Turkey hunters are a peculiar lot.
If you call yourself a turkey hunter, yet do not find your life choices during the spring to be peculiar, you probably have the most severe form of the peculiarity in which you appear perfectly normal to yourself yet the most peculiar to the outsiders. I consider non-hunting actions to be what makes us turkey hunters peculiar, actions specific to turkeys and turkey hunting. These actions typically fall into three categories: traditions, rituals, and superstition. While they may overlap, typically a tradition is done after a successful hunt, a ritual is done prior to opening day, and superstitions are carried out during the season.
Turkey hunters understand and appreciate tradition. Wearing the same camo, smoking a cheap cigar as Dave Owens taught us, taking a shot of Wild Turkey, or some other form of honoring a fallen foe and celebrating a successful hunt are becoming the norm. I know of a few hunters that leave a calling card of shells and feathers at the tree when the game came to an end, Doc Weddle being one. These traditions or similar ones are all good things for turkeys and turkey hunting. At times, we can get in a hurry and not stop to smell the roses, cigar smoke, or bourbon whiskey. However, these traditions are relatively low on the scale of oddness. While there may be more interesting post hunt happenings, I have not heard of or seen them, yet…
Part of the draw to turkey hunting, from a young age, was watching the grown-ups prepare for the season. Around my hometown, turkey season was close when everyone started carrying their yelpers in the cup holder of the pickup. For most it adds a new layer to the sport, apart from just the hunting. Packing and repacking vests, double checking everything is there, listening to certain songs or albums on the way to the gate. Patterning guns, checking beads or red dots for zero, getting the natural voice owl hoot warmed up, and buying new calls are things most of us do.
There are some unique things as well, reading books at certain times or places or reliving old hunts through photos. Starting opening day in the same listening spot each year or even starting the season blind, the first gobble to fall on your ears (hopefully) coming the first morning of the season are all things I have heard of. Frying last year’s final bird the night before the opener is always a good one. My personal ritual is to read the last chapter of The Tenth Legion the night before opening day each year. I have heard that if you shake a string of spurs around your shotgun while reading said book, the ghost of Ben Rodgers Lee will appear but I have yet to test this one out. If any of you try this and are successful please let me know!
As we often give these magnificent birds undue credit for their ghostlike abilities during the season, us hunters will be driven to non-rational thinking. Then again, nothing a turkey hunter does could really be deemed rational. Early, early mornings, long days dodging cottonmouths and hordes of mosquitoes, all night cross country drives to make it by gobbling time, walking miles into unseen property. Wading creeks and rivers to get to a gobbler, spending our life savings on fuel, tags, and expensive shells. Yet, to us these are the normal, everyday activities. Our not so normal activities fall under the superstition categories.
Turkey hunters are a superstitious crowd, some more so than others but all of us to an extent. The uniqueness of the turkey hunter’s wiring harness upstairs begins to show regarding superstitions. If man goes a week without hearing the sweet sound of a gobble, he is liable to switch from Nutty Buddy’s to Zebra Cakes. If the early morning silence continues, the trusty red Folgers can may be replaced with Maxwell house, which is essentially selling your soul to the devil. However, for as long as the woes continue through missed birds, bad setups, and jealous hens who will not leave their suitor’s side…. Everyone knows washing your Mossy Oak is bad luck and dooms you to a season of despair.
I remember one season a friend of mine was having an awfully challenging time coaxing a gobbler into gun range and he suggested that a wash day might be in order as to get rid of the bad luck. I responded, “You are absolutely crazy…. You’re just gonna make it worse!” As I said, a peculiar lot.
When the gas station breakfast conversation turns towards those of us struggling, we begin to come up with all sorts of strategies for reversing the bad turkey voodoo, each idea varying in degree of severity. Lucky ‘staches, changing hats, and meditation would be the first line of defense. I even know of a fellow that traded in his truck during turkey season because he was convinced that was the issue. Switching brands of chewing tobacco is completely against any and all rules; but shaving heads, burning an unlucky facemask or hat, buying a new gun or switching back to ol’ trusty are completely acceptable.
When the gobbles become fewer and further between this season think outside the box. Whatever it takes to get your mind right and get back in the game, by any means necessary. If you tell your breakfast buddies about it, they will understand and might even try it. The outsiders will say, “What a peculiar lot, those turkey hunters.”