Outdoors columnist Oak Duke on turkey hunting.
Way off somewhere a turkey gobbled.
Emphasis on the "Maybe."
When gobbles are tough to come by, sometimes turkey hunters only think that they hear them.
Just not sure.
Right on the edge between a dream and reality.
And it can be a very fine line at times, the difference between a strong imagination and that faintest gobble way off.
When it is 11:30 a.m. out of the woods and back at the truck, a gobble is at its most unexpected.
Spring turkey hunters must be out of the woods by noon.
No spring gobbler hunting in the afternoon in the uplands.
It's illegal here in New York state. (States vary. For instance, in West Virginia, hunters have to be out of the woods at 1 p.m.)
Fish and game departments set the seasons after determining that nesting hens may be disturbed by hunters in the afternoon.
But back at the truck by the side of the dirt road, with camouflage half off, shotgun emptied, doors open; that one, lone last gobble filtered through the bright, late May sunlight and the ubiquitous black flies.
A gobble is never totally unexpected.
Turkey hunters are always listening, even when talking.
After a long, quiet morning of straining to hear, a turkey hunter's concentration begins to flag. Other thoughts of home and work, all those things we escape whenever we take on that poised attitude turkey hunters have developed called "listening for gobbles," begin to crowd their way in.
Part of a turkey hunter always listens for gobbles when walking and talking in hushed tones with hunting buddies.
We stop in mid-sentence.
Halt in mid-stride.
And we point.
"Shhh. I think I just heard one."
We suspend talking and stand still.
Motionless for a couple minutes.
Did we or didn't we hear it?
Then out of the depths of the turkey vest comes the favorite manufactured "locator" calling devices.
And man-made owl calls, crow calls, turkey yelps, and even Pileated woodpecker and Peacock calls are thrown out across the wooded hollows in hope and in expectation of getting a reply, a gobble from a wild tom turkey, coming back like an echo.
No, not uncommon at all for spring gobbler hunters to break into the middle of a hunting buddy's sentence or even their own and say, "What was that?" Did you hear one?"
And we point ... as if we could put our finger on something so ethereal.
Woodpeckers drum, crows caw, trucks rumble down dirt roads, and thermals shake the new leaves throughout the upland woods like a real wind.
And when we walk through the crackling dried leaf-cover that carpets the woodland floor, all other sounds seem muted.
But at dawn, things are different.
So quiet, sitting in the gray half-light.
Turkey hunters sit in the dark with their backs against a tree.
With all kinds of confidence and expectation, each woodland sound is separated and dissected. We listen beyond the normal layer of sound, trying to hear just one -- a gobble.
And when crows greet the day with their first caws, a turkey hunter's poised attitude becomes ready and more intensified.
They hold their breath, time after time. And wait and listen.
And breath shallow.
And wait, and listen some more, as the day comes on.
But on that last day, at the end of the spring gobbler season, that one lone gobble beckons.
And now that the season is over that gobble rattles with a slightly haunting tone.
It rattles now just over the line on the dream side.
And it will gobble there, a few more times, until next spring.
Contact Oak Duke at email@example.com.