Spring turkeys. I love 'em! And I hate 'em.
Since I began chasing spring turkeys a number of years ago, I've developed this love/hate relationship with gobblers that has, at times, had me on the brink of needing professional help.
Sure, I've tagged my share of longbeards over the years. But I've also had more than my share of hard luck in the springwoods, too.
My list of turkey hunting sins includes missing a bird or two or three or well, you get the picture.
Why did I miss? Well, it isn't my shotgun. The old pumpgun shoots just fine on the target range. With an extra-full turkey choke shooting a tight load of pellets, there isn't much room for error, however.
Most likely, the painful misses on my turkey-hunting resume took place because (a) I failed to get my head down on the stock properly, and (b) I was hyperventilating with a serious case of longbeard fever.
But a boom-and-a-miss isn't the only way spring turkeys have taunted me.
On some occasions, I've called them in perfectly, only to watch the gobbling tom be intercepted by a winsome hen who took the big boy elsewhere.
At other times, birds have quietly slipped in unseen behind my calling position, only to erupt in flight when I decided that all was well and it was time to hunt another spot.
Trust me, a 25-pound longbeard doing his top pheasant imitation at a mere 20-yards is the best cardiac stress test money can buy!
Gobblers I've hunted have been henned up, hung up, and, on numerous occasions, just plain shut up.
I've even had birds strut and gobble 75-yards away for the better part of an hour, I might add all the while refusing to budge another inch in my direction.
And let's not even talk about the longbeards who have listened to me call before throwing a mocking gobble in my direction and heading the other way.
Over the years, I've been drenched by sudden thunderstorms while turkey hunting boomers that threatened to impale me with a bolt of lightning or give me a concussion from the hailstones that were pelting down.
On other days, I've nearly passed out in near triple-digit heat wondering why I didn't pack more water.
And to complete the variable spring weather cycle, there have even been a few days where I thought it was actually going to snow!
There have been a few close encounters with the slithery kind, too, including a large Texas western diamondback rattlesnake in close quarters. Not to mention creeping ticks, buzzing gnats and those interminable mosquitoes.
Add in the countless cactus spines that have introduced themselves to my tender backside, and, well, spring turkey hunting is enough to drive a sane man mad until, of course, it finally all goes according to plan.
When it does and a longbeard is responding to your calls with thunderous gobbles, there is no finer place to be in all of God's creation than in the springwoods with a turkey tag in your back pocket.
Whenever I wonder why I keep dragging myself out of bed early on a warm spring dawn, I just simply smile and think back to that lovesick tom that trotted deep onto my hunting ground on a still, humid morning.
But not until after he had been called across a bare dirt field, two fences and a dirt road before stopping to pause in front of my shotgun bead.
That time, I didn't miss.