While wild turkeys are seldom as predictable as we might prefer, they do tend to follow generally expected patterns and exhibit certain characteristic behavior. The birds fly down at dawn. Toms strut and gobble to attract a mate while hens cluck, yelp and feed. Then the flock returns to roost at night where they settle in and wait for another day. At least, that’s what they’re supposed to do. Often they go off script and once in a while they do things that defy description.

The sun stays up a long time in April in Texas. When it finally dipped below the western treeline our hunting party gathered at the trucks to compare notes and recount the afternoon’s adventures, then loaded up for the long drive back to the ranch. It was well after 9 p.m. and pitch dark when we pulled off the pavement and onto the dirt road that wound through mesquite flats toward camp.

Rounding the last turn the headlights flashed across something that seemed so oddly out of place it took a moment to register. “Stop!” I exclaimed, startling every one of the tired crew. Even in the dark I could sense the strange looks when I instructed the driver to, “Back up and shine your headlights over to the right. At first, none of us believed it when the light beams illuminated a strutting tom. He should have flown to roost hours before but there he was, fanned out, puffed up and trying his best to attract a mate in the inky darkness.

Another thing toms do to attract a mate is gobble. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. I was sitting against a stone wall one morning waiting for the local flock to appear and hopefully make their way through a gap in the wall and out into an adjacent field. The first bird to arrive was a solo hen, slowly picking her way along toward the gap. Upon reaching it she paused, stretched out her neck and uttered a muted but very clear gobble. Had I not been staring directly at her when she did, I almost certainly would have doubted my own eyes and ears, but there was no mistaking it. Then, as if to confirm, she did it again.

Another time and in another place I was watching three hens, one of which seemed particularly intolerant of the other two. She would pick one out, then chase after it while purring aggressively. It didn’t seem all that unusual until the aggressive one stopped, lowered her wings, lifted her tail and assumed a full strut posture. Perhaps it was a display of dominance, or maybe she was just confused. Either way, I would not have believed it had I not witnessed it.

A more common source of confusion is the disappearing act, which I’ve witnessed enough times to believe the wild turkey does indeed possess magical powers. It goes something like this: The bird is approaching, strutting, gobbling and carrying on. For a moment it vanishes behind a tree, providing the perfect opportunity to raise your gun and ready before it appears on the other side. But it never does. Nor does it make another sound. It’s as if that turkey was never in the world. You wait still and silent until finally conceding the bird is gone. I guess sometimes not seeing is believing, too.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and Registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at: bhunt@maine.rr.com

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