Woodland classroom: Two students, two teachers
May 4, 2001
It is the last week of the spring turkey season. You have hunted the old gobbler most of your days afield beginning on opening day. This season is your third spring together, this old monarch and you.
You know his roost trees along the back fence as well as he does. You have given him your best calling, your best setups, your best strategies. He has taught you more than any gobbler in your hunting life. Today, you are learning the singular most consequential of his lessons. It is a lesson, really, that you have taught each other through hours and days and weeks of conversation and mutual ingenuity. And so now you both know the truth; you will never carry him from the woods slung over your shoulder.
It all began when you called in and bagged a fine tom on the little knoll in the swamp two years ago. A companion gobbler was with that turkey as the pair answered your yelps, and he saw his running mate fall to a loud noise, much like a nearby bolt of lightning. The experience left the surviving bird aware of yet another danger in the woods that threatened his survival.
You would return to the knoll now and then and call to the lone tom. He would answer. But always something would happen that would spare the cunning gobbler. He would circle from his last calling spot and come up on your off side. He would fail to take that one additional step that would clear a tree. Eventually he would hang up, strutting and gobbling, but refusing to come to the reluctant hen you imitated with your best calling
In the second season of your acquaintance, this one bird stayed on your mind because he presented the biggest challenge to your calling and woodcraft. You could recognize his gobble by certain high pitched inflections amid the scrambled notes of his lusty call. You found yourself laying strategy just for this particular gobbler and hunting him every day except those following times that you spooked him. You named the bird, affording him a permanent place in your memory along with those few special gobblers in your past that you had named.
Before this season opened, you worried that something – bobcat, coyote, poacher – may have taken your admired rival. But no, he was still there, answering your opening day calls almost as if he too were glad you had returned to test his now profuse craftiness. He would soon show you new ways of escape. You learned that you were not the only principle in this relationship who had spent the last 10 months getting better prepared for the spring challenge.
As the days of the season streamed by, you tried harder to fool the old gobbler. You also tried hard to ignore the stark awareness welling up inside; the fact that you were going to lose this match. This monarch is indeed king of his domain. You are the outsider, yet one whom he now welcomes as a student of his practiced elusiveness.
Today, with just a few hours left in the season, you have learned his principal lesson. He cannot be called in, this season or the next or the next. Neither you nor any other fair hunter will kill him. One might argue that no gobbler exists that cannot be killed. But this one has convinced you that he will never fall to a gun. You believe it in your soul. Yet you take heart, and inside you feel a smile coming on. For you have helped him become what he is unkillable.
You and he, in the days you have spent together in the spring woods, have elevated a wild turkey gobbler to the foremost monarch of his peers. He will live to pass on genes of exceptional cunning to his offspring. Thus, in a way, he will still be there to scream his defiant calls for many springs to come … to challenge you and those who follow.
And the two of you have transformed a hunter into a better hunter, a better person. For today you understand one of the more noble reasons for hunting. And you are glad for him and glad for yourself.