June 21, 2018
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Gobbling for gobblers, or how to call turkeys like a choking cat

By John Holyoke, BDN Staff

Knee-deep in camouflage gear and shotgun shells (with a rubber turkey decoy thrown in for good measure), I went about the prep work that would, I assumed, give me the best odds of success on Tuesday morning.

I would rise early and dress like a tree. I would meet up with Hunting Buddy (who would also be dressed like a tree), sneak into the woods, and talk turkey. And at the end of the morning, we would proudly cart our gobblers to the local tagging station, fill out the required paperwork, and start scouring the Internet for the best wild turkey recipes.

That was the plan, at least. As for my planning expertise, at this point it would make sense to admit that I have … uh … limitations. Some would say I’m unrealistic. I prefer the word “optimistic.” Either way, we can agree that I seem to have a hard time distinguishing between “bold-faced dreams,” “wild-eyed wishes,” and “reasonable plans.”

Not that any of that would stop Hunting Buddy and I from having a grand old time on Tuesday, of course.

The first sign of trouble came on Saturday, as I weeded through a pile of camouflage hats, jackets and trousers. For the uninitiated, if you’re going to look like a fake tree, there are many ways to do so. In fact, manufacturers give their own individual patterns cool names so the dress-like-a-shrub set can accessorize intelligently.

If, for instance, you’re a Mossy Oak Break-Up guy (which, if you’re looking for gift ideas, I am), it would probably make sense that all of you — from hat to boots — reflects that. I figure, if you’re going to spend good money trying to blend in with the woods, the least you can do is make sure that you blend in with yourself.

Not that any of that worked … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back to Saturday: After finding, sorting and choosing Tuesday’s wardrobe — Mossy Oak Break-Up, you might guess — I began searching the house for my diaphragm turkey call. Picture a more flexible orthodontic retainer (without that cool wire wrapping around your teeth).

In the mouth of a professional, that kind of call can make turn even the most obstinate gobbler into a babbling, lovesick bird who will prance across the meadow, throwing caution to the wind, in his effort to find the source of that siren song.

In the mouth of an amateur, the call emits a shrieking blat that is more likely to send your dog running for cover and prompt your girlfriend to start dialing 9-1-1.

Trust me on this one: I know of what I speak. After finding my call, I popped it into my mouth, puckered up, and gave it a little blat as I walked down the stairs. “Chock!” Just like the instructions said.

Karen met me at the foot of the stairs, a panicked look on her face.

“What was that?” she said, her eyes darting back and forth, looking for something.

“Urgey all,” I grunted, not taking the call out of my mouth.

Karen’s shoulders dropped, the panic passing. “Oh,” she said. “I thought the cat was choking on something.”

Cat. Choking. Hmm.

Come Tuesday, after a bit more practicing, I was ready to head afield. And while it may not seem so, I assure you that I had been training — for months, in fact — for the occasion.

Turkey hunting takes place early, you see. Really, really early. And in order to sneak into the woods before Tom the turkey and all his pals had woken up and headed to the local bar in search of mates, we had to get into the woods under the cover of darkness. The early worm gets the bird … or something like that.

And thankfully, for the past four months (ever since we started gaining hours of daylight, actually), my loyal springer spaniel, Pudge, has been steadfastly preparing me for turkey season. It was a gradual thing, thankfully. But Pudge, part-rooster, part-dog, wants — needs is not too strong a word — to get his day started shortly after the sun rises. He wants food. He wants to go out. He starts with a subtle nose-nuzzle. Then he whines. Eventually, he barks. Sleeping in is not an option.

Back in January, my morning wakeup call came at 7:30. Now, the sun rises much earlier. Because of that, the daily dog-a-doodle-doo call has come at 5:45. Early. But not early enough.

Finally, on Tuesday, I got to give Pudge a taste of his own medicine. My alarm rang at 3:15. He opened one eye, as if to see if I was serious. I was. Reluctantly, or so it seemed, he stretched his legs and joined me downstairs. He ate. We went outside. And then I headed to the woods.

And the hunting? Well, as I mentioned, I’m an optimist, not a planner. As such, even when things don’t turn out perfectly, I’m willing to focus on the positive. Hunting Buddy and I had an eventful day. We talked to at least three gobblers at first light (none of whom showed themselves). We talked to two more a couple hours later (neither of which would strut within shotgun range).

One turkey even turned toward us and seemed to consider coming closer. Closer to the decoys. Closer to our shotguns. Closer to the dinner plate. He eventually opted to continue his morning walk, and headed off in the other direction.

I don’t speak fluent turkey, so I might be wrong. But I swear, as their retreating gobbles faded, I heard one say something about a choking cat.

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