love this as it keeps the mosquitoes down in the swampy spots of the property.

For a third hunt, the toms were in the same tract of hardwoods and for the third time they flew down and went north-west.  I held out just a but longer in the morning and fired them up after 8:30am, but a single shot from where I last heard them quite literally crushed my spirits.  They went silent and I packed up my things and moped to the car.  I drove out past the block where I had last heard them and was shocked to see the three birds strutting in the block just adjacent to where the shot had come from. I was grinning like an idiot again, because either a fourth bird had met his end in that area or some unfortunate hunter had missed. I’ve felt the sting of the miss myself before (and probably will again before I shuffle off) but I was pleased to see three longbeards alive and well within earshot of my preferred patch.  I resolved to be back on the holiday Monday.

It was a carbon copy of the previous hunt.  Gobblers hollering in the hardwoods to the north, that flew down into the field, gobbled some more, and never paid my calling any attention.  They were telling me something and I resolved to get out at least one more time and put a theory to the test. You see, previously, I had waited for them to gobble before calling back, and the result had always been the same: lukewarm to moderate interest in my setup before heading northwest of my direction into places I just cannot go.

Next time out I was going to be the one to wake them up.

I got in extra-extra early with my Dad on the last Saturday of the season. This time it was offering to be hot and humid and I had my Thermacell loaded and ready to do work.  I also had my mind made up that those birds were going to hear me long before I heard them.  After all, what was there to lose?  At the precise moment legal shooting light hit, I thumbed the shells into the 870 that makes every trip with me, and I pulled out a crystal pot call.  I tree yelped and did a fly down series at just barely past 5am; even at that early hour, the late-spring morning was bright.  In those moments between calling and waiting for an answer, I was a jumpy bundle of nerves.  I was waiting for the response that had come so predictably every other morning of the season.

Nothing.  I ratcheted up the volume on some yelping.  Still nothing.  I cutt hard and rasped so loudly on the call that my ears tingled just a bit.

From the hardwoods to the north came the shouted response from that trio of birds, and I exhaled with a smile.

They answered every cutt and yelp, and on fly down they showed more interest than at any other time this year.  They slid off slightly just before 6:00am, but they were still answering when I went into a fighting purr sequence (which my pot call does so well that it almost isn’t fair), and they thundered back.  Before I could call, they hammered again, closer this time.  I set the call down and steadied the gun.  Again, they gobbled, and they sounded angry then. I was sure they were in my field for the first time all season, and my heart picked up the pace just a bit. I cut my eyes left, hoping to see their forms heading into my hen and jake decoy setup.  They gobbled hard and they sounded to be nearly in range, but still I did not have a visual on them as they approached from my left.  I steadied the gun in their direction and twisted my left shoulder imperceptibly towards them.

Then, it all went to hell.

In that slightest movement a white-tailed deer busted from less than fifty feet to my right and ran out of the woods, on a bee-line between the decoys and where I had last expected to see those three gobblers. Tail-up and bounding along, snorting all the way, the doe crossed the field. I held the gun steady in the last spot I’d heard a gobble. Everything was so blasted silent that it made me temporarily believe that the turkeys had simply vanished into thin air.  I had not heard them putt and I had not heard them fly, so I clung to the hope that the deer had not pooched my whole hunt and they were still sneaking in.  For ten minutes I was silent, waiting to hear a turkey drumming or for another gobble to ring out.  Eventually I clucked on my mouth call and nothing happened.  I yelped louder, and still nothing happened.  I cutt and yelped and the three birds responded…hundreds of yards to the northwest, headed to where they had gone every other morning this year.

I lowered the gun, muttered an unrepeatable swear word and resolved to apply for a doe tag for that WMU so that I could come back and turn that deer into backstraps.

Shortly after Dad came by and I told him my pathetic story.  He’s always been fatalistic about things like that, and with a shrug and soft smile he said “if they were easy to kill, there wouldn’t be any of them left” which is true but was of cold comfort to me in the moment.  I was pretty annoyed at the turkey-hunting gods by that time, having just gone through the full emotional wringer in a matter of a few early-morning hours and been oh-so-close to actually laying eyes down the gun-rail on those three birds that had occupied my thoughts and mornings for the whole spring. But it was not in the cards.

In the self-reflective moments of the drive home, I realized how obsessive about these birds I had become and that through the lack of Sunday hunting in the township, along with work and family commitments, I was not going to get another crack at them this spring.  There was closure in that, and I was simultaneously frustrated at the outcome and grateful for the opportunity to tangle with them.  Aside from one of them actually dying at the end of my shotgun, they really were everything us turkey hunters hope for.  They were vocal, they had personality, and they were some of the most challenging birds I’ve had to work against.  My wishful thinking imagines them as hardy four-year-old birds with dragging beards and wicked hooked spurs, brothers that had lived their whole lives in the area and that I may have had run-ins with in prior springs. They very well could be, or they could just be unpredictable, contrary two-year-old toms that like all wildlife don’t really have a set of rules that they follow and just do frustrating things to people like me.

I wish for them to make it through the next ten months or predators and cars and another Ontario winter, so that come next April I will find myself seated in the same spot sparring with them once again; all I can do is hope that by then perhaps I’m a little better and that maybe they have an off day.