From the back porch on the old cabin set back in the woods, we waited in the dark for the first gobble.
We knew it would come, rolling up across that wild and dark stretch of space above the steep wooded hollow's treetops, through the damp darkness.
We each stood there in the dark, awaiting the dawn, coffee cup in hands, camouflaged and ready to go.
An old bare bulb threw its weak light on our backs from inside the cabin. But the blackness we were staring into absorbed any shadow.
It was just the first day out, preseason.
A woodland morning, soaked in tradition, almost as much as Opening Day of Spring gobbler hunting season.
No guns. That comes later.
This is when we find once again where the birds are staging, their roosts and their movement and feeding areas.
This is when we begin running our turkey calls; learning again the "sweet spots" on our slate and glass friction calls, where the tone is best, bend and separate the latex on our mouth calls, and chalk up the wooden box calls.
We want to see the birds, see the toms strut and display.
But that's rare.
We might spook them and "wise 'em up."
Instead we hang back, hold our cards close, and intuit through sound the dynamics of the social realm of the wild turkey.
Gobbler hunting's primordial foundation is auditory.
Other sports are visual.
But when we turkey hunt, we listen. We listen.
And then we make some sounds.
The gobbles begin rolling up the hollow where we could make out the black tree-line on top of the ridge, silhouetted against the graying sky.
Hens "clattered and clacked" too every once in a while from their roost trees.
And these female yelps fired up another round of gobbling from the boys.
As if on cue, a barred owl rolled out a long "Hoooowaaa," from up across the ridge. And of course all the tom turkey answered to that, gobbling a couple times and setting each other off, almost sounding like echoes.
And another barred owl sounded off from the hemlocks, across the ravine, "Whooo, Whooo, Whooo,...Who who, who-whoaaaaa."
And then the crows, mortal enemy of all owls began their cawing almost saying, "It's our time now. Light is coming on now, Mr. Owl." "You have to go to sleep, and we can harass you, like you do us at night. Whooahh."
Owls and crows argue over ownership of the half-light of dawn.
And of course the toms put in their "two cents worth" in almost an obligatory fashion, from the oldest dominant boss, to the smallest little guy.
And the percussionists, the woodpeckers and sap-suckers begin their incessant drumming, finding just the right tree or stump with the best and loudest resonance hoping to impress their females with drum solos.
And not to be outdone, from next to the cabin, off to our right, a grouse began drumming, thumping like an old oil well pump house.
And woven through the early din are the melodic calls of songbirds; warblers, Rose-breasted grossbeaks and the ubiquitous robins.
On these days of early spring, before the uplands "green up," a jet flying over will set them off gobbling. Sometimes a clap of thunder makes them gobble. I've heard them "shock gobble," in response to gun shots a hill or two away.
And on other days, "You can't hear nothin'."
Seems that the rules of "turkey-dom" state that any male bird can and at times will gobble if they feel like it from the roost, pre-flydown.
But once those big pink-clawed feet hit the ground, the social paradigm shifts. The literal "pecking order" is again enforced.
And things almost instantly quiet down.
Some turks on the lower end of the pecking order don't dare to squeak and know their place in the order of things.
And the order of things is always changing in the turkey woods.
The coffee cups were empty, becoming cold in our hands.
Light was coming on strong.
The gobbling had all but stopped.
Time to get going.
The turkeys were headed for the old hidden field up on top of the next ridge over. We could tell by the sound.
Time to take the first step off the porch, into the soft April mud and weave through the foggy damp woodlands along deer trails again.
And we talk in low tones, use a lot of hand signals, all the way, reflecting on past hunts, some with kills, some not.
We walk into the sound of the magic of the spring turkey woods.
Oak Duke, publisher of the Wellsville Daily Reporter writes a weekly column, appearing Monday on The Outdoors Page. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Into the sound of the wild turkey
Mar 28, 2008 at 12:01 AM Mar 28, 2008 at 10:49 AM