The Turkey Stalk: Bagging the Wariest of Game

I don't know if animals have souls, but I do think they have extra-sensory receptors that alert them to the presence of invisible danger.

That's why I take special satisfaction for sneaking into killing range of a wild animal. Not only have I fooled their acute senses of smell, sight, and hearing, but I've also evaded their highly evolved prey-animal sense that a predator is in the neighborhood.

Fear of trigging that "spidey sense" is why I never look directly at the animal I'm stalking. I'm convinced that critters, just like humans, have an innate awareness of and discomfort with someone staring at them. Just like us, they get alert and edgy under uninvited scrutiny. So when I'm stalking an animal, I'll study it from a distance, but as I close in for the kill I avoid looking at it, or making even fleeting eye contact.

That may explain when, a couple of years ago, I stalked my most surprising quarry.

From the distance of a half-mile, I had spotted a turkey, a gobbler that would strut in full display, his black feathers blowing in the stiff wind. Then he'd lower his fan and feed, assuming the familiar triangular form of a turkey at ease. He never moved from the barbed wire fence where I first spotted him, and he didn't respond to my calls. But as I studied the terrain, I figured out an approach that would hide me until I closed within shotgun range.

I stopped studying the tom and started my stalk: slow, quiet, patient. Every time I glanced, the gobbler was still there at the fence line, alternately fanning and not fanning. Finally, I was close enough for a shot, but I stayed out of sight and made one last attempt at calling. No response. So I rose up on one knee and shouldered my shotgun, and as I did the wind gusted and he snapped into full strut.

That's precisely when I realized that I should probably make eye contact with my quarry a little more frequently. For I had been stalking a large, black, windblown garbage bag stuck in the barbed-wire fence.