I'll say one thing about hunting whitetail bucks – their mental abilities, especially the bucks that have survived a couple of hunting seasons, can make a hunter look downright foolish. I guess I'd have to say the same thing about spring gobblers, but not because of the mental workings of their pea-sized brain. Rather, spring gobblers survive solely on instincts, which can also make a hunter look downright foolish.
We're now into the second week of our month-long spring gobbler season, and if you talk to the hunters who've been out there yelping and cackling, you'll hear some very entertaining stories. Some end with a tom being taken, while most will be about how gobblers seldom do exactly what the hunter expects them to. Intelligence? No, not with a brain that would easily fit two in a teaspoon. It's those darn instincts. I don't think a turkey knows what it will do a minute from now, say nothing of contriving a plan to avoid the hunter. But this ability to do the unexpected is what makes spring gobbler hunting such a hoot.
So far this season there's been a shortage of gobbling activity on the part of the breeding age gobblers. The biggest gobbler I've had come in to my calls came in totally silent. Too bad he was screened behind some low spruce boughs 25 yards away, which meant I didn't see him as I eased to a standing position to change the location of one of my decoys. But he certainly saw me. Game over. I also had five gobblers in a bachelor flock (three two-year olds and two jakes) come angling in toward my location after they'd heard me call and then spotted my decoys. For whatever reasons, they veered off at about 50 yards out and went trucking on by, despite the hen pleas from my trusty diaphragm call. The only gobblers that have offered me shots so far were a lone jake and, on another morning, three jakes. All came trotting in and displayed around my decoys for a good ten minutes. I let them go to grow. Ironically, I've yet to see or hear a hen ... all gobblers, so far. There are several theories as to why toms aren't gobbling as much in recent years. One is that, by gobbling, they give away their location to hungry coyotes. Another is that our New York re-introduced turkeys, as a species, has been around sufficiently long now so progressive generations of the birds have developed an "acquired instinct" that gobbling leads to bad experiences for them (from hunters and predators). I recall the late Ben Rodgers Lee saying that the birds he hunted in the South had progressively become quieter and quieter over the years they were hunted, and he expected the same thing would occur with our New York gobblers. Another theory is that too much pre-season calling while hunters are scouting "educates" them before the season ever opens.