Wild turkeys are all about their usual March flock adjustments and gobbling exercises, but it's all more difficult this year than usual.
They are still battling snow banks, snow and ice frozen solid in much of their woodland habitat, food hard to find and frozen solid when it is found.
Nevertheless, the primeval urges for procreation are working and, snow or no snow, the turkey will find a way. So they are gobbling and trying to herd a harem of hens to a location where they can go about their breeding rituals without undue interference.
Come March the big flocks of turkeys you have seen together begin to disperse. It is the availability of corn and grain still left in fields that they can dig up from the frozen, snow-covered ground and buds in trees, even though encased in ice, that has attracted every turkey within miles to the spot.
But March is the month that gobblers fight for breeding rights and these tussles are exciting to watch. Big gobblers twine their necks together and kick and spur one another in a war of strength and endurance. The winner get the breeding rights, the others are dubbed subdominant gobblers.
These secondary - in the pecking order - gobblers are allowed to hang around the boss gobbler and his hens but they better not get to frisky around the hens or they will get another thrashing. This ranking of gobblers goes on during the month of March.
Very often, in season, a hunter will hear a gobbler in the distance just thundering furiously. The hunter begins to call and the big boy answers but after while the gobbling stops. But the hunter hangs around and throws some calls out there every so often and then a nice gobbler appears as if from nowhere, approaching silently and cautiously. The hunter bags what he thinks is the boss gobbler but in reality is one of the secondary birds that sneaked in for some action while the boss was "occupied."
So, during March a lot of fighting, gobbling, rough purring and running around is going on among the turkeys. The gobbler is trying to impress the hens with his prowess and trying to keep other amorous gobblers at bay at the same time. March mornings can be very noisy while this process is happening.
Toward the end of the month, the hens begin to cast around for a suitable place to establish a nest. They rove around and cover a lot of ground searching and the gobblers follow the hens wherever they go. Despite their vocal and vigorous shows of dominance they have been wearing themselves out showing every morning, they actually simply follow a few hens around wherever they go and when they pick a place, he stays with them.
Then it becomes an even more complicated process. There is always a dominant hen in the small flock. Somehow, in all the show and noise, one hen becomes more desirable than the others and she brooks no other hens making eyes at "her" gobbler. He will follow her around, gobbling and pirouetting, trying to win her favor. The lesser hens will follow after the lesser gobblers and everyone has a party in the final analysis.
If you really want to get an education on just how this spring tableau really plays out, March is the time to be in the woods, secreted and watching. It is during this time that many hunters really bungle their coming spring hunts. It is so exciting to hear all the gobbling and see all the birds running around and so they give in to the temptation to call the gobblers up to them, probably to video them. The gobblers are pretty easy to fool during this early time so they come running and the hunter thinks he is going to have easy pickings when season finally opens.
The kicker in all this is that the gobblers are often spooked by these "scouters" and learn fast that running to hen calls from afar promising easy thrills, are actually risky. So after that happens to them a time or two they refuse to budge toward any hen call that they hear from afar. The hens they can see right with them are far more valuable than those calling from afar.
In season, these are the gobblers that may answer your calls lustily but never come in your direction. They have simply learned that those far-off promises are usually empty and their attitude is that if you want them you'll have to come to them. So they will wait for you to show up, gobbling every time you call but never moving in your direction. After awhile they get tired of that game and just walk away.
It's hard for a hunter to restrain himself during the March scouting forays. When a bird starts to gobble, every nerve in our body want to try to lure him in. Go ahead and do it, if the pictures you'll take are enough of a reward. But if you want him at the end of your shotgun, restrain yourself.
The first article I ever sold to "Outdoor Life" magazine was one the subject I've just discussed here - "How to sabotage your spring gobbler hunt" - that was for the October 1988 issue. It's been an ongoing issue since spring gobbler hunting was introduced into Pennsylvania in 1968.
But hundreds of hunters will be out during March and April, parading around, blasting calls into the air, educating gobblers to the fact that the enemy has invaded their territory and learned their language. I would not be surprised to find out that the gobblers hold seminars preseason to educate their young as to the silly things hunters do to try to trick them.