Category Archives: hunting

HuntFit or HuntFat?

In the preceding few years, I have noticed a trend creeping into every aspect of the hunting community, and that is an increased focus on the health benefits of hunting, which is a noble thing to be focusing on.  Time spent outdoors is undoubtedly beneficial, a tidy hike through the woods being far preferable to dozens of other sedentary pastimes, and the numerous health benefits of consuming wild game has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

That said, there also seem to be an effort afoot to glorify an ultra-fit outdoors lifestyle as somehow ‘better’ or in some way more rewarding method of pursuing game.  Under Armour or Sitka Gear do not have hunting pro-staff members.  They have “Athletes”, which in a hunting context sounds patently ridiculous.  This whole thing has been on my mind and has been thought-provoking to say the least.

Is this purely self-aggrandizing machismo?  Marketing? A way to sub-divide the hunting community into classes?  Is there merit in the dichotomy between the HuntFit movement and what I lovingly call the HuntFat movement, and does this dichotomy denigrate anyone who isn’t fit enough to pack out whole elk quarters or climb mountains in search of bighorn sheep? Does this devalue the hunting experience at large of those who are not in peak physical condition? What are the metrics?

This fellow did not take care of himself very well. Photo Credit: Rory Eckenswiller

I can remember the first time my own lack of fitness impacted my hunting experience.  A one-time collegiate athlete, I had let an inactive lifestyle take over, and between nine hours at a desk every day, a long commute in the car, and a generally poor diet, I had gotten more than soft…I had gotten fat.  My cousin Luke and I were hiking out to a couple of deer stands in the Parry Sound district are we hunt in, and I was rapidly getting sweaty, winded, and leg-weary.  More than once I stumbled slightly over fallen tree limbs that my legs were just too sore to step over.  I was breathing hard and loud, and I was so damp from sweat that I almost immediately caught a chill when I finally reached my stand. Luke, never one to exercise an internal monologue, basically asked if I was going to keel over from a heart attack on the way back out.

Now there are certainly areas of the hunting experience that don’t simply benefit from being ultra-fit, but that essentially mandate it.  I would be courting danger to head on a high-country goat hunt in miserable physical shape.  I would be doing the animal a disservice if I were pack-hunting and managed to shoot an elk or moose in a spot where the butchery had to happen at the kill site.  It takes physical strength and stamina to pack out meat, horns, and hides. I can see why they say that safari hunting on the ground in Africa requires physical and mental stamina, especially when hunting dangerous game.  All valid points in favour incorporating high levels of physical fitness into the hunting tradition.

But what about the ‘rest of us’?  Last year, my doctor told me it was time for a change, or I was staring down the barrel of obesity, diabetes, and cardiac problems, and I wasn’t even 40 years old. I was a hunter that indulged in rich food, both at deer camp and day-to-day.  I did hardly any physical fitness and had not been into a gym for years. I rode the ATV if the country got rough, and I got winded dragging deer or carrying a backload of decoys. I was fat, and it was a source of good-natured ribbing from the camp boys. Maybe I was not ‘okay’ with it, but I was comfortable with it.

So for myself and my family, not for hunting, I committed a whole lot of time, effort, and money to getting in shape.  I’m there now.  Down 50lbs, way down from almost 32% body fat, and up lean muscle.  I feel great, and some say I look great.  All good things, but none of which much to do with hunting.  I’m sure it can’t help but be beneficial, but I don’t think it makes me a better hunter (because I have no idea how to quantify ‘better’ in a hunting capacity) and it certainly doesn’t make me think less of anyone who wants to live differently.

This fellow does take better care of himself, but it hasn’t made him any better at deer hunting.

For a long time I’ve personally resented the HuntFit movement, because I took it (and still do to some degree) as an attack on the majority of hunters who simply enjoy the outdoors recreationally and may, in the course of their day-to-day lives, be out of shape, or slightly obese, or otherwise physically inferior to those who subscribed to this model of physical fitness uber alles.

I consider it in many ways to be exclusionary, and there are certain individuals out there that privately and publicly act in a definitively exclusionary way.  The outdoors just seems to be an extension of the gym to them, some personal best just waiting to be conquered.  I find it offensive at worst, ridiculously myopic at best. It takes away the democratic feel of the North American hunting tradition, and boils it down to ‘fit’ versus ‘unfit’.

