The Turkey Hunting Paradox

If you turkey hunt long enough, you’ll come to a place where you don’t hear anything for days on end. If it’s still worth it, you’re a die-hard turkey hunting addict. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

If you turkey hunt long enough, you’ll come to a place where you don’t hear anything for days on end. If it’s still worth it, you’re a die-hard turkey hunting addict. (Steve Sorensen photo.)

Show me a turkey hunter who killed a spring gobbler on his first hunt and never hunted turkeys again, and I’ll show you someone who thinks turkey hunting is easy. Decades of turkey hunting have taught me it ain’t.

Forgive me for saying “ain’t,” but poor grammar is mild compared to stronger idioms you might otherwise hear after a futile turkey hunt. As one of the most frustrating pursuits you will ever adopt, turkey hunting produces every expression man’s exasperation can invent.

Be warned—turkey hunting is an addiction. Streaks of 15 or 20 consecutive days of never hearing a gobble prove that going cold-turkey is no way to beat it, because the next day dawns and the addict can’t help picturing everything coming together perfectly. The turkey is on the roost. He’s close, and he’s alone. He gobbles a lot. He flies down and waltzes in. He holds up his leg so you can tie a toe tag on him. The addicted turkey hunter starts every day hoping this is the day the hunt will be that easy.

But it won’t be. Any given gobbler is prone to do whatever the hunter thinks he couldn’t, wouldn’t, and shouldn’t do. He comes in behind you. He hangs up just out of range. A hen intercepts him on his way in. A bobcat chases him off. Or he decides to gobble his head off while walking directly away from you. At least, those are a few of the experiences this addict has suffered. I’ve even come to the end of a long, silent, disappointing morning’s hunt only to find three mature gobblers standing next to my truck, stupidly checking out their reflections. I ask myself, “Why should this be so hard?”

It’s hard because you never know what particular day the turkey will come to your amateur calling, so you must be there at any cost. Spring gobbler hunting compels even habitual late risers to get up at 4:00 AM every morning convinced that today a gobbler will get careless, or want a hen badly enough to sacrifice his life to your fakery.

And suddenly, one day he shows up, just 20 yards away, but you’re not ready. Your shotgun lies on your lap as he stands there looking for a hen. He walks behind a tree. You raise your gun and point it at the other side of the tree, Your addled mind lets you think, “When he sticks his head out this is gonna be easy.” But somehow he walks away with the protection of that tree, and you never see him again. You think he’s Houdini. You feel like a born loser.

If that kind of botched hunt is the high point of your season, you know turkey hunting ain’t easy. It’s infuriating.

But on the other hand, one thing about turkey hunting truly is easy, and worth burning your candle at both ends. Each morning the spring woods are simultaneously returning to life after a long winter, and a short night. And you get to be there, to be part of it, to watch amazing things unfold. While other people are having sweet dreams of fantasies that will never be, you’re living a reality no pillowed head will never imagine.

Yes, turkey hunting is hard. But it’s a paradox. Killing a gobbler that struts in as though he has a death wish rarely happens, but nothing is easier or more exciting than the many sideshows—the natural world’s extraordinary pageantry where every participant gets into the act—predators and prey, crawlers and climbers, slitherers and flyers. And you.

With so much to witness and appreciate, a day’s hunt can be perfect even if you never pull the trigger. A kill is not the measure of success. The measure of success is gratitude for the day, because turkey hunting is about so much more than killing turkeys.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, writing about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. Contact him at, and read more of his thoughts about hunting at

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Steve Sorensen of Russell, PA is an award-winning writer whose column, The Everyday Hunter®, offers hunting tips, strategies, insights and occasional humor. His byline has appeared in the nation's top hunting magazines and he is a field contributor to "Deer and Deer Hunting" magazine. Steve is also in demand as an event speaker, presenting programs on do-it-yourself Alaska moose hunting, whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and eastern coyotes, with new programs coming. E-mail him at to invite him to speak at your next sportsman's dinner (or to tell him where your best hunting spot is).