That sage of the Santee and longtime South Carolina Poet Laureate Archibald Rutledge put it best. “Some men are mere hunters,” he wrote, “others are turkey hunters.” Those holding membership in the latter clan will readily relate, whether asked or not, to the sport’s mesmerizing aura of mystique. They’ll likely recount the misery of misses, thrilling triumphs, and spring mornings of sheer magic. Yet nowhere will they wax more eloquent than when alluding to a gobbler in strutting splendor.
Similes that seem preposterous to the uninitiated, such as likening a displaying gobbler to a runaway black Volkswagen with its doors open, are commonplace. But why not, since a tom in full strut — 20 pounds of puffed-up ego and eroticism — appears at least five times larger than life. Certainly, as anyone who has hunted wild turkeys or had the opportunity to observe them up close during the mating season will assure you, witnessing a strutting turkey at close range involves incredible sensory overload on both the visual and aural fronts.
The sight, especially if sunlight strikes the gobbler, is surreal. Iridescent breast feathers catch the sun’s beams in a manner to render a rainbow almost inconsequential, the bird’s primary tail feathers expand into 180 degrees of magnificence, and dragging wings seem to encompass at least a square yard of landscape. As a lovelorn bird nears, torn by the agonizing indecision of whether to strut or walk, he seems like some lovely throwback to a prehistoric setting worthy of Jurassic Park.
Then there’s the subdued but captivating sound of “spitting and drumming.” While inaudible at distances much beyond shooting range, the low bass noise produced by birds expanding into full strut mode can be nerve-wracking.
The overall experience of sight and sound is best experienced in person rather than described in print. Suffice it to say that it transforms sane souls into possessed beings and renders calm characters adrenalin-stricken wrecks. It’s the wonder of spring at its most glorious.