Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Talkin’ Turkey

The alarm sounded far too early on the third day of turkey season. The alarm always sounds too early during hunting season. Don't get me wrong I like watching sunrises but I remain firmly convinced that it would be far more civilized if the sun and wildlife waited until a respectable hour like 9 or 10 o'clock. Noon would be a little unreasonable but 10 would be brilliant. That means you could get up at 7 and still have plenty of time to get into the bush. I was exhausted. It probably didn't help that I had barely slept considering that today was going to be my second lifetime attempt to get a turkey and for the first time ever I had hired a guide to help make it happen.
Ken Cull got the nod. I've mentioned him before and I looked forward to hunting with him. He had suggested I leave my bow at home for this one and graciously offered me the use of his shotgun. Since I didn't have a shotgun ready for turkey this offer was greatly appreciated. I made one last check of my equipment against the list he had sent me and headed for our pre-arranged meeting place. I have to say that I was particularly excited about the fact that scent was not on the list of worries for turkey hunting.

Ken was the picture of a turkey hunter. He had the cool Primos turkey vest. His pockets bulged with the tools of the trade. Mouth calls, box calls, pot calls, assorted strikers. He had them all. His vest bulged with turkey decoys and he even had the little "don't look at me I'm a tree stump" turkey hunting stool. I, on the other hand, had a camera. Granted I was in my very best camouflage. You can tell it's my best because it's the only pair I own. Ken quietly started to give me instructions as to what to expect and how we were going to go about doing things this morning. I, quite naturally, tried to pretend I was as cool as a cucumber when really I felt about as calm as a squirrel drinking Red Bull.

With a couple of last minute instructions we were finally ready and we set off across a corn stubble field in the dark. It wasn't very long before we came to some trees in a fencerow on the edge of a larger bush. Ken had spotted turkeys headed for roosting trees in the corner of this bush. He set me up against a tree and showed me the best way to sit with my shotgun. He hunkered down behind my left shoulder and we waited for the sun.

I grew up watching Warner Brothers cartoons. In the cartoons you always knew when morning was breaking because a rooster would greet the arrival of the sun with a boisterous cock-a-doodle-do. Turkey hunting is similar. As the sun started to seep softly over the horizon the first turkey greeted it. Like a well rehearsed opera the first gobble rang out to be answered by the song of the chorus echoing his melody. Ken did exactly the opposite of what I had done my first day. He did absolutely nothing. After many minutes of me wondering why we weren't calling turkeys over to us he finally did the exact opposite of what I had done my first day. Again! He gave a small series of clucks.

For anyone not familiar with the subtle nuances of calling turkeys there's a reason Ken has eaten wild turkey and I have not. Calling turkeys is a love story. It's a tale similar to that of innocent teenaged boys meeting seasoned professional harlots. Done well you can imagine the discussion going something like this:

Gobbler: HEY! BABBYYYYYYY! I'm here and I'm ready and able. Bring me all your women. Don't worry about them being the best. Just a pulse will do. Come on hurry up.

Hen (yawning and speaking softly):What's all the ruckus so early in the morning. A girl's gotta have her beauty sleep.

Gobbler: Come on…Comeoncomeon come on! Unlock the door and let me in. I got plans.

Hen: Settle down now son. It's early and I'm tired.

Gobbler: No! No! Now. I'm up and I'm ready. Unlock the door. Let's get to it.

Hen: oh alright here we go. I'll get up and let you in. Wait a second. You didn't tell me you brought friends.

Gobbler: Oh don't mind them. Here I'll get rid of them.

Hen: No baby don't you be wandering of too far to be playing big man on campus. You get over here and focus your attention on me. Sheesh you guys have ADD some days. What's a girl to do?

In the perfect world the result of that discussion would have put one of those gobblers in gun range. Sadly the turkeys stepped into the field and then quickly decided their fortunes favoured the east and off they went in the wrong direction. Ken coaxed, seduced and wheedled but to no avail. After about an hour and a half he realized we were in the wrong spot that morning and quickly decided it was time for a game plan change.

The next farm we went to was a little tougher to get into. It would have been better if I had rubber boots but I managed to keep my feet fairly dry. We set up in a sand field that was pretending to be a cornfield. The farmer hadn't been able to get through the water to tend it so it was an unharvested weedy thing. This worked well for our purposes. You could see where the turkeys had created small hollows in the sandy ground as they bathed themselves in dust. 

Ken quickly popped up a blind and tossed in two nice folding chairs. I can tell you that for the future this will be my chosen method over trying to look like a tree stump. It was quite decadent by comparison.

It wasn't very long before a turkey popped quietly out of the bottom of the field we were sitting in. The turkey seemed to be determined to keep heading west as Ken started to try and seduce him. Half way across the field he finally stopped and came to half strut. We had his attention at last. More to the point Ken had his attention. I was simply trying to not screw up.

Slowly he made his way towards us and there were a few times when I thought he had changed his mind. Each time he would drift back towards his original path Ken would sweet talk him back. At about 60 or 70 yards he slipped back into the bush. When we saw him again he had friends as more turkeys slipped from cover. A hen and several other gobblers joined the party as Ken continued with his seduction. They approached the area we had the decoy set up and the dominant Tom joined the fray and identified himself by both his size and the fact that he was clearly the boss of the bunch. I put the bead of the shotgun on his head and squeezed the trigger.

It's at this point I have to admit that Ken may have said wait. I know he whispered something but I couldn't hear him. I don't claim to be the most brilliant judge of distance but I was pretty sure I had it right. When the smoke cleared I could see the tail feathers of the bird sticking straight in the air. The bird gave a kick and lay dead still. There were high fives all around and I was doing my best to remain mister cool. One should never get too silly in an enclosed space when you have a shotgun in hand. Ken kicked the blind off of us and with a grin we approached my prize. I've never seen miraculous divine intervention before. I've read about it. People coming back to life. That sort of thing. What I saw that day though must have been divine intervention. The only other explanation I can think of is that they breed turkeys on planet Krypton and sent them to earth with Superman. As I approached my dinner it stood up and bolted for the bushes. I was so stunned that by the time I remembered to shoot it a second time it was pretty much off the ground flying through the trees.

I was speechless. It's ok though. Ken had enough to say for both of us. He was gloriously upset and stunned at what had just happened. I tried to keep my disappointment under wraps because I didn't want Ken to think I blamed him. He did a great job. Clearly I hadn't made a good enough shot. How a thing can survive getting shot in the head is beyond me though. It annoyed me to no end to think the bird could be out there somewhere with a doomed future. I don't like the uncertainty of a bad shot. Maybe it will be ok. A clean miss is so much more certain. So the rest of the morning was spent on the hunt for a dead bird. Ken and I eventually parted company and I went back and searched for another hour in the hopes that if I just looked a little longer and a little farther I would find it. It amounted to nothing, however, and I'm certain the bird spent the rest of the day being annoyed with the idea that one of the lesser toms got his girlfriend.

I would certainly recommend the guide experience for a new turkey hunter. I learned a lot. The next morning I was out with my own setup. I made some changes to what I was doing in keeping with what I had learned from Ken the day before. When the gobbling started the next morning I let them wait and then only started giving some soft clucks now and then. It took a while but I was rewarded with a gaggle of jakes practically bumping into my decoy at 20 yards. Sadly they didn't present me with a shot. They stayed so tightly grouped that I couldn't hit one without hitting at least two. That didn't change until they had moved back out of bow range. I wasn't happy with the outcome but I was content to see I was making progress. There's still hope I won't be eating tag soup this spring.

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