Tomorrow, a fine madness will begin in 12 Maryland counties, as several thousand fully camouflaged hunters slip into the woods in the dark to await first light some 30 minutes before sunrise.
Stealth is the method to this madness, for most hunters will agree that, in spring, the bearded turkey plays a game that is tough to beat.
Patience and camouflage are essential for the hunter, who must trick a wild turkey in close enough to determine whether it is bearded before even considering a shot.
Experts at this game consider 35 yards a long shot.
What makes the turkey a formidable opponent are its vision -- 10 times better than a human's and 270 degrees peripherally -- and its hearing, which is four times more sensitive than man's.
So the business of being in the right place at the right time is crucial to the hunter. Finding that right place can be difficult.
Some hunters expect to be able to find spring turkeys in the same area they were seen during the previous fall's deer hunt. Such is not the case.
In late fall or winter, turkeys seem to seek hilly hollows, spring seeps and south slopes. Come the middle of March, they move to wood lots bordering pasture, farm fields, small clear cuts and other areas with open edges. These are the areas preferred for nesting and breeding.
The edges are a transitional area between the trees that provide safety and the sun-warmed open areas where the insects the turkeys feed upon can be found in abundance. It apparently is the maternal instinct of the turkey hen that makes it move to the edges, where a high-protein diet will be readily accessible to its newly hatched polts.
The male, or bearded turkey, full of the season, follows along.
The key to the hunt, then, is to find such areas and get near in the darkness, while the turkeys still are roosting in the trees.
Ideally, such a spot would include a ridge top overlooking an open area. From the ridge top, a hunter can scan the edges through binoculars, and his decoy calls will carry well.
Calling turkeys is an art. Stuart Sommers, who manufactures game calls and hunts nearly every day of the turkey season, says that he can call in only one of 10 male turkeys.
Part of the difficulty is that hens are eager to breed and will seek the gobbler when ready. So, if the gobbler does not have to chase the hens, how does the hunter call them in?
Sommers' solution is to start calling before the birds have left their roosts in the hope that he can get one gobbler curious enough to come his way. He starts with tree clucks, a low, gravelly call.
If he can get a gobbler to come down from its roost, he has a decided advantage -- he has the bird interested in his location, and unless a real hen causes a commotion, he can expect that the gobbler will continue to come closer.
To overcome the insistence of a real hen, Sommers tries an excited call, a fly-down cackle of yelps, cuts and clucks, to keep the bird interested. Once the excitement is built up in the gobbler, the trick is to call sparingly, only enough to keep it interested until it is within gun range.
There are, of course, plenty of times when the best planning can put you into the woods where the turkeys were a few days before and are no longer.
When this happens, use a locater call. The call of the barred owl is probably the most popular. The turkey will often respond with an alarm of its own or make a good deal of noise while flapping its wings.
Once a gobbler has responded to a locater call, mark the direction of the response and move quickly and quietly toward it. If you can get within 75 yards without spooking the bird, you are in great shape and, from there, you should be able to call the bird into range.
Once in position, hopefully a little above the bird and in a relatively open area, camouflage and patience are your greatest assets.
Your position should be against a tree large enough to support and protect your back. Your shotgun should be held in a ready position across your knees, with the sling outside the knee closest to the muzzle. This will allow a fluid mounting of the gun without tangling the sling on elbows or knees.
While in position, with face masked, hands gloved or painted and the rest of your clothing a pattern that fits your surroundings, stay still. Remember that a turkey's sight and hearing are superior to our own.
The way we hunt turkeys makes this a deadly season. Hunter orange is not required and, in fact, the less noticeable you are the better -- unless there is more than one hunter in your area. Then, of course, one might mistake the other as wild game.
You are, after all, trying your best to sound like a bearded turkey.
Cold turkey facts
Open season: Tomorrow through May 16, excluding Sundays.
Bag limit: One bearded turkey per season. If no turkey was taken in the fall season, two bearded turkeys may be taken in the spring, but not on the same day and in some cases not in the same county.