Standing on a ridge in Winterport on Monday morning, Brhaun Parks engaged in a few of his favorite activities: Most obviously, he led a group of turkey hunters, using his experience and calling skills in an effort to outwit a wily tom on opening day. But he also shared a few tactics, more than a few tales of turkeys shot (and missed) by he and his pals, and talked about how he much he has enjoyed the sport over the past 24 years.
“Back when we started, you could only bowhunt ’em,” the Glenburn man said, talking about trying to pursue the flock that had regenerated after a restoration project in southern Maine. “That was an all-time epic fail. We had not a clue what we were doing.”
That didn’t stop Parks and his uncle from having a ball learning. And eventually, he had an experience that paved the way to hundreds of future hunts.
“The first time a bird gobbles in front of you at, like, 20 yards, it just echoes through your chest,” he said. “And I was hooked from that second on.”
On Monday, Parks served as the turkey caller for a hunting group that included Tom Boyd of Glenburn, Pete Warner of Bangor and me.
Over the course of several hours, we talked to a few turkeys, heard a few replies and attempted (unsuccessfully) to set up an ambush on a lovesick tom. To do so, we hopscotched across Winterport, checking out fields and forests where Parks has acquired permission to hunt.
A few times, it appeared that birds would cooperate in the hunt. Once, as we drove past a promising field, Parks and Boyd simultaneously spotted another turkey hunter skulking down a treeline. At the same time, Warner spotted a strutting tom turkey in the same field, about 100 yards away.
That was one of the areas we might have hunted, had the other hunter not beaten us to the punch. So we did the next best thing, parking on the side of the road to see how the hunt worked out.
We rolled down the windows and listened to the hunter make a few “yelp” calls. We watched as first one hen, then another — apparently not impressed at the competition from another woman — charged across the field toward the spot where the hunter had vanished into the woods.
And finally, we watched as the still-lonely tom decided to take his act elsewhere, tucking his tail and marching into the woods.
Many turkey hunters choose to set up in a likely spot, hunker down in a blind or up against a large tree, and call the birds in from long distances. Parks is more apt to close the distance between himself and an answering tom, eventually setting up an ambush that he hopes to call the turkey into.
And most times — like on Monday — Parks doesn’t even carry a shotgun with him.
Instead, he focuses on the calling duties, and leaves the shooting to others.
“[I’m not carrying a gun] probably 70, 80 percent of the time now,” he said. “I’ve got a few friends that love to hunt, and I figure, if they shoot birds, I get meat. So it all works out. I’ve shot my share. I don’t really care if I shoot a whole lot more … I have just as much fun sitting there, calling them in.”
And over the past several years, he has shared days afield with his son and daughter, who are also avid hunters.
No, turkey hunting’s not all about the kill for Parks. Sometimes, the birds show up. Sometimes, the hunters he teams up with fill their tags.
Other times, they don’t. And those days can be among his favorites, Parks admitted with a sly grin. He’s not only a top-notch turkey caller, you see. He’s also a world-class instigator, who never lets a pal forget their less-than-perfect shots.
“It’s funny when they miss,” he said. “Then you get to ride ’em. Which is perfect.”
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke