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Spring Turkey Season Woes

Spring turkey season is in full swing, and if a person has not killed at least one gobbler by now, their odds are falling fast. When a hunter has not scored at this point in the season they can find themselves having a nasty disposition.

Our spouses will have mixed emotions at this point. A part of them really hopes we make a kill soon so we’ll shut up and act normal, but they are also secretly happy because we deserve to be miserable since we have been so mean and inattentive lately.

Co-workers dodge us. The family dog runs to the back yard when we arrive home, and the cat hides under the bed. The kids sit in their rooms playing silently in the dark. When Saturday comes, we arise early once again to invade the land of gators, snakes, biting bugs and – hopefully – turkeys. Owls hoot everywhere, and the only sound we hear is songbirds and mosquitoes buzzing.

Sometime later in the morning you hear a distant shot, and you hope to God they missed. You arrive at your truck at noon to find a feather tucked under your windshield wiper blade. It is always left by someone who already killed an 18-pounder on opening day, so now you know he just got his second bird.

And, of course, this one could kiss an ostrich right in the mouth, but would have to bend down to do it. Your condition worsens. Most folks would have quit by now, but you are a good turkey hunter, and you love it so much you will keep on and be persistent to the end – even though you are not having one bit of fun.

It is at this point that you start thinking about killing a jake and plotting in your mind how you can explain that you mistook it for a two-year-old bird. I’ve suffered with the “Not Got A Bird Yet” (NGABY) syndrome before. As I write this column, the season has yet to open in my region of the state. I hope by the time you read this I’m not afflicted with this unfortunate condition.

Misery loves company, and nothing makes NGABY worse than one of your buddies suffering from it finally gets "cured" by killing a gobbler – especially if it's a good one. When I was growing up in Arkansas, our family had two terms that could describe what happens next. You might “swarm” or have a “running fit.”

My family was talented, if not blessed, with emotional problems and depression. I now know that when Dad would tell me my grandmother or one of my uncles or “ain’ts” had “swarmed,” it meant they had a “nervous breakdown.”

If you've ever seen bees swarm, you can imagine what my kinfolks were doing. If you “swarm,” it takes a while to get back to normal. Our dogs used to have “running fits,” but unlike “swarming” it was temporary. Everything would be going good – the sun would be shining, the flowers would be blooming, when for no reason a dog would jump off the porch, start howling and running around in circles till it nearly dropped. The other dogs would follow and bark at the one having the fit. The dog would eventually recover and be OK.

If you are having a bad season it is better to have a few “running fits” to keep from “swarming.” In my own 45 years of experience with spring gobbler hunting, I would say that at least half of the gobblers I've killed were killed on opening day. The next 25% were killed within the next two or three days. Your odds go down every day as the season progresses.

There are countless articles and many theories on late-season gobblers that come running in once the hens go on nest, but I’ve never seen that in my life. I know a hundred other seasoned turkey hunters who have never seen it either. I just don’t believe it.

If it were true, I would just wait until the end of the season to hunt. God help you if you haven’t gotten a tom yet! I don’t have any advice for you if you haven’t scored yet, except to try to settle down and enjoy the woods.

If you do kill a late-season bird, you are better than most. If you don’t, you won’t lose your job, die of some weird, unknown disease or go to jail. Life will go on. You will survive. But, if a jake gives you an opportunity – take him and be relieved. We've all taken the ugly gal home at closing time before.

Now that I have you really depressed, allow me to brighten up your day a little with a story or two that I like to tell each year.

First of all, if I see “Bigfoot” or a UFO, you can bet I’ll never tell the story. It’s real hard for me to not lie in the first place, and many folks already believe only about half of what I say. I can’t blame them, because half of what I say is questionable and the other half cannot be proven. However, this story is true.

I wonder if anyone else has ever had this experience happen to them? A few years back a mockingbird found a way to mock my turkey caller. It got a gobbler to respond, which was a good thing, because the mocker was sitting about 20 yards in front of me.

But, unfortunately for me, the mockingbird decided to fly 100 yards to my left, where it kept calling and calling. The gobbler followed, ignoring my calls, then followed the bird again when it flew over to another spot and yelped. This went on for nearly an hour.

The bird flew back, forth, in front of and behind the gobbler – steadily yelping as if it were a game – causing that tom to strut north, south, east, west and in every direction except within 40 yards of my shotgun.

I never got that gobbler, and the gobbler never got the mockingbird. This happened during a season when I finally killed a turkey on the last day. (It was an old gobbler whose beard had dragged down to just four inches, had worn its spurs down to the legs and only weighed 12 pounds. For some reason, its fan wasn’t even full either). I was just about ready to “swarm.”

Finally, allow me to explain the photos included with this month's column. The small gobbler in the first photo is the very same bird as the “very big” gobbler in the second photo.

I had a “friend” who took the photo, then used high-tech stuff on a computer that I cannot explain, blew up the size of the gobbler and put me on the jeep. (I was thinner then).

He then shrank the gobbler down and made it look the size of a quail. Guess which one made the local newspaper? It was the only bird I got that year, and I still think I should kill my friend for that!

(Kenny Gasaway is a member of the Florida Outdoor Writer’s Association who has hunted turkeys since 1965 and exclusively hunted Florida public land since 1973. He can be reached at [email protected])