Happy New Year to all!
Note to readers: I wrote the following piece on Dec. 31 and tried to post it that night, but somehow my blog got corrupted and I was unable to post to it. My Web guru fixed the problem, so I’m back up and running. IF YOU ARE A USER OF THIS BLOG, YOU WILL HAVE TO REGISTER AGAIN, AS WORDPRESS WIPED OUT MY ENTIRE USER LIST AND YOUR REGISTRATIONS. I WILL CONTACT YOU INDIVIDUALLY SOON TO LET YOU KNOW YOU NEED TO REGISTER.
Listen to my report on Monday’s turkey hunt on this week’s radio show, along with a fishing report from Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay, tips on how to use the ZipVac food-storage system and an interview with the inventor of the revolutionary Automatic Fisherman that hooks those light biters that usually get away! Meanwhile, here’s an update – read on and learn how my turkey season really ended!
When dawn’s rosy fingers begin to creep across the eastern sky, individual ash, oak and maples take form in the hardwood stand 100 yards to the west. A few minutes later, a dark shape appears – a bump on a distant branch – then another and another. Their teetering confirms the impression – a flock of turkeys on the roost!
Heavy wingbeats pound air as a bird flies 30 yards from one tree to another. A second does the same. Then silence again, and the teetering resumes. Tails flag comically up, then down, heads bob and wings flap for balance, but the birds sit tight. Some mornings they will stay on the roost until 8:00, perhaps to conserve heat or because all they have to do is eat and the corn is not far away.
Today, however, is not only the end of the year, but also the end of the long fall turkey season. It’s now or never. I have been hunting this flock for more than a week. Every morning, they fly down and walk into a cut cornfield bordered by woods on the west and south. So far, every morning they have either spotted me and avoided the south woods edge where I sit or ignored my decoys and wandered north out of range. The next morning, I relocate closer to the roost, and the birds still manage to avoid me.
This morning, I am sitting against a big ash perhaps 50 yards from the woods where the birds are roosting. I didn’t dare get any closer. It’s now 7:00 and I still have not spotted a roosting bird, so I think they may be somewhere else. I am just about to take a chance and relocate, when the first bird flies from tree to tree, so I stay put. Whew! Almost blew that set-up!
At about 7:45, a bird flies down and begins yelping. Is this the boss hen? Then three or four more fly down and all begin walking toward the field. The lead hen steps into the field, but the others hang back. She hesitates, head up, neck outstretched, then putts and walks back into the woods.
Damn! Did she pick me out? Possibly. Although I’m wearing a white suit and Balaclava and have not moved, I must look out of place against the gray trunk. Nothing to do but sit and wait. Finally, more birds filter down from the trees, like black leaves fluttering to the snow-covered ground. I try to count them – 35, 38, about 40 in all.
They talk a little amongst themselves. A few of them feint attacks on each other, but most mill around in the woods, apparently waiting for the signal to hit the corn. This goes on for a good half hour, and I’m reminded of what my friend Lenny Heisz says about turkey motivation and behavior: they’ve got nowhere to go and all day to get there. You can leave your watch at home when you hunt turkeys!
To keep alert, I count squirrels. Five grays so far. The first two appeared not 10 yards from me shortly after I sat down. After giving me the quizzical eye, stamping their feet and barking, they ignored me and started chasing each other up and down trees. Eventually, they jumped into my ash and snow rained down on me. A gray squirrel once jumped on brother Mike’s knee and ran down his gun barrel, so I thought these guys might land on my head.
The flock starts moving toward the field, and I think I might be in business. One by one, the enter the field, a bit farther away than I would like, at the fringe of my range. I sit tight, figuring if they all come out, one of them will wander close enough to shoot. The lead bird looks like a big jake, but I don’t dare put the binoculars on him. He heads northeast, so I focus on those just coming out of the woods. Two, maybe three longbeards are among the last to come out, but they are too close together and probably 75 yards away. A fox squirrel runs out with one bunch, as if herding them. It grabs a small corncob and bounces in great squirrelly bounds right at me, cob held firmly in its teeth. It stops five feet from me, jumps onto a maple sapling, then runs up my tree. I can hear it munching, as bits of its meal drop onto my head. Note to self: either this white suit is great squirrel camouflage or these critters are mocking me.
Finally, all the birds are in the field, but drifting north and east. One hen hangs back, her neck outstretched. This may be my last chance, so I slowly raise my shotgun, put the Holosight’s red dot a few inches above her head and squeeze the trigger.
The hen drops, and at the shot the others trot or fly into the woods. When they are all out of sight, I step off the distance to my bird and count 60 paces. I thank the turkey gods, then cut out the last month and day on my tag and wrap it around her leg. I would have preferred to take a jake or tom, but with at least 30 hens in that flock, there will be plenty of nests come spring. Plucked and roasted whole, she will make a great meal to share with good friends.