Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from author Bobby Dale’s book Turkey Roost Tales.
Silence is Golden
It took me a long time to learn a truly important lesson in turkey hunting. The lesson would be entitled “staying focused.” Too many times in the turkey woods, less experienced hunters tend to let their minds drift from their purpose of looking for Thanksgiving dinner. And, too many times, doing so has cost a hunter his main course and sent him to the local grocery for a can of Spam. Somewhere and some time in every turkey hunter’s maturation process, we learn this lesson, usually the hard way. It seems that the hard way is usually my choice.
I’m finally going to fess up and tell this one on myself. I never even told Woodrow Dixon, my mentor, this tale. My skin has become razorback tough through my experiences in Barlow, Miss., with Woodrow. Through the years, he has given me all kinds of verbal hell over messing up or missing a turkey. I’m always honest in telling him my tales of woe. That is, except this time. I just could not tell him this one. I didn’t shoot, so no one heard this mistake. I’m going to tell it to make my point. If I’d told it several years ago, I might not be around to tell it now. Woodrow would not have resorted to words. He’d probably have taken my trusty turkey gun and whipped me all over Copiah County with it. Just simply shooting me would be too easy on me, you see. I’d have to learn a hard lesson from it. As it turned out, I’ve beaten myself up over it a lot more than I’d have gotten from Woodrow.
I was hunting on my place, “Turkey Roost.” The turkey gobbled at dawn that morning, and we flirted a few times before his girlfriends in nearby trees took offense at my intrusion. The boss hen, becoming increasingly vocal, finally cackled and flew down. Of course the old henpecked gobbler followed his nagging lady friend and snubbed me. They all gathered on a nearby creek and left me. I decided to go to Woodrow’s and have a cup of coffee with Sadie, his cook, and come back a little later to try him again.
At midmorning, I returned and set up on the hillside overlooking the creek bottom where the flock had been two hours prior. I listened intently for turkey sounds and, hearing none, I yelped out across the bottom. No response. With that behind me, I settled back against my tree, laid my gun across my lap and retrieved a magazine from my pocket. Yes, I (gulp) said magazine. Before you close this book and throw it at me, you should at least know it was a hunting magazine with tips on gobbler chasing. However, the article failed to mention the part about staying focused and not reading while waiting for a gobbler to show.
I was nearly through the article when suddenly “pft-vroom” shocked me from so close in front of me that I knew I could not move. There was a stump on the hillside 15 steps away, and a couple of seconds later, the gobbler emerged from behind it. Boy, was I ever ready for him. There I sat, open magazine on top of my gun lying across my lap, with the object of my reason for being in the woods standing there looking for that hen.
Of course, I slowly attempted to close the book and shoulder my gun with my heart suddenly pounding wildly into my throat. And of course, as they are prone to do, this bird headed for the hills without a second thought. I sat there in stunned silence, not believing that gobbler could get that close without my hearing him. Of course, I would not have seen him, as I was reading about how to kill him.
I probably sat there 30 minutes giving myself my own impression of what Woodrow would say if he knew. “Hell, Doc. You cain’t kill a turkey with a book unless you catch and beat him to death with it! If you want to read, go to the library. Stay out of the woods, and let a real turkey hunter have a chance at that gobbler.” You get the picture. I did a great job of beating myself up over my stupidity, so I really did not need to hear it from Woodrow. As I said, I could never bring myself to tell him. By the time you read this, he will have, too. I hope I’m still around.
I went back to that creek a couple of afternoons later without my magazine. I yelped and heard a gobble far down the creek. I set up and got my gun up just in case he might show. I was focused, and 20 minutes later I heard him drum. During the next five minutes, his drumming became increasingly louder. He stepped out of the understory at 30 paces, and I taught him the lesson he failed to learn a couple of days before: Don’t get fooled by the same dumb turkey hunter twice.
Disciplining oneself to listen to the silence is one of the most difficult lessons a turkey hunter eventually learns. It is easy enough to be focused on a gobbler when he is out there making noise. However, we tend to let our guard down when there is none. I’ve finally learned that a gobbler gone silent is often one that has given in to the hen’s stubbornness and is coming to her instead. Folks, he is not necessarily walking away from you. Ironically, silence is almost as good as a gobble at times. The hunter just has to be confident and patient, and “feel” the gobbler’s presence as he approaches. Better to err expecting him to show than to be caught with your pants down. In this regard, silence can definitely be golden.