THE EVERYDAY HUNTER: A spring morning in the life of a gobbler

At 5:38 a.m. on Friday, May 3, a gobbler pulls his head out from under his wing. He listens. Songbirds. Then a few crows squawk. He strains to hear that soft, seductive voice of a pretty hen. In a nearby tree, another gobbler utters a low yelp, almost imperceptible. That’s all he hears.

Both turkeys stand up and stretch their wings. They fan out, but only for a second, then fold up to lay every feather perfectly in place. More than 20 minutes pass in silence. The gobblers stretch their necks to peer at the ground. A deer drifts by. Then a skunk.

At 6:01 a.m., the sun is about to peek over the horizon, and the gobbler is overdue for a morning shoutout. “Gobbellobbelll”

One big bird pitches to the ground, then the other. Both gobblers patrol the area of their roost trees, but only one has anything to say today. “Gobbellobbelll”

A few hens were in the vicinity yesterday. Maybe they’re in the field. So, the gobblers walk across a ravine and snake through the berry bushes at the field’s edge, and into the green, luscious grass. Hens love it here. This early in the morning the wet grass provides moisture and the cool temperature slows the bugs that live there. It’s an easy, succulent breakfast. “Gobbellobbelll”

“Yelp, yelp, yelp. Cluck. Cluck.” There she is, still over in the woods, across the ravine but downhill from our roost site. “Gobbellobbelll. Here we are, come on over! Gobbellobbelll”

Maybe if we fan out she’ll see us. “Gobbellobbelll”

“Yelp, yelp. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Cluck. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

She’s not coming yet, but she will. I’ll fan out again. “Gobbellobbelll” I’m irresistible. She wants me.

Though the gobbler can’t count the minutes that pass, his ears are tuned for more yelps. They do not come. She must be on her way over here.

A few minutes later, “Yelp, yelp. Cluck. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr.”

She hasn’t moved. “Gobbellobbelll” His proud call is met with silence. Minutes pass again.

“Yelp, yelp. Cluck. Purrrrrrrrrrrrrr.” She’s staying put.

A few minutes later a cacophony of inharmonious sounds surge across the ravine. High pitches. Low pitches. Sweet. Raspy. Hard clucks and loud, rattling purrs. A bunch of hens. They’re all over there, and they all want me. I’ll head on over. Maybe they’ll meet me halfway.

The gobblers saunter to the edge of the field and stop to listen. The loud hen voices erupt again. They haven’t moved. They’re still over there. The gobblers step into the woods, head toward the ravine, and pause at the brink to listen and watch. The hen chorus bursts forth a third time, and the gobblers hurry across.

The first head pops up from the ravine; he knows right where the hens are. A few more steps and he stops to look. They’ve gone silent, but they can’t be far away. The second gobbler catches up, and turns sideways. A 9-inch beard juts from his chest.

Boom! A thunderous noise. The second gobbler flops and is still. The blast shocks the first into sounding off. “Gobbellobbelll” A man stands up where those hens were supposed to be. Muscular wings thrust the gobbler out over the ravine. Every beat pumps nearly twenty pounds of turkey toward the treetops.

The man straddles the gobbler on the ground. The gobbler kicks and tries to spread his wings, but his strength is reduced to uncoordinated impulses.

Somewhere, down in the valley, a gobbler glides to a landing and folds his wings. He stands as still as a statue for five minutes before walking away.

Life goes on. Tomorrow will be another new day, and he’ll greet it with another throaty gobble.