I can also safely I’ve never shared a hunting camp with a hunter of the ‘physically fit’ variety.  That’s not to say I have not hunted with very athletic and in-shape people…because I have.  But more accurately, my hunting per group is just a group of average guys, some that could use to drop a few (or more than a few) pounds, some that while slim, couldn’t jog 5 minutes without breaking down, and others who ripple with muscles and live a lifestyle that renders them terrifyingly strong.  But no one in my goose, duck, deer, or turkey camps makes a point of staying in shape as part of their preparation for hunting. And feats of strength rarely factor into what we value in our hunting camps…although arm-wrestling does occasionally break out.

Likewise, in the past I have shared hunting camps with some of the most physically out-of-shape people I’ve ever seen. Fat guys, chain-smokers, heavy drinkers, party animals, loud-snorers, fatty-food loving guys, and more.  And you know what?  Every one of them all loved hunting, and I never saw their experience diminished by their bad habits.  Are their personal (and by extension, deer-camp) lifestyles beneficial and worth emulating?  Probably not, but that’s not for me to decide.

I’m reasonably fit and healthy now, and I still have the same obsession for chasing waterfowl and turkeys that I did when I had sleep apnea.  Losing weight and getting stronger did not ignite some hidden love of deer hunting that I did not know existed.  I still like it just the same as I did when I was creeping up to 270lbs.  Can I get to a deer stand without getting winded? Sure. That’s a nice fringe benefit, but is my deer hunting experience quantifiably better? No sir, it isn’t.

I’ve tried to think of all the arguments that are coming my way.  People will say I didn’t love hunting enough to give it my full physical effort.  That I don’t have ‘appreciation’ for what it takes to hunt fit, whatever that means.  That is am just condoning lazy, “slob” hunting habits. And so on, and so on.  There is an absolute truth here, and that is if you are in the minority of ultra-fit hunters and you treat that as some means to demean and devalue the vast, vast, vast majority of everyday hunters…or worse yet, try to use this HuntFit trend to make a tidy living off exploiting this majority of everyday hunters, then you are one of the things wrong with the modern hunting culture.  Not a popular stance, but I stand by it.

Anyhow.

I decided to change for my kids and my wife.  If there’s a hunting benefit at all, it might be that I’ll get to enjoy hunting experiences with my boys for a longer time if I’m healthier.  That’s still a ‘might be’ only because I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and all the burpees, crunches, and wind-sprints won’t help me then.

So, just go out and enjoy your hunting however you like it. If it means indulging in rich food and whiskey at dinner, riding the ATV because you can’t climb hills, and hunkering into a weather-proof blind in a comfy chair, so be it.  If you want to do chin-ups and push-ups before you head out to scale craggy peaks in search of game in some test of man against nature, or you against yourself, then go ahead and do that too, even though I just don’t understand it.

In either case, just be safe, have fun, and pass on the tradition. Because the future, and history of hunting is bigger than you, despite whether you choose to HuntFit or HuntFat.

Kids and the “Great Outdoors”

These sentimental posts always rise up in me the closer I get to Father’s Day and I’m not ashamed to say that I consider myself fortunate enough to have had an upbringing rooted in the outdoors.

Spending much of my life in rapidly-urbanizing Barrie, Ontario, my childhood may not have been the fully immersive rural upbringing that some of my friends, family, and readers likely had, but countless memories were formed on frequent trips to the family farm just outside the village of Lion’s Head, Ontario.  It was there that my siblings and cousins and I played unsupervised in the barn, ran around the rolling fields, slid down hills with abandon in the wintertime, and gardened fresh fruit and vegetables with our grandparents.  We loved going to Cape Chin and Otter Lake, travelling there untethered in the back of a station wagon down The Forty Hills Road, my stomach doing giddy backflips as we went up and down the narrow gravel road’s undulations.   For many of these excursions down the Bruce County backroads, we were accompanying our fathers to hunt, fish, bring in timber for the woodstoves, or simply to hike the trails and hardwoods.  It was those trips with family and friends in one of Ontario’s most picturesque places that I’m sure hooked all of us on the outdoors.

