A bird in hand is still better than two in the bush, I guess.
But sometimes, the merit of that cliche might depend on the location of the bush and the bird that's in it.
My buddy Jay Greene and I stepped into the thick southwestern Wisconsin woods and angled along a thin ridgeline trail. The sun was already peeking over the horizon, and we hadn't heard any turkeys yet, so we were nervous.
Finally, a bird sounded off. He wasn't close -- actually, he wasn't close to being close -- but Greene knew the land well and figured we could cut the distance. So, we ambled about 125 yards farther until we hit the crest of a steep ravine. Unfortunately, the gobbler was on the facing ridge, still 100-plus yards away.
"This is probably about as far as we can go," Greene said. "And it's awfully thick between us and him."
We didn't like our chances, but the gobbler seemed to be the only game in town. I propped myself against a young oak, pulled up my facemask and yelped softly on a slate call. The turkey responded, so I figured we had a chance.
During the next 20 minutes, the bird fired up nicely, honoring almost every call I made and then hammering on his own. But even 45 minutes after fly-down time, the gobbler remained in the tree. That was damn peculiar, but maybe he was one of those toms that wouldn't fly down until he saw hens walking beneath him. Either way, he was in no hurry to come to us.
But then, things got interesting.
After a thunderous gobble, Greene and I glanced at each other. I thought I'd heard another turkey. Greene nodded and pointed to the right of the bird in the tree.
I called again, and, sure enough, two turkeys responded. The first bird hadn't budged from his limb, but the other was probably about 100 yards beyond him, near the base of a long, open timbered point.
Soon, Greene slipped over to my tree and pulled down his mask.
"That bird is in a great place for us to work him," he whispered. "We can slip down this logging road, cross that ditch and get on the same point with him."
That sounded logical, but I hesitated. Shoot, we were within 100 or so yards of a red-hot gobbler, and the other bird was at least twice that far. But our setup was poor, and the bird hadn't indicated that he'd budge. Still, I've always believed that close counts big-time in turkey hunting, so Greene's suggestion made me uneasy.
Had I been hunting with someone else, I might have ignored the farther bird and stuck with the first gobbler. But Greene is a heck of a turkey hunter, and he knows his family's coulee-country land better than most folks know their gardens. I stood and grabbed my gun.
"Let's go kill that turkey on the point," I whispered.
We crept along the logging road and walked briskly to where the point branched off from the main ridge. The bird gobbled two or three times on his own during our approach, and it sounded like he'd ascended to the top of the point.
When we reached the logging trail at the point, I yelped softly on a Super Aluminator, and the gobbler responded immediately. It was showtime.
Greene and I slipped through the timber until we reached an open area where the logging path curved slightly up a small rise. We set up, and then I hit the aluminum.
The bird went psychotic, double-gobbling at the call and then following it with another choked-off gobble seconds later. The longbeard was only 50-some steps from us, just behind a thick deadfall on the small knob. I eased my gun closer to my cheek, certain the longbeard would appear at any minute.
He didn't, but that was OK. I called three or four more times during the next 25 minutes and listened to one of the hottest gobbling shows I'd heard all season -- maybe in several seasons.
Eventually, after I'd been silent for several minutes, the turkey couldn't stand it. His gobbling suddenly got closer, and I caught a flash of movement coming down the hill. He gobbled once more and then emerged at the bend in the logging road 38 steps away, holding his red neck and white head high. The swarm of No. 6 shot met him quickly, and he never flopped.
Greene and I shook hands and whooped it up over the 2-year-old gobbler. The hunt had been textbook perfect, and it was easy to see why.
That point was an ideal place to work a turkey. It was bordered by a steep ravine to the left and an open stubble field to the right. Further, the open hardwoods caught the first rays of morning sun, just inviting a gobbler to strut there. And best, there was just enough cover and terrain wrinkles to hide your approach and setup.
Greene had been right. In fact, he'd nailed it. In hindsight, it seemed silly to stick with a bad setup and an obstinate -- albeit hard-gobbling -- turkey when a classic approach and calling situation had presented itself.
Close still counts, of course, but it doesn't mean much if a poor setup or other factors limit your chances of working a bird. Further, the turkey on the point hadn't been prohibitively far. We'd closed the gap within minutes, and he was in our laps when we finally set up.
And of course, Greene's suggestion had hammered home the real moral to the story: Knowing the land -- and how turkeys use the land -- kills far more gobblers than even the slickest yelping and cutting.
What about the turkey in the tree? We never heard him again. For all I know, he might still be up there, gobbling his head red and looking for a hen.
He can stay there. This spring, I plan to be on that long, open point.