One of the joys of waking up in the middle of the night during spring gobbler season, after climbing to a high ridge, is the calm and clear-headedness the pre-dawn hour brings.
As the hints of light begin to show themselves in the east, the precious moment before the slow sunrise is a magical time to be a witness — fully alive, with all your senses engulfed in the sounds, smells, feel and sights of a new day being born.
It is during these first few minutes of the day that your heightened senses are rewarded with Mother Nature’s gifts.
Being a bystander to the natural world, if you allow yourself to slow down and listen after a week of being too heavily connected to a screen in this modern world, you may just find something worth enjoying and remembering in much more detail than the latest reel on social media.
After all, nature conducts its morning ritual every day of the year whether she is trending on social media or not.
During the stillness of dawn when the sun first starts to show itself, it is most often that birds share in the joy. The songbirds shout at the new day, gladly and with pure joy, before their duty as background singers announcing the arrival of the gift of life and light into the darkness.
The hoot of a barred owl breaks the background sounds, announcing proudly to you and other woodland residents with its sharp and loud call that pierces the air. I imagine the wise, old owl sitting on a limb witnessing with authority that this particular morning suits his fancy just fine.
The owl’s call is often loud and strong enough to cause a male wild turkey to answer back with his own announcement by gobbling to the world that he is too as excited to see the sun as the other creatures.
Known to hunters as a shock gobble, the answer of the tom turkey is more than music to your ears — it also serves to locate the game in pursuit.
In short, you can check off step one of your morning hunt — you have heard and located a gobbler. It is now time to start Phase II and go hunt the famed game bird.
This season, I have been blessed to be greeted by a few old friends at dawn, and each time I heard them, memories came flooding in of previous years.
One fine morning, the pre-dawn woods were filled with the sound of the repeated call of the whippoorwill. The thoughts of my father and grandfather and many of our grand adventures came back to me. I smiled like a child.
Yet another morning, I was greeted by a feeling in my chest as well as the sound of drumming, a beat like a bass drum, of a ruffed grouse. His drumming sounds like a tractor or an old truck’s engine trying to turn over and start in the winter — with the sound and beat starting with a slow tempo and gradually building to a fast beat, like dropping a ping-pong ball on a hardwood floor.
That brought thoughts of my youth and my hunting mentor’s cherished bird dog trained to point grouse and the hunters who dedicate their fall to hunting and training their dogs on the elusive game bird.
Then flashes of my good friend who kept bird dogs and often asked me to join him hunting many cold days in the winter with Bell and Bird — his prized English setters.
What I would give to have another day, hour or perhaps even a moment in the wilds with both my mentor and a dear friend walking behind their bird dogs. It has been way too long since a grouse hunting day was marked on my calendar.
It is in the stillness of the spring morning is where I hear their words more clearly. I owe a great deal to the mornings of spring gobbler season. They make me who I am and remind me of who I have always wanted to be — a hunter, a nature lover and one who cherishes the lifestyle of being an active participant in wildlife conservation.