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>> Honkey? :: By J. Marshall Stanton on 2002-06-05
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One Saturday in mid-May I snuck out of the house long before daylight to go take advantage of North Idaho's spring turkey season. There had been a couple of toms hanging around the timberlands north of our house, and I figured on making an appointment with one of them.

I set up between the area where their roost trees are, and a local farmer's pasture, in a small meadow, well concealed and pleased with my setup, I began to sweet-talk to the toms that I knew must be on roost. Sure enough, right off the bat, one bird sounded off with a vengeance at my first few soft yelps.

I carried on a conversation with this gobbler for about twenty minutes, then I heard the distinct beat of wings as he left his roost tree, and the rush of air as he rocketed directly overhead about twenty feet high, dodging trees as he sailed past, and down to the pasture below.

I dutifully called a few more times, but nothing more answered from the roost trees, and the bird in the pasture stayed mum. Off down the hill I went, in pursuit of the turkey-bird. I eased through the timber down to the very fringes of the pasture. It was fenced, and the folks that own the land don't allow any hunting except by family members, at least to my knowledge. So, I set myself up about thirty yards into the timber, along a well defined skid trail leading right down to the fence-line. I let things sit still for about fifteen minutes before I began calling, and sure enough, the bird called right back!

I could see the tom in the pasture, through the trees, as he was only about eighty yards out from the timberline, and pacing along a fence where the pasture was cross-fenced. I called and he answered several times, then he turned his back on me, and gobbled while looking the opposite direction. Out of the brush along the irrigation pond bordering the pasture, came three feeding hens.

Even from my vantage point, I could hear them clucking and purring intently. The tom gobbled to them feebly a couple of times, seemingly uninterested in the affections of three lonely lady birds. I was puzzled, but encouraged, because he continued to answer my pleading with him with an enthusiastic gobble, as if on cue.

Then, a Canadian honker came in circling the irrigation pond and the pasture, honking, calling and making quite a ruckus. The tom in the pasture immediately answered with frenzied gobbling, and went into full strut, the first time he'd done that all morning. Then, with his tail feathers spread full, puffed up to make quite a spectacle, the turkey continued gobbling to the circling honker, which was on about its fourth pass over the pasture by this time.

Then, unexpectedly, the honker set its wings, and amid honking, cackling and gobbling, the goose landed within about eight feet of the strutting tom turkey! Now the show got really interesting. The gobbler stepped up his strut, and the honker began a strange dance around the big, puffed up, blue-headed gobbler. Both birds ceased their noisy commotion, but danced around, looking at each other and getting closer and closer, until they were just inches from one another.

These two birds continued this little charade for at least fifteen to twenty minutes, sometimes having their heads nearly beak to bill. Finally, another honker entered the scene, circling the pasture and pond, honking and carrying on quite a fuss, until at last the goose in the pasture took to the air and flew off with the other honker.

Now, the hen turkeys were still clucking and purring to this tom, and I too was putting in my very best attempts at courtship with this old boy. Old he was too, as through binoculars I could see very long spurs on his legs, and a beard that went nearly down to the ground. However, this gobbler never responded to the affections around him, but rather went nearly square to the center of the pasture where the two cross-fences intersected, and paced back and forth at the corner of the fences, watching, and looking in the direction that the geese had flown.

I observed the hens and this tom for another twenty minutes or so, and the bird just ignored the ladies entirely. Finally they went on their way, passing within about forty yards of my position, and fed their way on up the ridge into the timber. I considered this a blessing, as I wouldn't have to contend with live birds to compete for this old boy's attentions. However, after nearly another exasperating hour trying to communicate with this mixed up bird, I gave up and went home for some breakfast with my family.

Now, for the rest of the story.

Sunday, the next morning, I once again crept out of the house before daylight, hiked the two miles north through the timber in the dark, and went down to the familiar skid trail leading to the pasture, and set up to intercept Mr. Gobbler. The first rosy glint of daylight brought me clucking and purring to the unseen suitor in the roost trees. Once again, like the day before, a hearty gobble thundered down the ridge to greet me after a series of soft yelps on the box call. I knew that today was the day.

Once again, I heard distinct and unmistakable thundering as he took to the air, and once again that bird sailed nearly directly overhead to plop himself down in the lush green of the pasture below me. This time, there was a lone honker sitting in the grass to greet him. A chorus of honking and cackling from the goose erupted just before the gobbler touched down in the pasture, about twelve feet from the awaiting honker.

Again I watched, this time as two separate lone hen turkeys came out of the timber across the draw, through the brush adjacent to the pond, and within thirty feet of the mixed up gobbler and his goose companion. The clucks and purrs of each of the hens as they approached the gobbler were plainly audible from my location, as the wind was in my face, and they were only about eighty or ninety yards out from my hiding place. The gobbler flatly ignored both of these hens, and each came out at different times, separated in time by about half an hour between their appearances.

Now, as I watched this bizarre scene for nearly an hour and a half, the honker and the gobbler ignored virtually everything. These two strange birds did their weird dance over and over again, seemingly oblivious to all else. My time ran out, and I headed home for breakfast and to get ready for church, with the gobbler still courting the goose.

At the breakfast table we discussed the bizarre scene that unfolded, and we talked about the unlikely alliance of a honker and a wild turkey. One of the kids suggested that should they manage to mate that we'd have a really strange bird.... call it what? A honkey?

Our turkey season in Idaho went on for another couple of weeks, and I resolved to hunt the bird again, but the next time, Id take a goose call and honker decoy!

 

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