My youngest son, Devin, with his first goose.
My oldest boy James, holding a Cackling Goose that his grandfather shot.

It almost seems that we were destined to become sportsmen, and there seemed to be little doubt in the mind of my father or my uncles that we would embrace the outdoors tradition. But doubts seem to be everywhere now; as a youth I remember reading reams of pages from Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and the other classic publications that once resided in a box in an upstairs room in the farmhouse and very rarely (if ever) do I recall any mention about declining hunter recruitment, or a participation crisis, or the jeopardized future of the hunting and fishing lifestyles.  But the question seems pervasive now, and not one annual publishing cycle in the big magazines seems to go by without alarmed warnings about the shaky ground that hunting, and to a lesser extent, fishing are on. The same articles seem to play out constantly about how ‘kids today don’t hunt’ and how we as the current generation need to capture the attention of new hunters to carry on the legacy.

But why do we think this is the case?  Is this a case of the media outlets simply ‘making news’?  Is it a fear that we, the current generation, have simply been ‘takers’ and may have not been as diligent as we could have been in giving back to a tradition that we hold dear?  Is it real; could it simply be that wilderness is simply too esoteric and occasionally boring to enrapture typical millennials and their fast-paced/instant gratification/media-on-demand needs?

In reality it could be all of the above factors and more.  Although I don’t think this generation is significantly different from my generation or the one that came before me, but again that is another debate for another time.

I know many who simply find the escalating costs of hunting untenable.  That’s a whole other post (one that I am working on) but licensing and tag fees have been on an ever-climbing trend, equipment costs are also high, and the cost of owning or leasing land can be prohibitive.  I’m sure for some, both young and old, it has become too great an expense to hunt, even on public land.

People also like to blame ‘society’, whatever that means, for at least devaluing or otherwise being openly hostile to wilderness pursuits, especially hunting.  In this world where we all live out lives in a social media microscope, it is easy to blame the faceless input of internet trolls who shame and deride young hunters, women involved in hunting, or anyone who promotes hunting at large.  Still, some of the most recent, although dated, surveys seem to point to much of a non-hunting public that is supportive, or at the very least ambivalent, about hunting.  But the voices of a minority of anti-hunting viewpoints can sometimes be louder than this mostly silent majority.  Do we perceive a threat where this is only a handful of vocal opponents?

I believe that the continuation of the hunting and fishing traditions, call them the ‘sporting traditions’ if you will, relies on children, because even if they never pick up a gun or a fly rod they can at least be instilled with values of conservation and respect for wilderness.  Sure, I’m willing to fight the fight against whomever thinks that the picture of me and my sons with a harvested turkey is offensive, but simultaneously approves of a picture of my kids playing soccer, or eating spaghetti, or singing in their school choir because I do believe in the values of the hunting tradition, but even I can admit sanely that my kids being involved in the outdoors is not about guns and ammo.  It is about family time in the outdoors, and learning about how the natural world works without a filter.

My earliest trips into the woods were very rarely about killing something.  They were about learning something.  Most of the time I was just being a kid, and if you’ve ever tried hunting with a kid you know they are not very often still, quiet, patient, or focused. I enjoyed breaking twigs and asking questions and puttering around in the dirt behind Dad, but those things make it hard for a grown man to shoot a rabbit or a duck.

My father once likened taking my childhood-self hunting to taking a baby raccoon hunting.  Having now taken my seven-year-old son out after rabbits, and turkeys, and grouse, and geese, I can say he was not far off.

But he bore me with a wry grin and, I think, the knowledge that patience and repetition with me would grow into something bigger, and it has.  Aside from the well-being of my loved ones, there is very little I hold higher than my love of hunting and the outdoors

Before I had an interest in sports and girls, I had rabbit-hunting at Christmastime with a beagle.  Before there were high-school bush parties, I had early-September goose hunts.  Before I had a fiancé and subsequently a wife, I had deer hunting trips with my family and friends.  Before I had sons of my own, I had my memories of being the little boy crouched in a duck blind, standing at Dad’s elbow while he worked a trout stream, or slipping along a trail behind Dad in search of ruffed grouse.  Long before I was able to make my own memories and stories, I sat grinning at the table while my father and grandfather and uncles and great-uncles told stories about hunting ducks, deer, grouse, and geese. I reveled in tales of their success and I laughed at the admissions of their sometimes spectacular failures. I knew always that I wanted to belong to their group.

