March ushers in the turkey season, and it is by far my favorite outdoor activity. It is the ultimate challenge as far as I am concerned.
I've been hunting turkeys for many years now and consider myself a seasoned, veteran hunter. I'm not an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I have had some success through the years. I've managed to hang a few old gobblers from the hunt club porch.
I didn't grow up hunting turkeys and learning turkey lore from my elders. We didn't have them when I was younger. They were stocked in the '60s, '70s and '80s by the wildlife department throughout the state and protected until their numbers were sufficient to allow for a harvest.
I started hunting turkeys in the early '90s when most of Clarendon County was first opened for turkey hunting. After a visit to the Lowcountry to hunt with a friend, I joined a club near Walterboro. I've hunted turkeys all over the state since then.
Even though I had hunted deer and ducks and small game all my life, I was a rookie in the turkey woods. I had to learn by trial and error but mostly by my errors.
I killed my first gobbler after a couple of years of fumbling through the springtime woods. Then I felt like a real turkey hunter. I just didn't realize how little I knew about the wild turkey.
One of those hunts in the early years taught me a lot about turkeys and a little more about myself.
I had scouted an area of the club that was mostly overlooked by the other hunters. A power line ran through the woods, a big clear-cut was nearby, and a wide logging road bisected the area. The road was plastered with big gobbler tracks. A thick hardwood bottom ran parallel to the power line. I could walk in quietly on the soft, sandy road and slip down the power line to an area with big, towering pines that I suspected would be a good roosting spot.
The morning crept in with a new day, and the birds sang, but no turkey gobbled. I called a little but got no answer. I was disappointed; there had to be turkeys nearby - but where? I had sat down at the base of a big pine before daylight and had heard a little scratching on the bark up in the tree all morning, right over my head. I just assumed it was squirrels.
Back then I didn't know what patience was, and I wasn't going to sit around and wait on those turkeys very long.
Finally, I stood up and walked out into the power line. A crackle of limbs and a whoosh of wings caught me by surprise as a big gobbler launched out of the pine I had been sitting against. I stood there surprised and entranced by the flight of the big bird.
The turkey sailed across the power line and landed in a big pine about 70 yards away. That's when I remembered that I had a gun in my hands. Of course, he was too far away for a shot. We both just stood and looked at each other. The gobbler finally decided he had business somewhere else and flew on into the big piney woods.
Now, I really felt like an idiot. I had been sitting right under that turkey for more than an hour. Dejected, I went over and sat back down under the tree. I figured my best chance was gone. "Might as well go home," I thought.
Just then, a dog barked down the branch toward the logging road, and another dog joined in. They were after something. Sounded like cur dogs, yipping and yapping. I was instantly agitated. Those dogs were ruining any chance I might have of seeing anything else. So I got up to leave but noticed something coming down the power line from the direction of the dogs.
It was a huge bird flying directly toward me. My first thought was that it was an eagle, even though I had never seen one flying so low to the ground and had never seen one in this area. It just didn't look quite right.
Mesmerized, I just stood there as it flew by just over my head. That's when I realized it was a turkey - a big longbeard! Most of the turkeys I had seen up until that point were either running or flying away from me. Not toward me.
The gobbler sailed on by and landed in a pine almost exactly where the other one had landed earlier. Again, I had just stood there with my gun in my hands, watching.
When I moved, the gobbler flew on.
"This couldn't be happening," I thought. What else could possibly go wrong? Disgusted, I turned and started to the truck. The dogs were still going after their quarry down in the branch - whatever it was.
I walked back down the power line to the logging road, listening to those dogs over in the branch. Aggravated, I pointed my gun up in the air and fired a shot to see if it would scare the dogs away. The shot sounded like a cannon in the early morning stillness, and it worked. The dogs hushed and didn't bark again.
Back at the clubhouse another hunter asked me about the shot. I didn't share the story about the two big gobblers but told him about the dogs. He just shook his head and smiled, then went on to tell me that he was hunting an adjoining block of woods. He could see a big gobbler out in the clear-cut strutting and working his way to the power line, toward my position. At my shot, the longbeard ran, then got up and flew away!
Since that day I've learned what patience and persistence is really like, and I've learned that I can laugh at myself - sometimes.
Dan Geddings is a weekly columnist for The Sumter Item. Email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.