michael kors belts A gobbler photographed by AL.com's Joe Songer earlier this spring. jsonger@al.com

Spring is upon us in Alabama. Flowers are blooming, treesare greening up, and hunters across the state are hoping that Eastern wildturkeys are looking for love in all the wrong places.

The wild turkey, the largest game bird in North America, hasbewildered hunters for generations. In spite of somewhere between 400,000 and500,000 of the wily birds living in Alabama, the ratio between hours spent in theirpursuit and the number of turkeys harvested is enough to frustrate even themost avid sportsmen and women.

Turkey hunting is such a powerful tradition that even somuch as changing one of the two turkey seasons that only applies to six of themost turkey-dense counties in Alabama elicits strong public .

Imagine a hunter setting out into the pitch-black woodsearly in the morning to listen for the sounds of turkeys leaving the roost. A15-20 pound bird descending from the top of a tall pine sounds about asgraceful as throwing a bag of bricks off a building. The fortunate few might evenhear the ghostly taunt of a gobbler as daylight breaks.

Often hooting like owls, hunters beg the tom turkey to callout to them as they stealthily zero in on its position through trees, mud andmuck. Unfortunately, a bird with exceptional vision and hearing that viewsevery movement and unfamiliar sound as a hungry predator is difficult quarry tostalk.

With the arrival of the sun, most hunters attempt to actlike turkeys themselves...literally. Armed with a cornucopia of box, diaphragm andfriction calls, hunters yelp, cluck, putt, gobble and cackle in what amounts toeither an ornate pick-up line or fighting words. Decoys, fans, and even crowcalls add to the potentially lengthy ritual.

Arguably the most difficult aspect of the hunt is therequirement that a hunter remain completely motionless in the mud or against anuncomfortable tree for the majority of the engagement. If sitting still forthat long were not enough of a challenge, hunters are routinely subject tocountless mosquitos, gnats, spiders, and even the occasional rattlesnake.

Sometimes the targeted tom ends up on the hunter's dinnerplate, but more often than not he vanishes into the woods never to be heardfrom again.

So why would so many in Alabama pursue such frustrating fowl?Who could enjoy sitting still in the mud, covered with bugs, acting like acarbuncle-headed bird for a less-than-probable chance of hunting success?

Even as a novice turkey hunter, I have come to understandthat turkey hunting is rarely about leaving the field with a bird.

For the experienced turkey chasers I have set out with overthe last few years, hunting gobblers marks the passage of time and creates theopportunity to convey lessons learned from the field and life to a newgeneration. While decades and many turkeys may have passed, the relationshipsbuilt across generations and the crucial values of patience, determination, andfellowship are as critically needed as ever.

In a fast paced world filled with instant gratification,younger generations of Alabamians have increasingly given up on the sport andhunting in general. While it requires learning skills and character traits froma time gone by, chasing the elusive wild turkey with a few wise "toms" whowillingly share their experiences is an opportunity for personal growth thatthe next generation should not miss.

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