Spring gobbler hunters often meet at 5 a.m. on a dirt road back in the woods.
Yes, it’s still dark then.
We carefully and as quietly as we can, bust our butts in the dark to work down or up a ridge, in order to set up within good hearing distance of a roosting, gobbling bird.
Out come the calls.
Communication between hunters was traditionally hand signals and whispers so as not to spook the game. (But nowadays we can text each other.)
Full camo a must.
Always exciting with a bird coming in and very satisfying when Lady Luck once again, though still rarely, smiles our way and we are successful.
And even if we don't get to shoot, it's always fun, tinged with a bit of frustration, just being out there turkey hunting.
Back home, someone asks, "How'd ja do?"
"Well, no bird.
"But we had a lot of fun, darn birds."
It usually takes a lot of work and time afield to get a turkey. The NYSDEC estimates somewhere between four and five toms are tagged for every 100 hours of hunting over the last 10 years.
Last year, in 2019, the estimated gobbler take statewide was about 17,000 birds with 89,000 licenses sold.
Nobody would say gobbler hunting is easy.
So what is it about turkey hunting in the spring that is so addicting?
What is it about the bird that draws us outside at such an ungodly hour, morning after morning after morning?
I know fanatic gobbler hunters who follow the gobbler season north, through the states.
First, they start hunting Florida in March, then hunt Georgia, then up to Virginia by mid-April, West Virginia in late April, and finish up in Pennsylvania and New York through May.
These turkey hunters start at the base of the southern Appalachians, on the Gulf Coast and move up the spine of the eastern mountains, timing their advance northward with the unfolding springtime and the strutting toms.
And these itinerant turkey hunters don't quit until they run out of springtime at the St. Lawrence, and it's finally summer in the north.
They don't quit calling turkeys until the last northern-most gobbler season has ended.
We know that there's a lot more to the challenge than just killing a bird, albeit a very large and tasty one.
Maybe the satisfaction and enjoyment is rooted in our "Hunter-Gatherer" nomadic heritage, way back before our ancestors carved out their own little plot of turf.
But make no mistake about it, turkey hunting is serious business, but intensified by the peculiar humor.
There is just something about turkey hunting that brings out the laughter, stories, and "needling," more than any other of the outdoor sports that I know.
Maybe the humor is deeper and stronger than other types of hunts because of the seriousness of the situation combined with the character, or nature of the tom turkey.
Remember being in a boring classroom with a stern teacher or at work in a meeting and the speech went on and on?
How 'bout those times when we were not supposed to laugh and the more we tried to hold it in, the stronger the laugh became so much so as violent, silent, gut-straining shakes?
The actual incident which created the laughter may or probably wasn't all that humorous.
And certainly was impossible to explain to someone else.
And we always lamely finished the explanation with something like, "Well, I guess you just had to be there."
Felt a bit foolish.
Well, this state of mind occurs when in the presence of beings that require we keep a perfectly straight composure and that we remain controlled and constrained; be it a teacher, preacher, a boss, or in this case, a wise old, humorless turkey gobbler.
We can all agree on one thing. Wild turkey gobblers lack the slightest shred of humor.
Their kind has strutted and gobbled across the earth for millennia with nary a snicker, chuckle, giggle, or laugh let alone a sense of irony.
They cut us no slack.
They are unforgiving.
And they are devoid of curiosity.
Tom turkeys have only one look, a stern, cold stare.
Gobblers are critical of every leaf, blade of grass, twig and tree.
And that big dark eye doesn't miss a trick.
To a turkey the world is all "black and white" in a metaphorical sense. (They see colors very well.)
After all, according to recent paleontology, they are the descendants of the dinosaurs.
Anything down the DNA trail from Tyrannosaurus Rex must be genetically predisposed to be mean-spirited as their progenitor the terrible lizard.
All that meanness distilled and condensed into a 20-pound body with spurs and a beard.
Gobblers do not tolerate mistakes.
Let them be that way.
Turkeys were never were meant to laugh anyway, but their attitude sure makes hunting them fun.
Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing on the Outdoors page.