The first chord is struck as you scrape a chalked paddle across the top of your box call, changing the pressure at the last to create a two-note kee-yawk not unlike the rusty door hinge of a ’62 Olds. From somewhere in the distance comes a primordial sound that stands the hair up on the back of your neck. The game is on.

gobbling, the turkey has given away his position. A tactical error? Perhaps, but an unwitting one. His objective is to summon a mate, and nature has selected those who gobble from the highest points, where their voices can be best heard, to be the most successful at mating, and thus passing along their pre-disposition to gobble from the roost.

But our opponent also gains a tactical advantage from on high. He can see much better any approaching danger. We can only get so close before we must stop and seek concealment.

We’re also at a considerably disadvantage in not knowing his pre-disposition. Around him lie 360 degrees worth of choice for which way to go. A previous encounter would have gone a long way in predicting which way he might exit his bell tower. Instead we must pick one, based on whatever tools we have at hand: knowledge of the landscape, intuition. Guess right and it could be a short morning. Guess wrong and your day will be long.

You can hedge your bets by throwing some sweet, seductive calls his way. A few soft, briefly spaced, one-note yelps simulate a roosted hen. A thundering reply tempts you to call more aggressively, but experience tells you that would be a mistake. Offer an occasional cluck or pip, just to keep him interested, but no more, at least not until his feet hit the ground.

Eventually it’s time and as he launches from his lofty perch with a dull whup, whup whup of wings, you hold your breath. All is silent for a moment or two. Then temptation takes over and you tentatively toss out three soft yelps. The gobbler responds, sounding much farther away. But it’s only a ruse. You learned the hard way — by moving too quickly — that a bird sounds more distant when he’s on the ground. You don’t make that mistake any more. You offer a few more yelps and the next move is his.

If he comes your way it becomes a tactical conversation. You parry, he thrusts. You throw out a yelp, a cluck or a purr and wait to hear his reaction. Does he respond immediately and loudly? A good sign. Talk some more. But if he seems dispassionate, don’t push the issue. Try to find a topic he’s more interested in.

If he goes the other way, it becomes a battle of strategic maneuvers. First you need to determine both his speed and direction of travel. Then you must plan a wide arcing path that will take you first well out of sight, then, hopefully around and ahead of the bird.

All is silent. You need to move but you’re not sure where he is. Another yelp should make him gobble, but you don’t want to play that card yet. It’s too valuable for this stage of the game. A few loud crow calls make the gobbler reveal himself without drawing his attention your way. It’s still safe to move ahead, but just to be certain you make a wider arc.

Ahead you see a clearing through the trees. A field! That’s where he’s headed. You’ve got to get there first. Once he makes the open field he’ll head for the middle, where he can strut in the wide open, and in plain view, but well out of gun range from the nearby woodline. Where will he enter? Suddenly, you remember a gap in the stone wall, where an old woods road runs. There! You’ve got to get there before he can see you moving. You make a break, pile into a sitting position at the base of an old hemlock, prop your gun on your knee and wait.

All is silent for several long minutes and doubt begins to nag, “He saw you. You blew it.” But you sit motionless just the same, just in case. Eventually you catch your breath and muster up enough saliva to work your mouth call. Garobbbble comes the response. He’s there, 100 yards out and closing. Can’t move much now. Point your left shoulder at the bird, prop your gun up on your knee and breathe slowly, trying to slow your racing heart.

He gobbles twice more and your chest starts pounding, your mouth goes dry and you fight for air.

There! Sound, then movement. His white head glows like a light bulb under the dark evergreen canopy. Puffed out in full strut he looks enormous, even at 60 yards, but you won’t be fooled like you were that first year. You know he’s still only halfway home. No calling now, it won’t help and could hurt. Just let him come, step by step. Inches slowly become feet, and feet yards. He stands at 45 yards, awfully tempting, but did you pattern your gun with those new loads? Will it really deliver the necessary load at that distance? Best not to risk it. This is too valuable a prize.

Time stands still, and so does the tom. At 45 yards he glances your way, falls out of strut and cranes his neck. You’re sure he’s seen you. The jig is up. Your finger tightens on the trigger. “No,” you tell yourself. “Still too far.” A red squirrel sounds off from the branch just over your head. Seemingly satisfied all is well, the turkey shrugs his shoulders and makes one more move, another 20 yards ahead. Game over.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

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