rom 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
No guns. That comes later.
This is when we find once again
where the birds are staging, their
roosts and their movement and
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
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,
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
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
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
And on other days, "You can't
Seems that the rules of "turkey-
dom" state that any bird can
gobble if they feel like it when
up on the roost limbs, pre-flydown.
But once those big-toed feet hit the ground, the social
paradigm shifts. The literal "pecking order" is again
And things almost instantly quiet down.
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
And we talk in low tones, use a lot of hand signals, all the
way, reflecting on past hunts, some successful, some not.
Into the sound of the Spring woods.
Oak Duke, publisher of the Wellsville Daily Reporter writes
a weekly column, appearing Monday on The Outdoors Page.