The morning started well enough, with a distant gobble definitely worth investigating, then quickly took a turn for the worse when, upon closer investigation we discovered this randy tom was not alone.

In addition to a quick gobbled reply, my calling also elicited a cacophony of clucks, yelps and cackles. He already had what he sought most in spring, and trying to pull him away from his hens would be a formidable task, at best. All the same I had to try. Though a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, when all you have is the latter, you go for it.

To make matters worse, growing daylight through the trees revealed an open field on the far side of the still-roosted birds. That was almost certainly where they would go upon fly-down and there would be no way to get there ahead of them without being seen. The best we could hope for was that they might mill around under the canopy of hemlocks before going toward the light. And it almost worked.

I heard heavy wingbeats slapping branches as first one, then several birds launched from the limb and sailed to the soil. A quick bout of aggressive cutting yielded an immediate gobble just over the rise, followed shortly thereafter by movement in the brush – a hen coming our way. Anxious moments followed as I waited for the longbeard that should surely be in tow, but he never showed. Instead, he gobbled from farther away in response to several other retreating hens.

I surmised the hen who had abandoned the flock to come our way must have a nest full of eggs nearby. Once a hen begins nesting she will lay an egg every day or two, spending increasingly more time incubating and protecting the clutch but still roosting in the trees at night until her clutch is nearly complete. That she left the flock almost immediately upon fly-down suggested hers must be near that point.

My best chance now would be that the other hens in the flock might also soon abandon the congregation, leaving a lonely, lovesick longbeard behind, or dragging him with them back into the woods. Alas, it was not to be. We were close enough that we could actually hear the gobbler spit and drum as he puffed up, fanned his tail and strutted for his ladies. But we might as well have been a football field away as we couldn’t – and he wouldn’t – close the distance.

That meant waiting him out. Turkeys often fly to – or fly down and walk to – a field or other opening at first light, mill around a bit and fill their crops, then fade back into the woods. So hanging back inside the woodline offered a chance, further reduced by the weather. It must be something about the noise and moving vegetation because on rainy days, which this was, turkeys often stay in the open all day. It was a long shot, but the only one we had at the time.

And so the standoff went. Over the next hour and a half we stayed with the birds, and were even able to make a couple moves, parallel to them but no closer. I called just enough to keep track of the tom and he obliged vocally but not physically. He had no intentions of leaving his birds at hand for one in the bush.

It was looking to be a very long and likely unproductive morning when I heard a very distant gobble in the woods behind us, which I at first dismissed as being too far to be concerned with. Then the light went on as I turned to my partner and said, “Let’s go.” If that old field gobbler didn’t want to dance I’d find someone who did.

Rugged terrain made for tough going but 10 minutes later, after scaling our second steep ridge, we eased up to the edge of another field where I peaked over the lip in time to see a single turkey disappear behind a slight rise. I rolled over the lip and into the field, propping myself up against a huge relic stump of an old wolf pine, leveled my trusty 12-gauge on my knee and belted out some aggressive cutts while fighting to catch my breath.

My calls were answered by not one but two gobblers, and moments later three red heads popped over the rise. No ladies in this group and the boys were now competing to be first to the woodline in pursuit of a perceived hen. They all looked about the same size but brighter head color and a more confident pace revealed the dominant bird on which I centered by scope when the trio paused at 35 yards. At my shot, two of the three birds ran off. The other rode home in my truck.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at:

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