Turkey Hunting: All Bets Are Off

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For the past four years, a group of my college friends have come together for what we call “The Butterball Invitational,” which is, in a nutshell, a turkey hunting tournament.  Roughly 27 two-man teams hunt different properties throughout west and southwest Alabama, and meet up at a designated time at the headquarters camp near Monroeville to score the birds.  While the highlight is undoubtedly the hunts themselves, the camaraderie is special.  Old friends who have dispersed throughout the country reconvene for the weekend and engage in friendly banter on whose team will emerge victorious.  It is truly the highlight of each season for those that attend.

Since the second year of the event, we have held a “Calcutta auction” the Friday night before the hunt in which attendees can "buy" a team they feel will win and collect the proceeds of the Calcutta pot should their favorite win.  This year, the pot was up to a very healthy number the night before the hunt, and numerous teams felt good about their chances.  I was especially confident, as myself and teammate Lee Dzwonkowski of Mobile were hunting that Saturday morning on my home turf in Sumter County, in an area I knew held several gobbling turkeys.  Despite the fact we had been shutout in the years’ previous, and were the brunt of numerous jabs from our friends, we felt as if the fourth time was the charm.  We made the hour and a half trek from Monroeville late that Friday night in the hopes that our strategy-and investment in time and gas money-would pay off. 

We broke daylight the next morning in one of my perennial haunts, a river bottom that had been very productive in the weeks leading up to the event.  It was one of those perfect mornings-every star in the sky was lit up, birds were chirping as we left the house in the darkness, and there was not even the slightest breeze.  I commented to Lee that “this is the morning we make it happen.”  Yet as soon as we arrived to our parking spot, we heard the loud hum of the nearby interstate, which would make hearing turkeys very difficult.  Regardless, we decided that it was in our best interest to stick with the plan and hunt the area that I knew held turkeys.

Which was not the best idea as it turned out.  While we did hear and setup on a turkey, all I could tell (due to the background noise) was that he was somewhere between where we were sitting and Miami Beach.  With a 12 o’clock check-in time and the hour and a half drive in our thought process, we decided to bail out and head elsewhere. 

We did get on a turkey shortly thereafter that gobbled fair to middling on the ground until about 9:15.  He was in a wide open creek bottom and was not all that responsive, so after he shut up we decided we had to try to find a field turkey-or any turkey for that matter-before ten.   We checked two fields that had turkeys nearby as recently as the day prior, but no dice.  As the clock passed the point in which there was no possible way for us to kill a turkey and get to the base camp before the deadline, minus a helicopter commute, we decided to hit up Hardee’s and praise the Lord they actually had a sausage biscuit left for both Lee and I.  So the morning was salvaged somewhat.

As we began to make the trek back to Monroeville, the calls and texts from our buddies began to roll in.  And I will tell you that they were not of the “dead turkey” variety.

We pulled up into the camp a shade past noon to find not a single turkey hanging from the bragging poll.  Lee murmured an expletive in the same tone as if his 401K had tanked.  Out of 27 teams and 54 total hunters trudging through some of the best dirt that the Cotton State has to offer, not a single limbhanger nor sacrificial lamb two year old was killed. 

The contingency was stunned.  How could this have possibly happened?  The turkeys were not in a weird funk, the weather was picturesque, and the lands hunted were pristine and chock full of turkeys.  Some hunters cussed the east wind.  Others lamented of hens that messed it up.  Yet the saddest soul was a dear friend of mine who had missed a turkey standing stone still, dead to rights, at a mere thirty yards.  If one measly stray pellet hits that turkey in the spinal column, the hunter, whose name shall remain anonymous, and his partner would have hit the jackpot. 

But turkey hunting is a sport of “what ifs.”  It is the what ifs that keep us hungry and breaking daylight on marginal mornings or when we are working on limited sleep.  We tend to work ourselves into a frenzy and lose sleep at night over the mistakes we make, or the unfortunate circumstances that befall us, while in the spring woods.  Eliminate the what ifs, and the wild turkey is a pigeon on steroids.  The what ifs are why in a sport where the only certainty is that gobblers are evil and hens are too, you simply cannot bet on success.  Bet on success, and get burned.

The ceremonies continued nonetheless.  Everyone tempered their sorrows with crawfish and other culinary and liquid libations, and afterwards began the turkey tales portion, which was as depressing as Ben Stein reading off Homer’s Iliad in Russian.   The committee decided to refund the Calcutta money and do a mulligan the next day.  Everyone jumped at the chance (besides me, as I decided to head back for another social engagement) and the confidence level made a rebound off the mat.  Side bets were made, and the consensus was that there was no way that this noble contingency of hunters, who were hunting prime real estate on another gorgeous morning, would be skunked on consecutive days.

Wrong.  Zeroed again?

I received the news after leaving Church the next day and could not believe what I heard.  Or maybe the curmudgeon and/or realistic side of me did.  After all, we are dealing with a wild animal that fights and claws their way through life from the time they crack out of the egg until the time they see the glow of turkey heaven in the distance.  Of all the things to bet on-sports, card games, or the like-none may be worse to place a Benjamin in the hat than spring turkey hunting.  It is the most unpredictable game in the world.  It exalts the humble and ruthlessly humiliates the exalted.  It turns grown men into weeping babies and wrecks our sanity.  It is not for the weak of heart or mind.  The turkey we are hunting has no concept of his death being gambled upon.  He is simply trying to survive.  Until he makes that one final mistake, all bets are off.
Wild Turkey Report Staff
Wild Turkey Report is the internet's new destination for information on the sport of turkey hunting. Follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wildturkeyreport and on Twitter @wildturkeyreprt!
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