SAVANNAH, Ga. – Like a game of chess, the players lie in wait to outsmart their opponent’s next move.
But on a morning besieged by rain, the turkeys had nature’s advantage.
The inclement weather doesn’t deter seasoned woodsman and hunter Aaron Murphy, a Savannah District forester, from pursuing the hunt.
“It’ll be every bit of the hardest work I’ve done just to get one of them today,” Murphy said.
Murphy, a player in Thurmond Lake’s annual Turkey Hunt held April 1, is familiar with the game board –a chunk of isolated land on the outskirts of Thurmond Lake called Bussey Point Management Area.
Murphy was one of a handful of hopefuls looking to harvest, or kill, one or more Eastern wild turkeys, a dominant species of turkeys who inhabit the stretch of public land.
Disguised in full camouflage with rubber boots and a 12-gauge shotgun, Murphy set out on a two and half hour procedural chase while battling ankle-deep puddles, thick brush and another team of hunters scavenging land nearby.
Relentless precipitation – another obstacle working against him – also dampened the day.
“They’ll fly off the roost a lot later in the morning than they would on a sunny day,” he said. “They won’t be as vocal because they can’t hear in the woods with all this rain. They don’t want to vocalize and possibly attract other predators.”
On a typical turkey hunt, the first few calls of the morning include a male turkey, or gobbler, sounding off the roost to attract females, or hens, to his location. For hunters, the game rests on their ability to convincingly play the role of a hen to attract the gobbler, he said.
Murphy uses diaphragm calls, which are horseshoe-shaped frames consisting of layers of thin latex or rubber reeds that are used to mimic four distinct turkey calls: yelping, clucking, putting and purring. But to reach the point of calling checkmate, Murphy must effectively communicate vocal calls which takes years of practice, he said.
Another challenge exists in capturing prey before real hens, who are territorial and suspicious of hens they’re not used to hearing, come in between hunter and gobbler.
“They know their harem,” he said. “And they don’t want him to breed with other hens.”
However, Murphy’s mastery of vocalized calls garnered only stretches of silence. Long trudges through the saturated woods outnumbered moments to pause and observe. The ominous sky had foreshadowed the day’s outcome.
But the thrill of the chase is not foregone for the huntsman who said it’s not uncommon to be outsmarted by the prey.
“I can’t make him come in when he doesn’t want to,” he said. “The birds dictate what happens.”
The gobblers resisted that day. And the turkey population had another chance to outwit their opponents in a new match.