That’s how I came to it, and I think that maybe it is how we can bring the next ones to it.

Patience and repetition. Including them and putting the emphasis on the outdoors and not on the kill. When there is a kill, show the kids the unfiltered side of the woods and the water with respect and compassion for the game animal. Answer their questions not to make yourself feel more heroic, but to help them understand why we love the tug on the line or the warmth and weight of the bird in hand. Let them taste properly-prepared wild game, and let them know the value of the animal’s life when we take it.

We may think it is hackneyed and clichéd.  We may think it is ‘too much’ for a young mind to comprehend.  It is neither of the above and we were all kids once. If it was not too much for us, it won’t be too much for them.

The men that were my mentors in the outdoors are just men.  They aren’t particularly grandiose, or strong, or brilliant, or heroic, but they certainly loom large in the memories of my siblings and my cousins.  Like me and you, they are not without their faults, but as unit, they all had the deepest love of the land and the water and a palpable respect for the animals they pursued.  Those traits made them similar to thousands and thousands and thousands of other sportsmen living and dead, and made them perfect mentors to shepherd my once young generation into becoming the stewards and mentors we now purport to be.

It is our job to claim the mantle and pass it on now.  Do not take it too lightly.

When Less is More

I stood in the dark staring into the empty vacuum of my van interior.  I said bad words as I realized that I had not brought my turkey vest, or any decoys, on this particular trip.  Panic temporarily set in, and I jogged into the farm house, accusingly asking my wife if she had brought them in without my knowledge.  I then tried to passively blame her and the kids, before settling on ultimately flaying myself for the gross oversight in packing.

I swore and got grumpy.  I had never turkey hunted without a vest, and I was emotionally invested in having all of my gear and giving a good account of myself in my role of pseudo-guide the upcoming morning.  For a split second I considered texting Brian (a.k.a. Tack) and telling him that I was out for the morning.  I mean what good would I be without a comfortable seat, a full suite of decoys, and my full arsenal of very expensive turkey calls? Rummaging through my hunting box I found an old box call, a facemask, camo gloves, and two mouth calls.

It would have to be enough.

Forgetfulness and necessity dictated that I hunt ‘light’.

At 4am I snuck out of bed and put on my camo.  I was tagged out so I was going to be the designated guide and gear carrier for this trip.  Without vest, gun, decoy or calls, I was feeling very under-prepared when I slid out the door and waited for Tack. I caught a bit of a chill as I stood in the lane and quickly snuck back inside to grab my coat, and as I exited I could see Brian’s headlights coming up the county road.  We made for a nearby field where birds had been frequently seen, and snuck to our spot.  On our way in I had owl-called and the notes echoed hauntingly around the dead-calm of the hardwoods.

Nothing answered, and we hastily set out two hen decoys before settling into the undercover of a gnarly old crabapple tree. It was 5:10am and the previous night’s moon, which was just past being full, shone silver on the field edges around us.  Songbirds started up, and then a lone goose powered past, clucking loudly.  Eventually we heard a bird gobble from the property we had crossed through to get to our setup.  Then another, and then two more.  Tack swore silently that we had walked past the birds on our way in.  Two properties over to the south another, unexpected, bird fired off a lusty gobble.

We were surrounded.

Three jakes a few of their lady friends paid us a visit early Saturday morning.

To that point we had not heard a hen yelp, but soon we heard a very distinctive old girl start her morning rasping.  I began to call softly myself in response, before cranking it up and matching her note for note.  All the while the gobblers worked to a frenzy and they must have hammered a hundred times or more.  The noise did not dissipate when the birds hit the ground, but rather the hen grew more aggressive, while another jenny started calling more casually from a position directly behind us.

A couple of deer sauntered into the picture and the sun began to shine bright and strong.  The bird to the south seemed to be lonesome and he drilled gobble after gobble in response to the cacophony going on around us.  It was more gobbling than I may have ever heard on a spring morning, and I could sense that I had a big stupid grin on my face the whole time. That I was sitting on the cold, dewy ground without a plush cushion didn’t really matter at that point.

