It starts first in the south, but soon, all across North America, alarm clocks will be set for those ungodly early morning hours.
The genesis of this early clock-setting madness kicks off in Florida.
And as the weeks tick by and March rolls into April and then May, turkey hunters in increasingly more northern latitudes take up the arcane ritual of the gobbler hunter.
And that’s because we need to be in the woods early enough to hear the old tom turkeys sound off at the first hint of daylight.
So we have to get up early in order to slosh down a cup or two of hot coffee or tea, rub the sleep out of our eyes, most often drive to a hunting spot on the edge of the woods, and then slip into the dark forest.
Gobblers tend to roost back in the woods, often on the edge of a steep slope and it takes a hike to get close.
So we have to start early…very early.
We do so that in order to hear the wild turkey gobble at dawn.
Toms gobble to greet the coming of daylight from his treetop roost. The long, loud, rolling, and rattling call bounces down the hollows and careens up across the hilltops.
Gobbles sweep over farms, through valleys and pass fields like a springtime breeze.
And then the huge birds gobble again.
We shiver, become alert.
There is no sound in our upland woodlands close to it in the springtime.
The gobble is unique; absolutely dominate against the cacophony of background springtime bird sounds of warblers, robins, other thrush, the raucous chops of crows, croaks of ravens, and the staccato rap of woodpeckers drumming out their messages of territoriality and love.
Dawn turkey hunters are greeted every morning by an amazing background symphony of birdcalls as the woodlands awaken to the new day.
But we only strain to hear one singular bird call and we call it a gobble.
The prevalent school of paleontology has rolled out the theory that birds are literally a type of dinosaur. Just as bats are mammals, birds are dinosaurs. And dinosaurs are reptiles. (Yes, birds are reptiles, too).
Phylogenetics has changed our understanding of how animals are genetically related to one another, all based on individual species having a common ancestor, rather than on their bone structure, looks, or physiology.
Genetically, birds descended from reptiles, and therefore are reptiles.
And it does make sense. Birds and dinosaurs have in common being egg layers and being warm-blooded.
Many dinosaurs were bipedal, upright walking on two legs and some even flew with wings. Archeoptryx used wings at least to glide as did Pteradactyls and Pteranadon.
But when they were in an amorous mood, what was their call? Did they gobble?
Imagine how loud a Tyrannosaurus Rex gobble would be!
What were the sounds that the females made? Did they yelp and cut, cackle?
Imagine calling in a 45-foot long turkey. Talk about big-game hunting. Probably need a bigger gun.
But seriously, gobbles can tell an experienced turkey hunter quite a bit about what is going on in the local turkey world.
After we wear out a couple pairs of hunting boots we can pretty much tell the difference in the gobble of a jake (or young male gobbler) from an old tom.
The younger tom has a shorter, less full gobble than does the old boss bird.
But sometimes we are fooled. Some jakes have in fact a deeper, richer, booming gobble than others, especially the most dominant ones.
In a group of jakes there appears a pretty rigid hierarchy and the last little guy on the totem pole will evidence an abbreviated gobble with even a bit of a yelp in it. But we have to listen closely. The differences are subtle.
In the natural order of things, the tom gobbles, the hen yelps and she is supposed to walk over the fields and hills to him. He calls her in.
But as turkey hunters, we stand this natural pattern on its head and try to call the tom turkey into range by using our best skills with our box, diaphragm, and friction calls.
What we in fact do is try to get him frustrated enough and antsy enough to break away from tradition because a tom turkey is full of hubris, pride, and an obnoxious bully.
Our main challenge is to talk on our devices sweetly, coyly, or sexy enough to break down his reticence and inhibitions.
But often as not, the gobbler will come in only part way through the woods and set up a strutting area.
Maybe in a small clearing halfway between the hunter and where the tom began answering the call.
And there he will strut, gobble, pirouette, and gobble some more, back and forth, back and forth, demanding the hen come in to him.
But once in a while, the tom will throw caution to the winds, overcome his pride, and work his way in.
That’s when we kill them, with a close headshot.
But more often…they “hang up” and refuse to come any closer.
Our calling has to be good enough to get the tom to commit and “cross the Rubicon.”
Sometimes a gobble will carry a frustrated, almost angry tone, incessant, quick and loud.
Other gobbles seem almost bored and obligatory.
And at other times in the springtime turkey woods, all is quiet and we listen, send out our calls for that one singular sound, the wild turkey gobble.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page of The Spectator.