You could call it a long hunt (up at 3 a.m.), or a short one (10 minutes of amped-up, mid-morning action), depending. You could call it spring gobbler season but it felt more like July. My California turkey hunt, Kentucky trip, and recent Vermont opener gonzo deal (400-plus road miles; a hard-gobbling late-morning big timber bird that had my safety off, and spitting and drumming in my ears before it drifted away unseen but still heard) were behind me. The May 3 Maine start-up had arrived.
I’d scouted home ground by mountain bike (it’s camouflaged), and by old Ford truck the way I often do, and had some birds. Early leaf-out and a steamy forecast loomed, with daytime temperatures pushing 80 by the end of it. You take what you get in the turkey woods. Woodcock called (“peenting,” they dub it) as I eased through the field, crossed the creek, and covered yet another greened-up space. One of my goose holes in season, it also doubles as a spring gobbler spot.
The long and short of my early hours included calling up several single hens, listening to gobbling where I couldn’t hunt, and making one of the ultimate decisions in the turkey woods: Should I stay or should I go?
You Zoners alive in the punk era remember that as a mosh-pit energizing song by The Clash (I saw them in Australia back in the day, so I speak from experience). It’s also a crunch time decision you make when things aren’t going as planned. You run-and-gunners know what I mean. If it ain’t happening, you need to roll the dice. I was back on the road again (like the Willie Nelson tune).
The road (and country music radio this time) led me to more green fields, forested cover, and I hoped, a longbeard that wanted to work. Cold calling on the warming day, I raised nothing. Shooting hours closed at noon. I eased here and there, trying to get a gobbler fired up. As always, I called before easing into the next field edge, and hearing no response, slipped up there. At that, a hen bolted, sprinting into the woods. Game over? Hardly. I set up, blackflies found me directly, but I was content. A girl turkey might bring a boy turkey in if I could call her back. It took 45 minutes, but I did: same bird, softly calling to me at just four steps, peeking under a low-lying pine bough. She putted, spooked again. I stood, eased across the field to the far woods. Called.
A gobbler immediately fired back, up the grassy lane, around the corner woods, maybe 60 yards away max. I hit the dirt, set up. I ran a friction call, adding some mouth yelps; he double-gobbled. I readied myself. I pointed the gun barrel up the grassy lane, and willed him to come that way. I laid on a little of the silent treatment, waited. A minute or two passed. More gobbling followed.
First, the gobbler peeked, tentative. Then he came, looking: 40 steps, 30-something, slowly, surely. Head up, bird down — I had my 2010 Maine opener longbeard.