I lie prone on moist oak and beech leaves, a shotgun cradled in my arms, yelping softly with a diaphragm call that was stuck to the roof of my mouth, nearly gagging me. But there was a turkey just across the tiny rise of the forest floor. It had to be a gobbler, albeit one that might have had a sore throat, but only moments before I heard the call of a male bird. There would be a shot coming from my 12-gauge just as soon as I caught sight of him.
Only minutes later, I stared at a fully camouflaged hunter working his way up the other side of the hillock that separated us. He was crawling, too, and it was he who emitted the gobbling sound.
I never grow tired of telling this story because of the potential disaster that might have ensued.
Luckily, it all turned out OK. To this day, however, I wonder why a turkey hunter during the spring season - when only the “bearded” males can be shot - would try to imitate the call of a gobbler. If you want a male turkey to come within shooting range, try to chirp like a hen bird. But this bewildered hunter carried a rubber tube call that had to be shaken vigorously to produce a kind of bellowing sound. To a human, it might have sounded like a love-sick gobbler, but I doubt that a turkey hen could have been fooled by a contraption that looked like a Mack truck heater hose.
This western Maryland adventure will never be forgotten. No, I didn’t shoot a turkey during the three days I stayed in a Garrett County state forest. I lost my appetite for turkey after all the excitement, and what might have happened had either of us up on that little hill made a horrible mistake that day. However, two of my pals scored and later that spring season, I did find a dumb-enough gobbler that played the fool for me down in Virginia’s Clarke County. Eventually the jokes about my “gobbling incident” dried up.
The mistakes that can occur during spring turkey hunting no doubt make wildlife officials wince. With that in mind, Virginia - one of the better states along the East Coast if you want to put one of these extra cautious creatures into a roasting pan - offered advice that ought to make all hunters sit up and pay attention. With fine numbers of wild turkeys in practically all forested portions of the state and well over a month of prime spring hunting opportunities, the state’s wildlife managers caution newcomers.
It might sound silly to skilled hunters, but the state is serious when it recommends never wearing clothing that is white, blue or red, because a gobbler’s head is distinguished by its bold white, blue and red colors. Duh! Who would? Yet I suppose it happens. Even something as innocent as a blue candy wrapper could be mistaken for a part of a gobbler’s head, says the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
And why do the experts have to remind novice hunters that they should never shoot at a sound or sudden movement. You would think that such things are automatically understood by even the rawest recruits to any type of hunting, but they’re not. Inexplicably, accidents occur every year during deer, turkey and squirrel seasons when shots are fired at unidentified objects. Some years ago, I met a deer hunter who admitted that he hadn’t seen any deer, but that he had several “sound” shots.
Say that again? This dangerous dolt actually pulled the trigger when he heard a sound in dense brush and he fired, believing there was a deer. Although this is almost too stupid to be believable, now and then it happens.
I used to object to displaying even the tiniest bit of blaze orange while turkey hunting because of the turkey’s keen eyesight and awareness of odd woodland presences and strange colors, but nowadays I’m convinced that tying at least a strip of the fluorescent orange material to a branch above the spot a turkey hunter sits is a good idea. If not the turkeys, it ought to help keep other hunters away.
The Virginia spring gobbler season is open until May 2, and again from May 4-16. Maryland’s gobbler hunt began Saturday and continues through May 23. There’s no Sunday hunting, and only one gobbler is allowed.
• Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column Sunday and Wednesday and his Fishing Report on Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Mueller’s Inside Outside blog at washingtontimes.com/sports.