Friday, July 25, 2014 · 5:03 a.m.

Wild turkeys do not have a curiosity gene

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Wild turkeys do not have a curiosity gene. Some wild animals have a curiosity gene, but not turkeys.

That fact hit home for me last Sunday morning as I sat in a driving thunderstorm with an empty gun, watching a wild turkey fly away unscathed.

Let's back up here. I am not a hardcore turkey hunter. I am a hardcore fisherman. That means when the two activities collide, as they do every spring in Tennessee, I routinely choose fishing over turkey hunting. But one time each spring turkey season, I manage to finagle my way into one annual turkey hunt. This year, it was at the invitation of Bill Swan, who asked me join him at Dunaway Hunting and Fishing Club in Sequatchie County.

Knowing that Swan, his son and his grandsons had all taken several turkeys this season, he didn't have to ask twice. Mother Nature, however, made sure my one turkey foray was not going to be an easy one.

The first 45 minutes of daylight were great: calm and dry. One gobbler announced his presence in the distance but ignored our calls. As Bill and I made a move to a second listening post, the heavens opened and a waterfall poured out on Southeast Tennessee. I bet you remember last Sunday's rain. It was one of those days when most folks were very happy they don't have to go outdoors.

Meanwhile, Bill and I were marooned outdoors, a half-mile from the truck, trying to hear a turkey gobble above the roar of thunder and pounding rain. It was the kind of rain where rain suits don't matter. The water seeps or blows into every zipper, every seam, every cuff and, of course, down your neck. It didn't take long before we sought refuge inside a covered deer blind ... which, of course, put us much higher and closer to the lightning.

When the rain came sideways through the open shooting windows, Bill suggested it was time to go have breakfast. However, the turkeys apparently had the same idea, as two hens entered the field from one direction and a gobbler from the other side a short time later. We were pinned down with a longbeard feeding nonchalantly 100 yards away.

With two hens already in the field for companionship, the gobbler could care less about our calls. That is assuming he could hear them over the rain. After about 30 minutes, he and the hens wandered into tall grass, seemingly moving away from us. That's when I told Bill, "I've got to make something happen. I'm going to try and ambush him in the tall grass."

Bill stayed in the lofty perch and had a bird’s-eye view of my soppy stalk through the muddy field.

Shortly into the stalk, I actually got a glimpse of the gobbler in the distance through the grass that gave me a good idea of his exact position. The grass was high enough to conceal my approach, and he was surely never going to hear me in the thunderstorm.

Again, I haven't spent a lot of time in the presence of wild turkeys. I am used to deer, ducks, squirrels and other wild game—animals that often do have a curiosity gene. That means when you approach, and even if you're spotted, you often have a split second to make your move. The curiosity gene compels them to momentarily ponder, "What is that?" It might only be a hair's breadth of an opportunity, but it's often enough to give a stealthy hunter an edge.

That's what I was thinking as I raised my head to peer over the grass, trying to spot the gobbler and two hens. I was certain that the curiosity gene would give me that instant to make my move with the Remington 870 and a load of copper-coated No. 4s.

This is not the actual event, but this YouTube screenshot is an excellent representation of what I saw as I realized wild turkeys do not have a curiosity gene. (Screenshot: Staff)

Silly me.

As I raised my head, all I saw were three heads above the grass zooming toward parts unknown, and it was clear they were not in the least bit curious. All they cared about was getting away, and the only thing in that field that had "an edge" was the turkeys.

I used one of my few available split seconds to clearly determine which head was the gobbler versus the two hens and then shouldered the Remington.

Now, if Bill Swan tells you the story, he will tell you I missed a "big gobbler" standing stock-still 25 yards away.

I, on the other hand, will tell you I missed a Hail Mary shot fired in frustration at a tiny turkey head running 38 mph, 50 yards away. I would compare it to trying to shoot a golf ball just driven off the tee by Tiger Woods.

Regardless, a miss is a miss, and I guess I must take my medicine like a man. But, take it from me, wild turkeys do not have a curiosity gene.

Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.

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