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Technically Unsuccessful, but Definitely Hooked: My First Spring Turkey Season

By Ben Fairbanks/DWR

Photos by Ben Fairbanks/DWR

As a lifelong deer hunter, turkeys were somewhat of an afterthought for me. “Maybe turkeys?” was the follow-up to “Didn’t see any deer?” while I was staring into an empty truck bed. Without ever experiencing the spring gobbler season, I had never appreciated what a gobble does to a hunter. I was ignorant to the adrenaline that comes with the rolling thunder of gobblers on the roost. Sure, I had seen all the turkey hunting videos and the TV shows showing toms strutting and gobbling—that’s why I wanted to get out this spring. But nothing could have prepared me for the excitement and the heartbreak that comes with spring gobbler season.

Finding a place to turkey hunt was a lot easier than I thought it would be. My brother, my father, and I all split a lease on Outdoor Access and took a chance on a property sight unseen. The pictures that were provided showed plenty of turkey sign that convinced us to book a season-long lease. After hours of e-scouting and a lot of Q&A sessions with some experienced turkey hunters, I felt like I had a game plan. I practiced calling with mouth calls and box calls for weeks on end. My main goal was to find where they were roosting without disturbing their regular movements. Our lease is mainly filled with small pine trees bordered by tall hardwoods. My research showed that turkeys roost in taller trees, which narrowed my options to find roosted birds. Although I quickly learned that turkey and deer hunting are very different, the feeling of gearing up for opening day and the season overall was all the same. Daydreaming of the perfect opening day felt all too familiar. So did the agony of defeat.

Opening day threw me for a loop. Overcast skies and 25 mph winds were not in the perfect turkey hunting scenario that I had been drawing up since January. I headed out into the dark and prayed for gobbles. I was pleasantly surprised to hear several gobbles not far from where I parked, and suddenly I was not so concerned with the weather conditions. There is something about a hammering tom that I wish I could fully explain. I kept thinking, “If only deer gobbled.”

I quickly set out my decoy and sat down with high hopes of getting it done in the first 30 minutes. That 30 minutes turned into an hour and a half of wind and despair. There were only a few ways he could have gone, so I thought. After three hours of increasing winds and a diminishing spirit, I explored the property a bit more before calling it quits.

After several attempts, a few gobbles, and no turkeys bagged, I finally had “the day.” I got under a tree with long, overhanging branches and sat real still. As the sun started to illuminate the tops of the trees, the woods came alive. My hoot owl calls sparked up a few gobbles pretty close. Then more owls joined the symphony that seemed to be taking place. I swear I could just feel something different in the air. Gobbles continued for a few minutes until one gobble made my heart skip a beat.

“That bird is getting louder. Louder,” I thought. Finally he was loud enough that I knew this was going to happen. The gobbles stopped, and so did my excitement. I thought for sure I had done something wrong—called too much, or maybe I moved? Wrong. Gobbles turned to footsteps and a white head protruding from the tall grass. I could not believe my eyes. It worked!
Seeing this turkey come in to my inexperienced calling was by far one of my proudest moments in the field. There is a lot of work that goes into harvesting deer, no doubt about it. But convincing a mature turkey that I am a hen who wants to play ball was truly an unforgettable moment. I felt like I could stand up right then and walk back to my vehicle and drive home a happy man. But I gathered my thoughts and focused on the task at hand.

He hung up on the other side of the field, looking at my decoy and wondering why she was acting unimpressed with his beautiful display. He transformed from a slender and uninteresting-looking bird to a magnificent creature while making noises that I had only heard on TV shows. I was in awe of his majestic attempt to court my decoy. But then, his curiosity quickly turned to realizing that something wasn’t quite right. And just like that, he turned around and walked away into oblivion.

There is no other hobby or sport that has brought me such a feeling of accomplishment when, technically, I was unsuccessful. I went home empty-handed, but filled with a feeling of “I can’t believe it, it worked!” All I wanted to do was tell my story to my hunting mentors and share what I was feeling.

My story was met with smiles and nods, as if I had joined the fraternity of turkey hunters. Before seeing that bright red, white, and blue head come strutting to me, I felt as if I was simply turkey listening. Now, I will never be the same. I have officially caught the turkey hunting bug.

Ben Fairbanks is DWR’s Archery Education Coordinator and NASP State Coordinator.

  • June 3, 2024