Eventually we called the hens into the setup, and they pulled their three boisterous suitors in with them, but we were stunned to be confronted with three strutting jakes.  They all had full gobbles, but they lacked full tailfans so we gave them a pass.

Sneaking out the way we had entered, we decided to head north for a run and gun tour.

While Tack filled his truck at the local gas station, he had a sudden change of heart, and suggested we slip south of Lion’s Head and check out a place he had not hunted yet in 2017.  I was up for anything, and we cruised down Bruce Road 9.  We pulled into the property and to the north I saw the telltale dark shape of a turkey crossing a field.

“There a turkey right there.” I said and Tack applied the brakes.  As he did I saw two more turkeys trailing behind.  Tack put the binoculars on the trio and then turned back to me, with a big grin and happy eyes.

“Three longbeards…and they’re alone.”  It was music to my ears.

The birds were headed from west to east into a series of hardwood ridges interspersed with grassy fields, and we sped ahead before parking the truck and putting a sprint on through the woods to get ahead of the birds’ anticipated route.  Halfway to where we wanted to be I looked to the left and at twenty-five steps a big doe whitetail deer was watching us sneak past. She never snorted or stomped and we crouch-walked into position.  We crested a bit of a hill and Tack grabbed the sleeve of my jacket and yanked hard.

“Shit. They just saw us,” he hissed.  Sure enough I could see a red-headed gobbler trotting away.  I could also see the two other birds, and they were still acting as though nothing was amiss, so we sat down and I started doing some soft calling and scratching in the leaves for about fifteen minutes, before I made a series of crow calls.

The birds said nothing.

Then a truck drove down the county road and all three hammered out gobbles.  I slowly stood again and could see that they were closer and making their way towards out setup.  Tack whispered that there was a trail up ahead that went to a water hole and he remarked casually “I betcha they’ll be on that trail.”  Part of me wanted to move ahead to the trail edge but I also did not want to have the longbeards bust us while we moved, so we stayed pat.  Five minutes later, I was softly calling and scratching in the leaves, when again Tack hissed at me.

“SHAWN…in front of us.”

As Brian had expected, all three birds were on the bush trail and they were trying to get around behind us.  Both Brian and I froze, and the birds filtered past, with one big gobbler strutting the whole time, drumming loudly as he went by.  Another bird broke off and closed to less than twenty steps, with his head glowing neon white and fire-engine red, but he was on the wrong side for Brian to ease into a shooting position.  In a few moments, all three toms eased off down the ridge and I slowly stood up once they were out of sight.  We quickly commiserated on a new plan of attack when suddenly all three of them gobbled in unison without provocation.  Knowing the lay of the land, we sprinted in a circle ahead of them again and deployed Brian’s one lone hen decoy.  I then dropped over a ridge and quite literally sat in a rock hole before I started calling once again.  This time the birds cut me off with thunderous gobbling.

I cutt hard on the call and ran a series of fast yelps and again the birds interrupted me angrily.  The tone of their gobbles had changed and there seemed to be a searching urgency in their calls now.  They were coming off the ridge we had last heard them on and they were closing the distance rapidly.  Three more times I called and every time they hollered back frantically.  One last time they screamed without even giving me the courtesy of asking them to do so.  Seconds later I was startled by the bark of Tack’s Winchester.  I stood and heard Tack let out a rowdy “WOOOOO!!” and I hollered one back at him.  Brian was striding to the downed bird, and I excitedly hurdled my way over the ridge, because I wanted to get a better look at the gobbler.

“PACE THAT OFF!” Brian shouted, and I did at a very conservative forty-five steps.  A bit of a long shot, but the bird had never even flopped.

Getting to the bird we engaged in the usual shouts of congratulations and high-fives and man-hugs that always go down in accordance with tradition.  Brian told me how they had come down off the ridge and hung up at the field edge, and he described how when two of them had gotten wary and started to slide away, he let slide at the strutter who had lingered in the open just a bit too long for his own health.  Tack had trusted his gun and it did not let him down.

