Monday, April 20, 2009

How Beautiful Is A Gobbler?


At first glance, the title question is almost amusing or funny. I mean, just how beautiful can a spring gobbler be?

His head looks like its covered with warts, and then there are those red wattles that are not pretty even after dark. The snood or piece of ugly looking meat the drapes over the beak looks like a worm crawling out of the bird’s beak.

All those little hairs growing on a gobbler’s face reminds me of a drunk who did a patchy job of trying to shave. Let’s face it: Is there anything remotely pretty about a gobbler?

It’s something like the old joke that all bar-dwelling men and women get better looking at closing time. Perhaps it’s time to take the gobbler out of the harsh glare of the limelight, put him into the muted light of an early morning or late afternoon sun, mix in some shadows from big beech, maple or oak trees. Toss in a little brush, and add to this mix a lengthy spell of time between last year’s turkey season and this one, and maybe they do get better looking as the season progresses.

Frankly, I don’t need a sales job. Sure the gaudy ringneck pheasant with his bright colors and long tail or the tail and the noisy flush of a ruffed grouse should be given points for their looks, but I’ll match Old Tom against any other game bird species in North America for his looks.

Let’s analyze a turkey gobbler for a minute. That jasper is up on legs, and those legs are made for running. The wings of a wild turkey are stout and strong, and it takes some muscles to launch a 15- to 20-pound bird into the air to escape danger. A young jake almost took my hat off last year after Kay shot his heavyweight buddy after a long and grueling period of calling to the bird. I had to duck to escape being hit in the face with a strong wing grabbing air in an attempt to get airborne.

The tail fan of a mature gobbler is big and bold, and the bird can do some rather amazing things with it. He can make it stand up straight with all the feathers tucked together or he can make them spread out to cover 180 degrees. Then again, a gobbler can spread only half of his tail feathers, on one side or the other, and an old bird who has been breeding numerous hens will have wingtips that are rubbed right down from his strutting and wingtip dragging. He also has some of his breast feather missing from the breeding act.

The breast and back feathers of a gobbler are something of particular beauty. Get them into medium strong sunlight, and turn the bird in different directions, and a brown feather can magically change to black, green, a deep purple-green, and a myriad of different colors. At a distance they look predominantly black, but add color and a closer inspection, and their coat of feathers is like a coat of many colors.

A gobbler’s head, as mentioned before, is an amazingly ugly piece of work until you watch what an adult Tom can do with it. I’ve watched amorous birds come through the woods, and their head can and will change colors. It can go from red to white to blue, and back again in a matter of several moments. The sight of a snowball-white head bobbing rapidly through the spring woods as it comes to the call is something that grips me like the sight of a 10-point buck moving my way just before the end of shooting time.

Throw all of these puzzle pieces together, and add the resounding tempo of a throaty gobble, and what a turkey hunter has is enough to make some people hyperventilate or gasp for air. The sight of an approaching gobbler can turn the strongest man into a mass of wet noodles that can hardly raise their shotgun to shoot.

It can transform a brave man into something that quivers and shakes from nervousness as the bird gets closer and closer. A robust gobble right behind a seated hunter can make them jump into the air, and by the time they get their act together, the bird is 100 yards away and getter farther with every step.

A gobbler can make a ground-shaking gobble, a softer gobbler or the can drum and spit. The latter is difficult to hear beyond 25 yards, and many hunters have never heard it. Or, if they have heard it, they didn’t know it was coming from the gobbler that is circling their position. It is a very faint “mmmmm-pphhhtt.” Listen closely the next time a gobbler approaches, and listen hard and perhaps it will be heard.

I’m in love with wild turkeys. They turn me on, wind me up, and when they are through with me, I count myself fortunate for having been there to hear and see a gobbler at close range and they never look ugly to me. Sometimes I get so caught up in the magic of the moment that I forget to shoot.

How careless and silly of me.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/20 at 06:55 PM
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