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Turkeys are the bane of me. Not quite like the hated ticks, although as turkey season comes in, ticks tend to open ‘human season’ it seems. Turkeys are more like a love/hate relationship, I guess.
I admire the turkey. A big, bold bird that is scared of very little. They are always aware. They use their skills to coexist with other creatures in order to protect their family. And even if you take a look at just a single part of the bird you could say it is, well, ugly. But the bird overall is actually a very engaging creature.
However, for me at least, the species seems to have some sort of ‘Bill’ radar; Bill being me, of course.
I have hunted the bird for many years and although I have encountered them, I have yet to be opportunistic enough to have one draped over my shoulder while exiting a field.
I have hunted them in the mountains. I have hunted them near the coast. I have hunted them in the piedmont. Each time, the result has been the same. Lots of fun and a wonderful experience, yet I still haven’t been able to dial the number to the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission in order to report a downed Tom.
I have seen just about every answer a turkey could give. In the mountains on one hunt, I called, I waited, I stayed silent, listening alertly for an old bird to come within range. After hunting for several days, I packed up my belongings and made two trips to the truck. Between the first and second trip, a bearded trophy walked right into my path. We were both equally startled. I had no weapon as I had already put my bow in the vehicle. The Tom paused, stared at me for a moment, and then all I remember seeing is his rear end and dust as he jetted down the dusty path. He would have done well at the NFL combine based on his speed.
Nearer to the coast, I have had the opportunity to really work a bird in using my call and some decoys. A shooting lane, roughly a half mile long, provided a chance for me to see a couple of Toms and a jake enter the area at the end of the row. I called the birds in slowly over the half-mile long track. It took hours working the birds towards me, with them exiting the lane and coming back in several times. I was rather proud of my accomplishment.
Just as one of the Toms hit the point of being in range, he stopped. He appeared skiddish, nervously zigzagging to and fro but never taking that extra step closer. A slight breeze was blowing, and since I was shooting a bow, I preferred a closer shot to take the wind out of the equation. But I could not get him to make the commitment to come any further.
Then, all three birds took to the air in separate directions as if a lightning bolt had struck between them.
Did I make a sudden move and they caught me? My instant thought process was all over the place as I tried to figure out what I had done to spook them. Just as sudden as their flight and my thoughts, the answer became clear. A large black bear stepped into my view on my right, not even five feet from my blind. I wasn’t the culprit to their departure, that bear was. And now I had to stay even more still.
That is the way hunting works though. If everything were easy, there would be no joy in doing it. The challenge, the interaction with nature, that is one of the great thrills of the hunt. And it is one I hope to continue to enjoy.
Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.