My great obsession

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It was a faint sound, and I couldn't tell where it was coming from. I wasn't even sure what it was, but it had my attention. Owls hooted and hollered from the ridgetop above me. I listened intently, hoping to hear a nearby reply. But nothing.

Walking will mask some sounds, so I was reluctant to move away from the truck. The sound was almost continuous, so I reasoned that it would continue while I walked as quietly as I could a short distance down the hard clay road.

When I stopped it was immediately obvious that I was farther away from the sound, but I still wasn't sure about the direction. The sound was muffled and echoed through the big timber. I turned my head and faced east, then turned toward the west. Maybe it was coming from the south, so I walked back down the road past the truck and stopped.

Standing there in the pre-dawn darkness, a huge grin spread across my face. I was closer, and it was toward the west in the big river swamp. My suspicion had been correct all along - it was a turkey gobbler saluting the dawn. I've only heard a few gobble that much. Maybe only seconds apart. I don't know how he had time to breathe.

The sound was much more distinctive now that the light was spreading through these big woods. It was no longer muffled and did not echo. Maybe he had been turned away from me earlier and was now facing the rising sun - and me.

I moved a few steps back and forth on the road to pinpoint his exact location and estimated the distance. When I walked back to the truck I realized that the turkey had stopped gobbling. I knew that it probably meant that he was getting ready to fly down from his roost tree.

Walking away from the truck and the road into the timber gave me a little insight into this turkey's world. It was big timber and open. I knew there would be water, and I could see a small stream that gurgled and flowed westward into the deep swampland.

When I stopped, the turkey gobbled straight out in front of me. He was on the ground now and much closer. He was still far enough away that he could not see me, even through this open timber. In a few minutes, he gobbled again, and I noted his direction of travel. When he gobbled again, he was farther away.

This would all be useful information when I got a chance to hunt this bird. I was not familiar with this ground and decided to come back another day before the season opens to take another look at these woods and maybe mark a little trail. I backtracked out to the road and my truck.

Out on the open highway, I turned my truck toward Pinewood and Oak Lea Wildlife Management Area. Historically Oak Lea has had a good turkey population, but I have not seen many birds there this year. Oak Lea is hard to hunt because it is public ground, has a good road system and has open farmland that makes it easy to spot birds. I didn't hunt Oak Lea last year, and I might not hunt there this year, but I will keep it as an option.

After driving through most of the property, I finally saw a big longbeard strutting in a cut bean field. A hen trotted toward the nearby woodline, and the gobbler followed. It was good to see one. It gladdens any turkey hunter's heart just to see one, especially in an area he or she can hunt.

It was getting on up in the morning, but I decided to check out a local farm that I have permission to hunt before heading home.

I drove the dirt road slowly, looking at the fields and the woodlot edges. At one spot, I slowed even more to look for tracks in the sandy roadside. When I looked up, I spotted a turkey walking the edge of the woods. Beyond him, I could see a tail fan of another gobbler strutting. There were several hens that stepped into the woodline after noticing my truck on the road.

I know the fish are biting, and the shellcrackers will be bedding on this full moon, but turkey hunting has me in a firm grip. For me and many others, it is a grand obsession. I will live for turkey hunting until the season closes in early May. No other outdoor passion can compare.

Dan Geddings is a weekly columnist for The Sumter Item. Email Dan at cdgeddings@gmail.com.