Blasphemy: Why I don’t love turkey hunting

For two months now, I’ve been slogging through the long, dark tunnel that is Not Duck Season. I feel actual anguish at having been ripped away from my marsh. The cast of winged characters – game and non-game – that made me laugh, curse and shout for joy has been replaced with the relentless torment of humans who exasperate and aggravate me.

Relief should be in sight: Turkey season runs March 31 through May 6 here in California. So the question is this: Why am I not relieved?

Turkey hunting is my favorite style of hunting: the ambush. We ambush unsuspecting ducks by surrounding ourselves with plastic decoys and blowing on calls. We ambush easy-to-fool doves simply by sitting in plain sight on their flight lines. We ambush deer by perching quietly in a place where we expect them to walk within shooting range. And we ambush turkeys.

Well, most of the time. I’ve tried spot-and-stalk turkey hunting, and let me tell you, that was a fool’s errand. They managed to stay 100 yards in front of us without even a hint of nervousness. Oh, how I wished that day that I could’ve traded my shotgun for my .270!

And it’s not like I just haven’t had a good turkey hunt, either. I’ve actually had a picture-perfect turkey hunt.

Three of us leaned up against a log that was in a dark tree line at the edge of a cattle pasture. My friend’s friend Ricky performed a veritable symphony with his mouth call – sounds I’d never heard, even from the expert callers on all the hunting TV shows I’d seen. It was beautiful.

There was a group of turkeys a good 200 yards into the pasture, and I’ll be damned if Ricky didn’t peel one off. Run, stop. Run, stop. Run, stop. Closer and closer.

I slouched there, my gun’s fore-end resting on my knees, barrel pointing in the turkey’s general direction, heart thudding uncontrollably as he got closer and closer and closer and POW! Dead bird.

Game over. Literally. We all went back to our cars and discussed where to go to breakfast as the sun began peeping over the horizon.

Done so early? Without breaking a sweat?

Yeah, I hate hunts that end too soon. Of course, I’ve done it the other way, too, traipsing all over creation until the noontime sun made it obvious we were not going to see a turkey, much less get one. That did not make me love turkey hunting either.

I guess the truth is that I love wingshooting. I love shooting that is challenging, and I love hunting birds that I can have a lot of: ten doves, ten quail, eight snipe, eight geese, seven ducks, three pheasants. And I don’t care that I rarely get limits of any of those birds; the fact that I may kill a lot is what matters, because that means I can shoot a lot.

Ortega y Gasset got it all wrong: I don’t kill in order to have hunted; I shoot a box of shells in order to have hunted. And unless I sucked so bad that I didn’t kill even one bird – oh, that makes me so grumpy! – I’m happy to have shot a lot, because that means I at least had a lot of opportunity.

That’s the rub with turkey hunting: Sometimes you get only one shot, and if you miss, you might well be screwed for the rest of that day, if not the rest of the season. Not to mention the shame you’ll feel if you miss a bird that was standing still right in front of you.

Even if we hunted turkeys on the wing, I don’t think it would tickle my synapses the way ducks and doves do, because the most turkeys I can legally kill is four per year. That’s a lot of effort for a pretty small hunk of meat that is a real bitch to pluck.

As I write this column, spring turkey season is about a week away. I should probably call my friend who has access to a lot of cattle ranches in the Sierra foothills to set up what has become our annual exercise in futility.

But closer to home, I know of a farm where they grow mostly safflower and sunflower. I always see lots of pigeons there. Man, those birds are hard to kill – they’re smart, and they’re tough.

But oh-so-delicious.

And legal year-round.

I think I’ll go talk to that farmer. 

Holly A. Heyser is a hunter, forager, writer, food photographer and college journalism lecturer. You can see more of her work at 


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