Hunting has been difficult. Quiet birds can make for a rather dissatisfying morning in the woods, and birds that come in silent? Well that’s just not fair. Surely my biggest fear is that the quiet birds do all the breeding and pass their silent genes on to the rest of the turkey population. Were it to be my decision, I would decree all birds must gobble their entire way in to the end of my barrel. But then again, that type of turkey hunting wouldn’t be the challenge we all know-it, and secretly love-it to be. To me, one of the purest joys of hunting turkeys is the feast/famine, high/low, hot/cold nature of the entire sport. You can hunt 10 days straight, and literally be frustrated beyond your mental capacity to accept failure, then stumble out the following morning with a crumby attitude and poorer work ethic, only to have one literally fall in your lap. It’s those gift-birds that I tend to remember most, which is ironic, as they’re typically flash-hunts that end almost as quickly as they begin. But it’s the build-up, the anticipation, the slump that comes before the high-point which makes me revel in a bird that does most of the work for you.
So after all the bad-birds I had run into the previous seasons, the turkey gods smiled once more this past day, and early at that. The previous night’s roosting yielded few good options. I had heard birds everywhere I went, but they weren’t “right.” The setup was wrong. Where they roosted was not familiar, or it was too far away from where I could comfortable go after them. Until I went to the family farm, only to find out birds had been gobbling nearby. Owl hoots yielded a faraway response, and some soft hen yelping drew nothing much to show either. Some more excited yelping did, and I knew to the tree where this bird was resting for the night. Or so I thought. I needed a bird to be right for us the next morning, as it would be my 7 year old son Isaac’s first tag-along hunt. We’re progressing slowly but surely through the shooting stages, and this would be a year to observe. To listen. To learn what the birds could teach us. I wanted it to be perfect, only to learn I couldn’t have scripted it any better.
Morning came a bit windier than I had hoped, but there was good in that plan too, as it helped a blind-bound father-son team hike up a pretty good hill and nestle in amongst some birds. It’s never an easy task to get in tight on a gobbler, particularly when setting up a blind in the dark with a youngster is involved. All went well however, except our morning bird. He was gone. Nothing. No sounds at 80 yards south where I knew his favorite angled-basswood grew. Instead, a bird was 250 yards down the ridge, situated, likely without coincidence directly up the hill from where I gave him some excited hen talk the night before. He had repositioned. Yikes. Worse yet, he was gobbling on his own, but not at me. As his lackadaisical interest waned, he sounded five consecutive gobbles to announce to the world that he was about to fly-down. 10 minutes later, gobbles on the ground and away, so I called. He paused 5 seconds and gobbled back half-heartedly. Away he gobbled again, this time further. So I hit him with a string of hen yelps from the mouth call, while I cranked away on the box call simultaneously. That got him to cut me off. After being whooped in Wisconsin, I decided to let him make the next move.
Twenty excruciating minutes later, a hen was at 40 yards announcing her approach. The tom was a straggler, but run-gobbled several times as he closed the distance to her and our location. Now he was standing at 50 yards, strutting, gobbling, and overall acting fidgety. Nobody likes a nervous gobbler. Especially when my arch-nemesis, the dreaded four-legged carrier of tick-borne illnesses came walking past the blind at 30 yards, directly towards my turkeys! These deer did not see the blind, miraculously, and trotted at the gobbling tom, only to make him scoot our direction 10 steps. He gobbled again, but this mature woods was giving me fits. This isn’t the shoot-thru brush we’re used to. You take a poor shot here, and hard maple absorbs the brunt of the impact. To make matters worse, he’s getting more jittery than my 7-year old who is straining to see the show. 2-minutes into my “gimme” encounter, and I still haven’t found a way to kill him, and he’s in range. Closets full of mental-video start coursing through the back of my mind of memorable birds from days gone by that have been well-within range but remained alive to gobble another day. Finally he works to the right, and in a slight opening or two, but he won’t stop. Not for clucks. Not for purrs. Not for cutts. This boy is edgy. So when he walked into a garbage-can sized opening at 42 yards, I strained to see the sights on my barrel which were already trained on that spot. After waiting to make sure Isaac could also see, I touched the trigger and the bird had the rug pulled out from under him. Isaac’s first question was “Did you get it, did you get it?” After initial excitement, he was a little upset that his friend couldn’t be in the blind with him as I’d promised for the next day. That all faded on the walk down the hill when he mentioned “I guess I just must be lucky for you.” He couldn’t have said it any better.
After calling in no less than five multiple bearded birds for other folks, it was finally my turn. At 4 ¾” the second beard wasn’t a biggun, but it was a unique twist that added to the special-ness of the occasion. A double-bearded 20lb bird with 1” spurs, he was likely a 3 year old; none of which mattered to myself or Isaac that morning. We were off to pluck him, then eat some “victory pancakes” as I’ve heard them called. We took the youngest boy with too to enjoy in the excitement. With sticky fingers, and boysenberry, blackberry, maple, and butter-pecan syrup all sampled multiple times, I took him into school a little late. The school secretary asked…..”running a little late…..or?” My response was simple, and along the lines of what an educational institution might be interested in: “We took the chance to study the wild turkey in its natural environment.” As she wrote down “hunting with dad” on the tardy slip with a smile, I thought about naming all the things we’d learned that morning, but knew that simple adjectives couldn’t have done the moment justice had we tried.