We tagged the bird and I played gear-mule for the decoy and Brian’s shotgun, since he had the responsibility of over twenty pounds of feathers, spurs, and meat to sling over his shoulder.  It was a solid 3-year-old bird, with one-inch spurs and a thick paintbrush beard to go along with weighing in at a very respectable twenty-one pounds.

For my part, as much as I enjoyed the satisfaction of being there for Brian’s second bird of the spring, and as much as I was ecstatic about the way the hunt itself played out, I learned valuable lessons about patience, woodsmanship, and the art of travelling light.  Because sometimes, in the turkey woods, it’s true that less can be more.

When it All Ends Too Soon

I had spent the day basking in the afterglow of the morning’s success.  Brian and I had taken dozens of pictures, field-dressed birds in the sunshine, eaten celebratory breakfasts, and shared our story several times.  With a bird down for each of us so early in the season, we both agreed that a bit of ‘pressure’ was off our shoulders and we could freestyle some hunts, or even take a morning or two off and sleep in, spend time with our kids, and generally be less compulsive about chasing spring gobblers.

That said, we were still resolved to be hunting the next morning.  I awoke and Tack’s text simply said “Two birds roosted again. Let’s try for a second double” and I needed no further encouragement to rise early.

We drove to a property that was a bit further south than the one we had succeeded at on Friday morning, and once again in the darkest of pre-dawn light we set up decoys before sneaking under a cedar thicket and waiting for the sound of gobbling.  Much like the previous day’s hunt, we waited in the dark silence for what seemed like forever.  As dawn broke we saw a half-dozen or more deer filter into a distant field, and we heard the songbirds wake up around us.

Unlike the previous hunt, however, this time we heard the tom sound off from treetop far behind our setup.  I answered lightly on my mouth call and he cranked a gobble back in response, giving us hope that he would come investigate our little ambush and then take a ride home in the back of the truck.  Of course, not every turkey hunt can be the slam dunk we had the previous day…in fact most turkey hunts aren’t slam dunks.  This time the bird gobbled sporadically before hitting the ground marching away from our position, headed straight north.  We decided to dog the bird a bit and see if we could pinpoint his position, but after a series of slow stalks around the cedar islands that made up the property, it was as though he had just evaporated on the spring sunrise.  We had no choice but to pick up our setup and head on a quick run & gun hunt for a cooperative bird.

As we headed west down a local sideroad, we spied a gobbler the width of 100 acres on a property Tack had hunted several times.  We glassed the bird and seeing he was a good gobbler, we decided to hunt him. A snowmobile trail ran up one side of the property and we could see a hen in the trail, that presumably was holding the tom’s attention.

“I know how we can get to him.” Tack sounded confident.

“We’ll run in from the north and cut through to the hilltop and then try to call him in,” Tack said and since it was as good a plan as we had for the only bird we’d laid eyes on that morning, so we turned around, parked around the corner and started to double-time it out of sight along the field edge.  Coming to a cedar and hardwood thicket that was within 100 yards of the where we last saw the tom, we split up with Tack heading straight at the bird’s position, while I scooted down a cedar rail fence 80 yards to the west, next to the previously mentioned snowmobile trail.

I found a large, broad juniper bush that was high and wide enough to conceal my seated figure, and I sat facing southwest in the ample shadow it cast for a few minutes before crow-calling loudly.  Drawing no response from the bird, I began to do some soft calling on my Woodhaven Ninja-V mouth call.  The wind was increasing to somewhere between a soft breeze and steady gusts, and I half-stood to see if I could scoot down closer to the bottom of the hill.  I spied a hen and that essentially ended any dreams I had of changing my setup.  I texted Tack to see if he was on the bird visually, and he said he could no longer find the tom.  For a while we were at a stalemate as we were pinned down by a hen, but seeking a gobbler that would not answer any calls and had seemingly vanished.

While I sat there, my friend Lucas Hunter texted me to tell me had tagged his second gobbler of the weekend and I flipped him a quick message of congratulations.  I relayed the news to Tack and asked if had seen the gobbler yet, and he said he did have eyes on the bird now, directly in front of him in the field.  I decided it was as good a time as any to break out my crystal friction call and try some loud calling in the hopes that it would pull the bird my way, and hopefully up into range for Brian.

