Many of us were infected at some point in our life by a grandfather, father, relative or friend with what some would consider a legitimate sickness. We are known as the Spring Legion. Strangely enough the sickness and the cure for us are one in the same. The Wild Turkey. Our symptoms brought on by the wild turkey continue year round and manifest in many ways such as of loss of sleep, hearing gobbles that aren’t there, preoccupied thoughts, a queasy stomach, cold sweats from anticipation, making strange sounds that mimic a turkey, as we travel down the road year round in our trucks, hearing what sounds like a fly down as we walk through Wal-Mart and many other symptoms. The cure rest in the same object that brought about our symptoms and only for a brief few weeks in the spring do the symptoms and the sickness equalize, and then we are left to battle our sickness for another year.
There are countless turkey hunters that hit the woods every spring, but not all fit in to the Spring Legion. The Spring Legion are not driven by numbers or bragging rights, we don’t necessarily drive expensive trucks or have the most up to date camo and shotgun. We are driven by a desire to appreciate the spring woods in all of its majesty. Many of us often find ourselves against a tree at daylight in the spring simply thanking the Lord that he allows us to be able to experience all that takes place in his creation on a crisp spring morning. The roar of a gobble is simply a bonus that adds to the addiction. A true member of the Spring Legion may spend the entire season chasing a single bird. Although he hears others in the distance each morning, the gauntlet has been thrown between one hunter and one gobbler and the challenge accepted between the two. The question still remains as to whether the turkey threw down the gauntlet and challenged the hunter’s skills or whether the hunter threw down the gauntlet and challenged the turkey. Either way, some seasons are spent in a game of chess played out in Gods creation for days, even weeks at a time in an insane pursuit of a single bird.
This past season was just such a season for myself. Opening day of the Mississippi season I positioned myself strategically to intercept a gobbler off the roost as he traveled a ridge with a hen. I had left this same gobbler at the end of the previous season in the same place. I knew that he was at least 3 years old when I left him standing at the end of that previous season. As usual he did not care what I thought or where I positioned myself, instead he took a direction (whether random or strategic I do not know) just over the next ridge only allowing me to see the top of his fan as he moved by me. After two hours of calling and a lot of sitting quietly and just allowing him, to get his morning ritual over with, he slowly made his way back by me on my side of the ridge this time. Yet again he approached in such a way that I had no chance of raising and shooting. Finally after what seemed like hours I rolled the dice. I raised, swung and sent a 3 ½” load in his direction. Likely I simply missed, but I like to believe he was wearing his flak vest as they seem to do quite often. Nonetheless two galloping steps and he lifted off like a 747 and sailed down through the bottom and my day was done.
In my early years of turkey hunting I would have been enraged that I had missed and blown the opportunity. It was all about numbers and bragging rights then. I would have blamed the gun, the shells, the weather, the terrain or anything else as a way to cope with missing. Now I simply looked into the bottom that he vanished in and quietly said okay, challenge accepted. For the next 30 days with the exception of Sundays - The Lords Day, I began and ended each day with this crazy bird. I would check him in the mornings, many times in which he would fly down gobble perpetually and disappear in to the distance on adjoining property. The days he stayed close we would talk for hours, neither one of us willing to give up ground to the other. After my morning routine of making sure he was still there I would move on to other woods in search of other birds I could put my son, daughter in law or friends on, but my thoughts never left this one.
After a few hours of moving about searching for other birds I would return to this one before retiring for the day. 99% of the time no matter what time of day I ended, I could get him to answer, ensuring me that the challenge was still in place. Many of you might question why I didn’t simply position myself to get him off the roost or returning to the roost. As only a true member of Spring Legion would understand, geography is the main answer. He roosted on a steep ridge that dropped in to a wide open creek bottom. There was literally no way to approach him on the roost without being seen from a distance. Positioning myself between him and his roost on the back end of the day and ambushing him simply did not seem an honorable way for me to defeat him. Once again only one true to the character of the Spring Legion understands this thought process.
For 29 days of what seemed like some variation of ground hog day or being caught in a hamster wheel I battled this bird. Sometimes catching glimpses of him, sometimes being so close that his gobbles made my insides shake like a fighter jet roaring by. But never, not even one time, did he allow himself to come too far; never did he make a mistake; never once did his curiosity of the hen just out of sight cause him to break his routine. He simply stood his ground at what appeared to be an invisible force field and roared out angrily at me day after day with each scratch, cluck, yelp and purr I tried to coax him with. I know many of you are running through your minds what you would have done differently that would have caused him to break his own code and come willingly in to your sights. The Spring Legion knows better. The Spring Legion knows this type of bird is different. They know he has likely survived many hunters and many loads of shot for multiple seasons and his education and weariness far exceeds our ability to make him go against all he has learned. The Spring Legion knows the only chance at closing the chapter on a bird like this is patience, learning something new each and every day spent in this epic battle, and not giving up and moving on to an easier bird just to up your numbers. To the Spring Legion this has become personal. His skills, abilities, stamina, woodsmanship, patience, honor, knowledge and sanity are all at stake. The sickness is real.
