Robertson: Why hunters quit

Watching the day be born is always a moving experience. Turkeys hunters see many, many dawns, sometimes far too many. When the spring gobblers wear you down to a frazzle, frustrate and demoralize you some simply can't take it anymore. Physical and mental exhaustion are bad, but what really pushes people to hang it up? The author looks at the reasons.


My turkey hunting partner, Scott Neely, and I were talking the other day. We hadn’t seen a single hunter in close to two weeks. The only tire tracks on the roads were made by oil workers or loggers. No one was hunting.

I myself was so worn down and exhausted I was constantly sick, had passed out and torn my cornea in the shower. But quit, no, not smart enough for that.

Now, my daughters roll their eyes, shake their heads, sigh, and try to understand this obsession with spring gobblers. Take a day or two off they say, rest up, take a break and enjoy life. But, the next morning may be the day the birds gobble and come in! They don’t realize that turkeys are a law themselves, incredibly elusive, often refusing to gobble for weeks at a time.

This unpredictability is a bone breaker. One day 9 gobblers may be all gobbling their fool heads off in a valley and the next 2 weeks the exact same location is as silent as a tomb. You know they’re there, but they refuse to sound off. Maddening!

But, back to Scott and I’s discussion about the absence of hunters. Of all the local hunting sports none have as many chances for failure as turkey hunting does. Take deer hunting as an example. Scout, get the wind in your favor, don’t move, place your stand in a prime location, spend time in the stand, aim carefully, squeeze the trigger and you have a deer. That’s pretty much it.

If you’re squirrel hunting, move slowly, sit often, stalk carefully and you bag squirrels. Master the 4 to 5 basics necessary hunting other game species and if you can shoot you succeed.

But, nothing is plagued with potential disaster like spring gobbler. Failures ready to swoop down and ruin your hunt in an instant.

First, try to find a bird that’s gobbling. Not that simple at all. If you do hear 1 the chances for error begin multiplying geometrically. How close should you get to the roosted bird? If he’s hot he may come a long distance, but odds are there are hens around who will prevent that. You should get as close as possible, but how close? Spook the bird and he may move and not gobble again ever. Too far and a lot can happen before he gets to you; hens, other hunters or a predator. Decisions, decisions.

Where do you set up? Set up is critical for many reasons. You should have some type of cover. It’s likely still dark making it difficult to see the terrain around you. Don’t sit too low. How thick is the brush, is there a stream, fallen tree or other natural obstacle the turkey may not wish to cross? Is there a better spot over there? Can I move there without the gobbler seeing me? Oh, yes, so many decisions with so little data, failure looms ominously as you struggle with your choices.

Once set up should you call to him in the roost? Do so and the hens will come in quickly. Don’t and he may fly some distance away. Hmm.

If you call should you cluck, whine, purr, yelp or cackle? What type of call should you use? Mouth call, slate, pot, box, push button or aluminum? Do you call very little or a lot? Should you pick a fight with a hen or appear shy and secretive?

Your mind is whirling, so many options and multiple decisions anyone of which may spell success or failure and the gobbler hasn’t even flown down yet! It gets worse.

He flies down away from you. Now that its lighter you find yourself in a bad spot. You can’t see well, a fallen tree blocking most of your view and you hear hens calling. But, the gobbler answers your calls and moves closer. He is about 200 yards away, if you could just move 15 yards to your right you’d have a much better view. Move or not? Will his 6 power eyes pick you out if you do? He’s looking right at your position, they can pin point sounds from amazing distances.

Move to see or move and be seen? An agonizing choice, but if you move….

Your legs and butt ache terribly, don’t move. Four mosquitoes are chewing your neck and ear, don’t move. Your arms ache from holding the gun, don’t move. The turkey goes silent. You stand up 30 minutes later and he flies out of the treetop. You never saw him.

Often you finally get a shot and miss after weeks of effort. You actually feel tears of frustration and hopelessness running down your cheeks. Why are you torturing yourself like this? It’s only a turkey! But, if successful turkey hunting fills one with such elation and joy it’s incredible. That’s why so many suffer so much.

I’ve only touched a small number of the things which can go wrong. But hunters quit for 1 major reason. The silent dawns when nothing gobbles for days and days. They, more than any other of the tortures involved, will break you.