Hunters will be hitting the woods in search of the wild turkey. But bird watchers, photographers and others who don't hunt don't have to be left out of one of the best shows the wild woods has to offer.
Until you've seen a tom turkey in full strut, it's hard to fully appreciate the wild turkey.
Just as males of other species put on displays in an attempt to attract a mate, toms go all out in an effort to woo a receptive hen.
The display rivals that of any wild species.
A tom will spread its tail feathers into the recognizable fan, drop its wings until they drag the ground, puff himself up until he appears twice his size with his chest jutting out, and tuck his head back as it turns bright red, white and blue like a neon bar sign.
The slightest provocation will be answered by a thunderous gobble that reverberates through the Vermont hills.
For the hunter, seeing this display up close — sometimes as near as 15 feet — is like a drug they wait all year for.
But nonhunters can experience the same thrill without a 12-gauge shotgun by using the same tactics, and are not limited to hunting seasons.
One very serious word of warning, however.
While a person walking through the woods during the turkey season is in little danger of being shot, sitting down in full camouflage and making sounds like a turkey during the May 1-31 hunting season has proven to be one of the more dangerous activities in the woods each year.
Every turkey season, hunters are shot by other hunters.
While hunting is statistically one of the safest of sports, there is always someone who isn't disciplined enough to follow the rules of safe gun handling and will shoot at noise rather than identifying their target.
You don't want to be in the woods with that person.
In addition, turkey hunters have a lot of time and money invested in their pursuit. Giving them a chance at harvesting a bird is the decent thing to do.
Besides, if it wasn't for hunters and the money they've spent, we wouldn't have New England's best turkey population.
The wild turkey is a fascinating bird and its history is one of wildlife management's greatest success stories.
The eastern subspecies is the largest, most numerous and most widely dispersed, covering roughly the eastern half of the United States.
In Vermont, they are often seen in flocks of just a few individuals to dozens and dozens as they eat in fields.
Despite the fact that toms weigh 16-25 pounds and females 9-14 pounds, they can fly relatively short distances at speeds of about 35 mph.
And while their run reminds me of a waddle, their legs can carry them along the ground at 25 mph.
With eyesight that is 10 times sharper than our own and the ability to see nearly 360 degrees, a turkey will see you blink before you know it's there, especially if there are a couple dozen of those eyes looking for danger.
Like that of many species, the male is more colorful and ostentatiously decorated by Mother Nature.
In addition to being larger and more colorful, toms have bright heads, spurs on the rear of their legs for fighting other males, and — most curiously — a "beard" that juts from its chest and reach nearly to the ground on mature birds.
Hens are produce a clutch of 10 to 15 eggs that hatch in 28 days — usually at the end of May or beginning of June. Out of an average of 11 poults born, seven will survive to the fall.
Flocks roost in tall trees overnight, then fly down at dawn to eat during the morning hours, rest and eat again in the afternoon before flying back to roost at dusk.
Turkeys haven't always enjoyed the lazy life of eating and sleeping, however.
When settlers first arrived they discovered that turkeys were plentiful.
But overhunting and landscape changes, with forests being cleared for farming, put severe pressure on the birds' population.
By the mid-1800s, Vermont no longer had wild turkeys roaming its forests.
By 1920, turkeys were gone from 18 of the original 39 states that had populations.
During the winter of 1969-70, the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department reintroduced 17 turkeys that were trapped in New York and released in Pawlet. Another 14 birds were later trapped and released in Hubbardton.
From that meager rebirth, the Green Mountain State's turkey population has rebounded to an estimated 50,000 turkeys that have spread throughout the state.
The southeast and southwest parts of the state provide the best hardwood habitat for turkeys in Vermont.
Get out there
With all those birds out there, there are plenty of opportunities to spend some time in the wilds observing the wild turkey.
While you can find them at any time of the year — and they might be found in larger flocks in the fall — there is no better time to observe them than during the spring mating rituals.
Watching a pair of toms in full strut is quite a scene and if you happen to luck into seeing a pair of males fighting for the right to breed the hens, it's one of the best shows in nature.
You can often find a flock in a field and watch them through binoculars from a distance while parked along the side of the road.
But, the best way to see these big, beautiful birds is up close and personal.
To do that, learn from turkey hunters who know how to do it best.
Reading the articles written by Outdoor Editor Dennis Jensen, a talented and passionate turkey hunter, the last couple of weeks and those he will write in the weeks to come will help a lot.
Start with a full set of camo, with a facemask and gloves.
Another option is a ground blind that will help mask inadvertent movement, which is the No. 1 way to send turkeys running the opposite direction.
A ground blind is a great option if you have kids who always seem to have an itch just as the birds are coming in.
To call birds in, learn to use at least one call proficiency.
Consider learning how to use a mouth call. Box, push-button and slate calls require the use of your hands and you can't hold a camera and work a call at the same time.
You don't want to have to put your call down and pick up your camera as that little bit of movement might keep the birds away.
Make sure your camera gear is silent. Turn off the beeps and shutter noises on your digital camera.
Calling a turkey in and getting a good photo is as exciting as it gets but takes lots of practice and more than a little luck.
When you get it right, or even close, you might find yourself hooked.