Day 30, started as always. I checked him at daylight and he was patrolling his normal area where he had been for 29 previous mornings. We talked briefly as he strolled away down through the open creek bottom on his daily rounds, eventually going out of hearing on to adjacent property. I packed up and went about my normal routine of checking around other properties for other birds just to inventory what I had left untouched for the whole season. Throughout the 30 day saga, I did manage to bag a couple of other decent birds, and enjoyable as those hunts were, and as thankful as I was that I was able to close the deal on those two, I was still haunted by the season drawing to a close and my nemesis still wandering the creek bottom heckling me like a bully on the playground.
After a few hours of moving from location to location, I thought I have to check him before I throw in the towel for the day and head to work, so I headed back to where I started that morning. As always I slipped in to the bottom always changing my location and approach each day in an effort to keep him on his toes and not pattern me. Never knowing where he might be at that point in the day I simply made a cluck barely audible and without hesitation as he had done for 29 days, my nemesis had moved back in to the bottom and he screamed at me from 100 yards down the creek bottom. I made no effort to close the distance. I sat immediately and geared up for battle just like many days before. Mouth call in, gun barrel propped on my kneecap pointing in his direction I just sat quietly for 15 minutes. Neither of us gave any more indication of our location. After a long standoff of silence yet again like every encounter prior, I simply scratched in the leaves and he angrily roared out again from his same location. My only thought was here we go again. I’ll sit here, he’ll stand there and after a spell we will part ways for the day and I’ll spend the hours between now and the next morning trying to figure out what new strategy I can employ, what can I do different, what other call could I use that I haven’t already tried in the month we’ve spent going through this daily exercise in futility. Still I had time left before I had to sprint out of the woods and get on with life so I dug in for a while longer.
Never calling again, I simply scratched the leaves occasionally as quietly as I could in an effort to make him think I was moving further away, hoping he might creep slightly closer to my location. After the last scratch and gobble I decided I would do nothing else in my last 45 minutes but sit, listen and learn until time to go. Just as I prepared my mind to pack up and walk away once again, I heard a stick crack and immediately he gobbled 20 yards to my right! How did he come from 100 yards to my left to where he was without me seeing him? How on earth had he pitched across the creek to my side without me hearing? How did he know which way my gun was pointed and show up in the opposite direction? These are all questions we’ve asked ourselves if you’ve hunted eastern wild turkeys long enough. Are their actions just that random, or are they just that smart? We will probably never know the true answer to that question.
Finally, I see movement in the direction I heard the stick break. It’s a hen and a jake wandering about 20 yards behind the most perplexing turkey I’ve ever fooled with. As they wander within strangling distance of my position my nemesis continues to wander aimlessly through the bottom to my right and behind me as if he intends to circle downwind of me like a deer. He’s close now. Right behind me about 10 yards. I can hear every foot step, I’m frozen. This is as close as I’ve been since the shot I fired across his bow on opening morning 30 days ago. I am talking to myself at this point trying to stay calm as if I’m face to face with a lion in Africa. I know as many in the Spring Legion do, that this could in fact be the last opportunity I will ever have at this bird. I’ve already told myself this isn’t going to happen, are you crazy, he’s smarter than you, he lives here, this is his territory. This wicked evil bird has senses that rival the combined top senses of all the other game I’ve ever pursued. It’s not possible that he will make a mistake. PATIENCE! I kept silently screaming to myself. Just be patient, don’t force it, don’t rush it, don’t move, don’t breathe, don’t blink. Slowly, and I suspect very skeptically, he continued until he was behind me, but at least back on my left side about 20-30 yards.
Six sets of turkey eyes are now within spitting distance of me and the tree I’ve become one with. Should I try to turn my head? My eyes were sore from cutting them as hard left as I could without moving my head. I watched what seemed like hours waiting for the 3 birds to simultaneously do something that would take their eyes away from my position at the same time, so I could raise my gun. There it is, he’s in strut with his fan towards me, the other two are pecking the ground as they move slightly away from me. I’m up, aimed, all I need is a clear shot of this bird that has exhausted me, frustrated me, confused me, haunted me, laughed at me and eluded me for 29 days. PATIENCE! He slowly moved more and more in to my sight. I think my eyes are stuck though. They have been turned hard left for so long I’m not sure I can look straight again. He’s moving back toward the creek. I know he’s had enough and will soon pitch back across in to his comfort zone. Its now or never so I click off the safety and squeeze. I’m fairly sure I almost beat my shot to the turkey, but he folded, flopped and expired with me standing over him.
The feeling was indescribable. It is done! I have spent 30 days and 29 sleepless nights on this pursuit. According to my phone health app I had walked 85 miles during that time in pursuit of him. I’ve had ants crawling on me and biting me, encountered numerous snakes, one black bear and a never-ending supply of blood sucking mosquitos. Nonetheless in true Spring Legion fashion I quietly said to myself, thank you God for allowing me the opportunity, every minute was worth it. The four-bearded turkey was my best ever and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to battle him. Like I said at the beginning he was the bonus. The hours of experiencing the spring woods in all its colors and sounds, the hours of quiet time to reflect and remember what is important, and the hours just spent quietly in conversation with God about various things in life, is where the true satisfaction came from, not the kill. It was simply lagniappe.
The Spring Legion is a state of mind, a lifestyle of recognizing and appreciating The Creator and His glorious creation. We never consider the kill the best part of the hunt, but rather the challenge, and the pursuit itself with friends and family that teach us so many lessons and provide us with a lifetime of memories.