IF ONE WERE to ask me, I would say there is no more spine-tingling a sound ever made in the woods anywhere in the world than the gobble of a mature tom turkey. Okay, so maybe a 6-foot rattlesnake shaking its rattles a foot away from your ankle might be a wee bit more spine tingling, but not in the good way that a gobble is.

Gobbling, a sound that, once you hear it for the first time while you are sitting with your back to a tree before dawn on an early spring morning, is a sound that will hook you for life on turkeys.

I got my first taste of turkey hunting in the mid-’80s when I journeyed to central Missouri with my cousin, Art. He had killed a giant tom of 28 pounds the year before, so I was filled with all the excitement and anticipation one body could hold as we made the nearly 800-mile drive.

Turkey camp at the time was a cabin on a creek at the end of a half-mile long valley between the towns of Warsaw, Mo., and Climax Springs, Mo. Many members of the Kirn family were our hosts. 

I got more turkey hunting advice the evening before my first ever turkey hunt from some of the most experienced, expert turkey hunters to be found. They also were some of the best tellers of tall tales and outright lies of anyone I’ve ever known, and in Herman Kirn I found not only a man to cross the river and climb over the mountain with, but also one of the most sneaky, crooked cribbage players on the face of the earth.

Opening morning, I was sent to my assigned sector of the woods on the home ranch, while others spread out on that land, another big chunk of turkey woods adjacent to the ranch and a big spread 10 miles away owned by a Mrs. Scott.

I had a brand-new box call in my pocket, a gift from the Kirns, and little else in my arsenal other than a hope that springs eternal in every man’s breast.

Unfortunately, I never heard so much as a gobble that morning. The closest thing I saw to a turkey were the dozens of turkey vultures that, off and on, floated overhead.

The next morning, I hunted a different section of the ranch and at dawn, I heard my very first turkey gobble. If you’ve never hunted turkeys, there is no explaining what a gobble will do to you. Even to the steadiest of hunters it is spine tingling, exciting, nerve-racking and everything else you can think of that could affect a person’s nervous system.

I called and called that bird, and by the sounds of his gobbles, I knew he was down in a deep ravine in front of me, working his way back and forth, but refusing to come up the hill. I never did see him, but his gobbling grabbed hold of my heart and soul, beginning a relationship with the rightful national bird of this country that has only grown in strength in the intervening 30-plus years.

I hunted that bird for five more days, getting him real close, but never quite where I could get a shot. I didn’t get a gobbler that year, but I came home having loved the hunt and more determined than ever to connect with a tom the next spring.

The next year did bring success, but that 231⁄2-pound gobbler didn’t come easy. As a matter of fact, it took until the sixth and final day of our hunt before I could enjoy the exhilaration of killing my first turkey.

I had a little help doing it. One of the camp’s hunters took me under his wing that morning as we hunted a section of Mrs. Scott’s property. Even Bill, a really expert turkey caller, couldn’t get the birds to come to us for the first two hours that morning.

Finally, we spotted a flock of turkeys which included at least five gobblers in a hay field across the river from us. Sneaking down to the river, we waded across through waist deep water; water which was as cold as a well digger’s rear end.

Crawling up the opposite bank, we laid at the edge of the field. Bill called and with heart pounding, I watched as three toms slowly strutted our way. They finally came within easy range and with Bill hissing repeatedly “Shoot,” I finally shot. Bill killed another on the heels of my shot and then, it was bedlam as we dropped our guns and began a victory dance which the rest of the world, fortunately, did not have to witness. 

That first gobbler of mine, mounted in full flight with tail feathers spread wide, still hangs in a special place on my living room wall and the memory of that hunt still fills a special place in my heart.

Since then, I have killed about 20 gobblers, give or take one or two. I’ve been fortunate enough to hunt these wonderful birds in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois and, of course, Missouri.

Each year, whether successful in bagging a gobbler or not, I have reveled in the hunt. Never have I been disappointed in the results, whether another beard was added to my collection or not.

I hunt turkeys now because of the love I have developed for them, for the thrill of hearing a boss gobbler sound off in the depths of the forest or the open fields of the farm. Success now is measured in the simple and pure enjoyment of being part of the turkey’s world at a time when gobblers strut and gobble, the absolute royalty of their kingdom.

I won’t get to hunt turkeys this year, compliments of broken ribs that probably wouldn’t agree to the recoil of a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with Magnum 4s, but I can guarantee you I will be in the turkey woods this spring, if spring ever comes, just so that I can hear gobbles and call to the most amazing upland game bird God ever invented.