Dave's Place: Cackling Jack

His hen call sounded like a cat fight, but did the gobblers care?

Field & Stream Online Editors

When it comes to chasing spring turkeys, every hunter will take a little luck. Alas, some years it just isn't forthcoming. And for me and my friend Steve, there's never been a turkey season more luckless than the spring of 1990.

If we had any good fortune that year, it was that we'd finished our college finals early and had the entire second half of May wide open for turkey hunting. But even that turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing -- if you're going to have a stretch of bad luck, better it be a short stretch. This was anything but short, and we were too young and full of beans to call it quits.

For 18 days straight, we woke up at 4 a.m., drove an hour to our hunting area, then waited for the sun to come up to receive our daily whupping. When we were sufficiently whupped, we drove home, ate, slept, then went right back at it.

At the end of day 17, we were hanging our heads pretty low when we stopped to see Steve's sister, who lived close to where we were hunting. As we walked up the driveway, Steve's brother-in-law, Jack, was sitting on the porch.

"No luck, again, eh boys?" he said. "Must be you ain't living right."

"Must be," Steve said.

"Then again, maybe you ain't hunting right," Jack said and laughed. "You're probably not cackling enough. You've got to cackle. Gobblers love that."

Jack was the sort of guy who liked to talk, whether or not he knew what he was talking about. In fact, he was entirely new to turkey hunting. This was his first season, and he'd only been out once. Yet that didn't stop him from telling us what we were doing wrong.

"Here," he said, "let me show you how to cackle."

"We know how to cackle," Steve said, but it didn't matter. Jack got out his brand-new slate call and started stabbing at it with the striker.

It sounded like a cat fight.

"There," he said. "That's how you do it. I was cackling just like that to a bird last weekend. I could have called it right in, too."

"Why didn't you?" Steve asked.

"Well, I realized it was a hen, because when she answered my call, you know, it was just a faint little gobble."

"A faint little gobble?" Steve was dumbfounded.

"Yeah," Jack said, "you know, a hen gobble."

"Uh ... right," Steve said.

"Listen. Tomorrow's the last day you guys are going out?"

"Yup," we said.

"Me too. Stop in afterward and we'll compare notes."

* * * * *

On our drive home, we were laughing so hard that Steve could barely keep the truck on the road. The way our luck was running, we figured we probably wouldn't get a bird in the morning, but we could at least take some consolation in the near certainty that Jack wouldn't.

"Can you believe that guy?" Steve said. "A ¿¿¿hen gobble'! And did you get a load of that cackle?"

"Sounded like he was strangling a pig," I said.

* * * * *

After our final luckless morning of a long, luckless season, we drove over to Jack's. Again, he was sitting on the porch, this time wearing camo from his hunt. His shotgun was leaned up against the wall next to his fanny pack and calls -- but there was no bird in sight.

"I guess you boys forgot to cackle this morning," Jack said.

"I guess so," Steve answered.

And with that, Jack got up and walked into the mud room behind him. He came back carrying a huge 3-year-old gobbler by the feet.

"Well," he said with a big grin, "I didn't."

* * * * *

Like I said, every hunter will take a little luck. But some hunters' luck is a little hard to take.