Turkeys Don’t Talk Turkey

This beautiful call was crafted by my friend John Buchin out of my neighbors 25-year-old spalted maple tree. It has aged beautifully and sounds amazing when someone else uses it.

The sport of turkey hunting seems to have an almost magical allure for those who try it. It’s a tough feeling to convey, but there’s no question that the calling is one of the prime attractions. I’ve often wondered if people would be fanatical about turkey hunting if it simply meant bushwacking for mute birds or taking them on the wing like oversized pheasants.

– Ray Eye, Hunting Wild Turkeys with Ray Eye

It is almost that time.

When hunters of all races, genders, and ages abandon the warmth of their beds at inconvenient hours to traverse the tick-riddled thickets of the turkey woods. I will be among them, looking for the opportunity to put arrow to flight and watch fletching disappear within its origin.

I have yet to kill a turkey and have spent years trying. I’ve come close. Very close. And though I’ve been outsmarted and outmaneuvered season-after-season ⏤ remain undeterred.

Hunting turkeys has never been about the killing. It’s everything leading up to it. Oversized pheasant isn’t on my menu. Nor is it on the menu of my associate John Buchin (who fashioned the call photographed above).

The wild turkey (meleagris gallopavo) is a special species with a language that takes seasons to speak and a lifetime to become fluent. Any turkey hunter worth his arrows or shells will echo this statement with passionate inflection. Talking turkey is a lifestyle, not a skill. This is why I suggest watching a seasoned translator work a bird before attempting it on your own. The poetic coos, sultry yelps, and violent gobbling has the power to humble the cockiest cluckers and cause the squarest of jaws to quiver with emotion.

I am experienced in this regard. My compatriot is a fantastic caller ⏤ better than I could ever be ⏤ which is why my calls tend to stay in the vest when we hunt together. Squawking on a pot while he’s conducting business feels a bit like singing along with the car radio and turning up the volume to drown out the results.

I don’t need to be a bad background vocalist while John’s wooing a flock of sex-crazed 20 pounders. Some of us are better off strumming the guitar in the back of the band, which is why I hold the binoculars.

Still, we make a good team. It may not appear that way on paper but it isn’t for lack of trying. We’ve had wonderful encounters and more fun than I could possibly share on this keyboard. I am certain that our day will come ⏤ sooner rather than later. And I hope that John is the one that drops the string. He’s earned every bit of that honor.

Good luck out there. Stay safe. Have fun talking turkey!

John Buchin is the owner and operator of Crooked Talon Game Calls. You can find his work on his website or Facebook. He needs more excuses to hop on the lathe.

The 6th Sense

If there really is a definable 6th sense, it would be the natural connection and the ability of communication between man and animal.

– Justin southwick

The best way to hunt an animal…is by not hunting them at all. I’d forged this opinion through years of trying and dozens of unsuccessful encounters and won’t be changing a word of it anytime soon.

I am convinced animals have a 6th sense and know when they are being hunted. Whether the explanation for this peculiar ability be scientific, divine in nature, or utter rubbish, I don’t care. I have witnessed the effects too many times to question its existence.

Take the North American whitetail deer for example. They seldom go the way you want them to. They look up when they should be looking down. They duck arrows at impossible proximities. Yet, I’ve walked up to the animal in plain site, out of season, and gotten near enough to have a conversation. I can recount several in-season encounters that played out in similar fashion.

One evening, while hunting hogs down south, I encountered two mature whitetail bucks fighting within ten yards of my treestand. This was the first time I’d seen such a thing afield and marveled at their size and strength. The stand wasn’t very high and the cover wasn’t great. The wind was also not in my favor. Yet, the battle raged on and off for the better part of 20 minutes before both deer lost interest and left for parts unknown.

I couldn’t shoot either of these deer. The hunt allowed it, but I opted out of the $90 big-game tag and decided to focus on hogs. Without the ability to shoot, I was able to stay calm, which made the deer indifferent to my being there. I decided to experiment by committing every hunting sin imaginable. I stood up suddenly. I clanged my seat. I tapped my arrow against my longbow. I coughed. I even hollered “hey” and flapped my arms for the finale.

Neither deer cared, which would not have been the case had I intended to shoot one. A noisy zipper can spook every deer within a radius of 100 yards under different conditions.

Another instance of this phenomenon occurred my first season — this time on the ground with a group of does. It was a brisk Michigan morning. A fresh snow had fallen the night before and I had a feeling deer would be out of bed and on the move. The setup was perfect. The wind was blowing northwest, there was a well-used staging area in front of me, and the remnants of an ancient maple at my back. I was covered in all the ways that counted and was ready to make my season memorable.

At around 9:30, a trio entered the hardwoods and began milling around in front of me at a very revealing distance. I didn’t hesitate. The arrow was away and through both lungs before I realized what I’d done. I collapsed into the snow a shaking mess and did my best to stay put to give the doe time. I laid my bow across my lap, pulled out my phone, and called my Dad to tell him the news. Had I known a second group of deer was in route, I would’ve waited on that call.

We were in mid conversation when the first group arrived. Then a second group followed. Then a third. All within moments and none of them seemed to care that a large human was talking within yards of where they stood.

“I’ve got to let you go, Dad. There are deer everywhere!” I said, hanging up the phone before the reply. For a moment, I thought I was hallucinating. I’d just arrowed my first deer moments ago. Now there was an entire herd in front of me and none of them seemed to mind my presence. The wheels started turning. The idea of tagging out in my first season seemed possible. I pocketed the phone, pulled an arrow from my quiver, knocked it, and rocked forward to a kneeling position.

My movement caught the attention of a nice doe, who’d been enjoying the remains of Autumn’s acorn crop in front of me. She was close — enough to hear her crunching jaws and see her breath float across the morning air. “You’re busted.” I thought, as her eyes met mine. “Game over.” But it wasn’t. She didn’t startle and she didn’t wheeze. She didn’t even flash her tail or flick her ears. She just put her head back down and proceeded to crunch.

I was shocked. And I was also conflicted. I already had a deer to find. Plus, the idea of tracking, dressing, and dragging two deer without help seemed exhausting. Getting them into my car was another obstacle. I was driving a four-door Buick sedan at the time and didn’t have the slightest idea as to how I was going to get two mature deer into it. Still, the idea of a second deer with my simple longbow in one sitting seemed too glorious to pass up.

“How can you not shoot this deer?” I thought. “It couldn’t possibly get any better.” Then it did. She turned, walked towards me a few yards, looked at me, and then twisted broadside to check on her companions. Her flank was now exposed and I had a longbow in my hand with a second tag to fill. I’d made my decision. I was going to shoot this deer.

Then, as if some kind of primal switch had been flipped, everything changed between us. My heart began to pound and my skin began to itch as sweat formed on my arms and back. My face grew hot and my fingers pulsed around the nock of my arrow. She snapped to attention. Her tail shot up, her ears perked, and the rest was history.

These are but two instances of my experience with the 6th sense phenomenon. There have been many more and I’ve heard and read the encounters others have had. I am sure there is a scientific reason that backs these observations, but I am not sure I want to know what they are. The mystery and speculation are far more entertaining.

Have you seen an animal do unexplainable things while afield? Do you believe that animals have a 6th sense that relates to predator detection? Feel free to comment on whatever social platform you see this.