IT WAS pretty much the last hour of my first turkey hunt of the year last Saturday morning when to my surprise, a gobbler answered the slate call.

Work dictates that I get several brief turkey hunts every spring in central Wisconsin, where tags and birds are plentiful. Sometimes the hunts last only one day of the week-long season, but I try to pick the best weather.

Friday was my day and the season was starting slowly, the birds still in large groups and the toms hanging all day with numerous hens prior to the start of the nesting season.

It was a breezy day and that made it virtually impossible for the birds to hear my calls, or for me to hear a response. But beggars can’t be choosers and it was the only day available.

I got to hang around for a few hours of morning hunting on Saturday, and with less wind, the birds were gobbling in the trees as dawn approached.

Nothing came close on a couple of different farms but my last choice, around 9 a.m., proved best when I heard that gobble from deep in the lowland, prickly ash cover of the ridge.

My first mistake was that I was already set up on a plowed clearing that’s never produced a tom, instead of getting into the hardwoods and positioning myself on the roads these turkeys love to use. Don’t ask.

So I got to hear that turkey gobble its way into the hardwoods, right through the intersection where I’ve shot several toms in recent years. But of course, I wasn’t there.

A second tom started gobbling soon after, so it was my chance for a move before it did the same thing. Everything was going good until the butt and back started aching about 30 minutes later, for I was sitting on a slanted hillside.

The discomfort of sitting on the ground, against a tree, became too much. So I shifted my 6-foot-5 frame to even things out, and wouldn’t you know it, the timing was wrong.

Suddenly there was a turkey on the move, running parallel to my position, and it was a red-headed tom with a beard slapping off its chest. It snuck in quietly and gave me no idea it was there, just down the hill on the road looking at my decoy.

So I blew my first tom of the season because I’m not all that young and limber anymore. Sitting on a thin pad that drops down from the shooting vest and putting my back against a tree isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Most hunters sit in a blind these days, in a comfortable chair and surrounded by darkness where they can move and shift without being detected by a sneaky, sharp-eyed turkey.

I have vowed for years to hunt without the aid of a tent, which is more physically demanding and makes it more difficult to maneuver for a shot. I enjoy the challenge of trying to hide this rather large frame against a tree trunk. It takes good camouflage.

It’s hard to admit when signs of aging show up in everyday life, as they did Saturday. But one mistake in the turkey woods isn’t going to change my hunting style.

My sources in central Wisconsin say the spring breeding season is really cranking into full gear, and that’s good news for the remaining one-week seasons that go through Memorial Day weekend.

What you find near the mid-way point of the season is that the toms and hens spread out more, that toms gobble more during the day, and that nesting season means at some point the toms will be lonely.

In the later weeks, you can expect a surge of activity between 10 a.m. and noon. That’s when many hens leave the group to go sit on their nests, and the toms have full clearance to look for more action.

So the best turkey chasing is yet to come, and I’ve got tags for weeks three and four. And there are thousands of tags (authorizations) available down there for weeks five and six, should I need more chances.

Opportunity, you see, is something you don’t have without a tag. I might not get there this week with the rainy forecast and opening weekend of fishing Saturday, but I’m authorized just in case it works out.

The beauty of turkey hunting, for those who haven’t yet tried it, is getting out in the woods before dawn at a time of year when few people experience it.

Just hearing the spring woods awaken, with the birds chirping, the turkeys gobbling and sandhill cranes moving about, is worth the price of admission. You don’t have to shoot a turkey to enjoy this hunting.

But once you get a tom coming at your decoys in full strut, wings dragging on the ground and its tail fanned wide and vertical, the excitement will hook you for life.

There are times in this sport where pulling the trigger becomes just a little bit of a downer, for it’s at that moment when you realize the hunt is over — no more set-ups and no more gobbles to hear.

Best of luck to everyone who’s still going to be chasing turkeys in the weeks that remain.