The months of running on autopilot are coming to an end
Admit it, you both love and hate the end of turkey season. A few words follow on why.
Early on, you love the early risings, driving through a sleeping town to an all-night gas station for early coffee and doughnuts, where you run into a few other camo-clad hunters and it surely feels like family most of the time. You love the sunrises, birds gobbling on the roost, the sight of a strutter backlighted by the sun . . . all of it makes you pretty thankful.
And when you kill that first gobbler of the spring season your hands tremble, as always. It never gets old, as they say. And yet you want another one.
At this point, it feels like spring turkey season will last forever, especially if you start in a southern state like Florida, where spring training baseball is underway in March. By late May, in yet another state, likely up North or out in places like Nebraska, you may have started to wear down a bit.
Delayed flights. The challenge of modern travel. But still you do it. Again and again. Driven to hunt new birds, new land.
You may simply be on autopilot. You are likely a few pounds lighter. You have pushed yourself to the limit, and "left it all on the field" as an athlete does.
You hate the competition of it all, unethical hunters who move in on "your bird" and otherwise violate widely held beliefs for moving on when you see another guy in "his spot," even if you consider it yours.
The end of turkey season offers some relief to all this. And yet, you love your core group of turkey hunters, veterans of the game, and new recruits. The flurry of daily texts will soon fade. And you'll miss it, for sure.
Spur length. Bird weight. Single beards or multiple. These are the trophy statistics by which we measure accomplishment. In the end though, it's the wild turkey that matters, each and every one of them. An old warrior of a gobbler eluded danger at every turn until you killed him.
Ask yourself, how big was the size of your hunt?
It's really all about the gobblers (and hens about to hatch broods, and even those that won't). Wild turkeys are the greatest game bird on the planet. Many of you agree with this, for sure.
2. End Game
And by the end of turkey season, where early on you felt at war with each and every gobbler you located and tried to call in, or fan in, and otherwise tried to outwit with your understanding of the turkey hunting tradition and the full weight and meaning of it, well, by the last weeks of spring gobbler season a true sense of peace takes over.
Sure, you might just be whipped by three months of turkey hunting in multiple states, and thinking about it, and commenting on social media posts as your buds share the good news (and bad) about their turkey seasons, and it's truly a beautiful thing, but it simply must come to an end.
You hate that. And secretly love that too. It's such a big conflict of emotions you may not even want to talk about it.
You hate that you missed a bird, or passed on a bull jake early you would have surely shot at the end, or got a little too cocky and made that wrong move that sent a strutter into full-flee mode.
The mistakes you made along the way this spring turkey season will haunt you sometimes.
3. Take Stock
Lighten up. Relax.
By next spring turkey season you will remember the moments, and that miss will turn into a bittersweet thought.
That gobbler found a way to stay alive one more time. Those longbeards you toted home in your vest, in multiple states. The birds you put in front of new hunters, mentoring them into our wonderful tradition.
Take a step back. Sleep in an extra hour. Get to know your loved ones again.
It's time for fishing, for barbecuing with family, for taking stock in your good fortune and luck to have put another turkey season in the books.
Give thanks again, men and women, boys and girls. Give thanks. And now go find that fishing rod.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree.com's editorial director and turkey hunting editor. He’s been beaten by more birds than he can remember. Still he kills enough to eat well, and fool with beards, spurs and fans until the next season. Pennsylvania born and raised, Maine is his home base now. A full-time outdoor communicator with a couple university writing degrees, he chases spring gobblers and fall flocks around the country.