I cranked up some loud yelping and cutting, but still the stubborn bird wouldn’t budge and he was not gobbling at all.  I could only hope to keep calling and see if I could draw him in for a shot.

In between sequences, I looked southwest and was surprised to see, a few hundred yards in the distance, a strutting tom trotting my way. There was a hen with him and for a second I was unsure if I had called in the tom or the hen, but I didn’t care at that point. I messaged Tack that the bird was coming but that it was on the wrong side of the cedar rail fence, before getting my 870 rested on my knee and my left shoulder pointed towards the bird.  He made the cedar rail fence and began walking parallel to my position.  He had run ahead of the hen and was directly perpendicular to my gun barrel when he began to spin on the spot and spit and drum.  The hen yelped lightly and walked past the tom to position to my right; and the gobbler followed her close behind.

I thought on more than one occasion of shooting him through the fence, but there were two factors dissuading me.  First, I was unsure if we had permission on the other side of the rail fence, and second I could only see tom’s head and none of his neck through the slats. A younger version of me might have risked the shot, but part of me knew that if I were patient, he’d either offer an ethical shot or slide off and I’d set up on him again.  For about five minutes the tom strutted and the hen puttered around near him, just agonizingly beyond the fence.  After a while the hen crouched, and the gobbler commenced breeding her, which allowed me to twist into a position more in line with where the birds were.

In time, the gobbler hopped off the hen and went back into strut.  The hen, for her part, shook her feathers off and, to my joy, hopped up onto the cedar rail fence.  I had hoped she would cross at some point and now she was obliging me.  The gobbler, meanwhile, was oblivious that the hen had left him.

He spun in strut and, presumably realizing that his girlfriend had left, craned his head to full periscope.

I could have killed him quite easily at that point, but he was still on the wrong side of the barrier. While I silently pleaded for the hen to move off, she once again did as I had hoped, slowly marching north away from the tom.  The tom now dropped strut completely and himself jumped onto the fence top, which was my cue to slide the safety off on the gun.

He awkwardly tottered on the top of the fence for a moment or two, before hopping and flapping down onto my side, well within range.  He popped into strut and I bore down on the stock, welding my cheek to the comb and focusing the front bead on the base of his ruby-red neck.  I cutt hard on the mouth call, and the bird once again went full periscope and stared straight at me.

For a second, it was as though the bird recognized that he had been had.

I yanked the trigger and the shotgun boomed, but I was in such an adrenaline haze that I barely felt the recoil.  I saw as the bird’s head snapped out of sight, and he flopped limply to the ground, never twitching again.  I went out and put my bootheel on his neck, but that was a mere formality.  I pumped the gun and put it on safe before turning to see Tack walking my way.

One of the quick field-shots right after harvesting my second tom.

We had some high-fives and some photos before tagging the bird and heading out to the truck.  It was just after 9am and my turkey hunting season had lasted all of five hours over two mornings.  I was done; tagged out on the two legal toms that Ontario allows hunters to take in the spring season.  He weighed in just shy of 19 pounds, and sported a paintbrush of a beard, inch-long spurs, and long snood.  It was bittersweet in a way to be done on the opening weekend, but it was two completely different, yet still fantastic hunts, that had brought my season to a close.

Some tools of the trade, and the iridescence of an Ontario spring gobbler in the sunshine.

It was satisfying to know that, for the first time, I had no tags left to fill for a spring.  It was also satisfying to have my friend Lucas Hunter get his first two birds of his fledgling turkey hunting career, and it was great to have hunted the mornings with a friend like Tack, who I’d been hunting with since our early teen years.  We did some running and gunning that afternoon, and very nearly had Tack his second bird of the weekend as well, but as the toms sometimes do, the old gobbler zigged when he was expected to be zagging, and we were left to rue a close call.

Later that night, all the turkey hunters I knew and called friends got together at my cousin Luke’s and we feasted on chicken wings, fried shrimp, French fries, and cold beer.  The stories flowed as freely as the drinks and laughter, and we re-lived the hunts we had all experienced so far in the season.  Successful and unsuccessful hunters alike bonded over tall-tales, food and time spent with friends and family.

I was happy to be done, but it had also ended far too soon for 2017.