THE ALARM sounded at 3:30 a.m. and that was surprisingly welcomed due to building anticipation for another rare day of hearing the turkey woods come alive.

You don’t have to be an environmental nut to appreciate what happens in the spring forest before dawn, as the first songbirds awaken and start singing their tunes long before daybreak.

I had a 20 minute drive in total darkness and there was a hint of light in the eastern sky as the truck rolled into a small parking area near 40 acres of land in Waupaca County just north of Iola.

A couple of minutes passed before the first birds started warming up the vocals with some chirps and light calls. It didn’t take long before a chorus of songbirds were making so much noise that it was deafening.

It took probably another 20 minutes before I heard the sound that every turkey hunter longs to hear, and that is long-bearded toms gobbling in the treetops on the ridge above.

They were too far away for any grand excitement but there were three or four of them for sure, and they gobbled up a storm of sound that echoed off ridges and through valleys for great distances.

There was so much gobbling that I was having a hard time sneaking in a hen yelp of my own, which you’ve got to try because just one answer might evolve into a turkey coming your way.

There was no way of knowing whether they were responding to me, but they just kept gobbling. They were too far away for me to hear the live hens that had gotten them so excited in the first place.

So what the heck, out of range or not, I put on the best calling show possible. There were cuts and purrs and yelps on the slate call first, followed up by some nasty-loud, whiny yelps from the box call.

The distant gobbles continued, but at one point the more muffled calls hinted that they had left their roosts in the treetops, and soon after the fading gobbles told me they were not headed in my direction.

That’s why they call it hunting instead of shooting. There’s no guarantee that the best-laid plans will work out. And you never know whether competitive hens were the cause of failure, because they are very good at luring their toms away from distant hens.

The decision then was to just sit tight for an hour or so and hope something happens. It was too late to start the morning anywhere else and too early to give up on a spot that’s 20 miles from camp.

If you can picture this, I was sitting at the southeast corner of an entirely wooded 40 acres but looking at a picked cornfield through scant trees. A broken-down fenceline was partially visible between me and the field, but no wires were left on the posts.

I had a strutting tom decoy and ready-to-breed hen decoy set up near the property line, in an area where turkeys could clearly see my setup from the cornfield.

That was about the time the sandhill cranes started making all kinds of racket across the field, and four Canada geese glided into the picked corn while honking for all they were worth.

There were two grouse drumming on logs nearby, one to my east and one very distant bird to the west. There aren’t a lot of grouse any more in central Wisconsin, but this land still has the habitat to hold some birds.

And so I waited, laying on the slate call with some yelps and purrs every 10 minutes or so. After about 25 minutes without a gobble or a turkey sighting, I was getting anxious.

And then it happened. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there was a turkey standing on the top of a hill out in the cornfield about 200 yards away. 

It was big and black and one peek with the binoculars proved it to be a gobbler with a beard hanging from its chest.

I started clucking and purring on the slate call again, but it soon appeared that the work had already been done. He was coming straight at me, walking fairly fast, and surely it was because he had heard my earlier calls.

There were hens behind him in the field, and it’s hard to understand why he was leaving the real thing to come over and check out some distant yelps. It happens when you least expect it. I wasn’t complaining.

The tom entered the woods and passed the fenceline. He wasn’t exactly coming up face to face with my tom decoy, but instead was circling on the opposite side of where I had chosen to put my back against a tree.

I decided to take a freehand shot before he circled too far into my buddy’s forty. Boom!

Copper-plated 5-shot put him on the ground at 53 yards, a little farther away than I thought. But he was down for good, bringing a wide smile to my face. 

I went from turkey famine to feast in about five minutes. This bird had never gobbled that morning to my knowledge, but was sneaking in quiet to check out the competition.

Such is the way it happens in the turkey woods. You set up with high hopes and quite often, see no action. But once in awhile things go your way, and a strutting tom comes into shotgun and bow range.

Hearing the woods awake and dozens of gobbles from the treetops are what this sport is all about. It’s quite the challenge to get a tom to leave his hens during the spring breeding season.

And shooting a turkey, occasionally, helps keep a person coming back. But the chase is the excitement — the interaction between caller and gobbler.

If you haven’t tried this sport, you are missing out on some of the most exciting hunts you’ll ever find in the woods of Wisconsin.