The Pines Gobbler

I do not know how old the Pines Gobbler was in 2009, but three or four years might have been a safe guess.  I did not doubt that he has been chased by many hunters, a lot of whom were probably better than me, and for aperiod in 2009 he became my white whale.
I first saw him on the Saturday before the 2009 opener, while I was out scouting.  He crossed a road fifteen yards from my parked car, and I could tell than that he was better than average.  He was tall and his beard was thick and would push double digits; his spurs looked like they already had a good hook.  But most distinctive of all is his gobble.  After crossing the road that early April morning he began to sound off in a stand of hardwoods at every hen turkey, crow and blue jay.  His was a full, throaty holler that is unmistakable to me now.  He roosted in a stand of pines that no one I know had permission to hunt in.  After flying down he’d ramble around an area of a few square miles, but almost nightly he would return to roost in the fobidden pine stand.
I saw him again on the second day of the 2009 season while I was driving home from an afternoon hunt with my cousin.  The old tom was across the road from his roost pines and fifty yards out from a stand of trees in a field that my family owns.  When we slowed down to look he began walking towards the field edge and out of sight.  We devised a quick plan and looped the block to set up an ambush for him.  Things looked good, but when we got to our spot he was gone.  He did not gobble or putt, he had simply vanished.  We called and called but he remained mute.  I momentarily pondered whether or not we had been hallucinating.
Two weeks later I was in the same neck of the woods, this time with my brother.  It had rained throughout the morning and no one had seen a gobbler, which made for an early end to the morning hunt.  When the rain stopped we prepared to head out and our Dad told us that he had seen a big gobbler in the pasture immediately adjacent to that off-limits pine stand.  We double-timed it to a spot parallel but distant from where the gobbler had been seen and slowly walked to set up.  When we were not twenty yards into the woods he gobbled and seconds later he thundered again, closer.  We rushed to set up and as I faced west my brother faced east.  Webegan calling to him; every time he answered, he came closer and closer until only a single ridge stood between him and us.  If he came directly over the ridge or around it to the west, I would have had a thirty yard shot.  If he came around the east side, my brother would have had the same.  The gobbler foiled us both when he grew bored and walked straight away from our set up.  During his escape my brother had glimpsed a couple of hens with him.  A tense, silent hour later we gave up, and circling the block by car we saw no sign of him.  Again he had disappeared.  I was not sure quite what we had done wrong, but it was now abundantly clear that this gobbler was going to be very tough to kill.
That night was spent at a memorial celebration for a hunting companion who had died before turkey season but I heard through others at the event that the gobbler had roosted in the pine stand again.  I set my mind on harvesting him.  Three and a half hours of fitful sleep stood between me and the day that I was determined to make the one when I would get the Pines Gobbler.  The plan was to get in very early, get as close as I could without spooking the bird and then wait for him to fly down.  Despite being so wily, he was laughably predictable and almost every morning he walked out of the pines, crossed the narrowest point of the pasture, and went into the woods I had hunted the day before with my brother.  I made a promise to myself that I would not call once.
The morning began badly.  While getting dressed, the button broke off of the only pair of hunting pants I had brought, forcing me to wear my belt extra tight.  When I parked my car at 4:30am I accidentally set the car alarm off and it blared for twenty seconds while I fished for the keys that I had buried in my turkey vest.  I was now positive that every bird in the township was spooked and that I may as well go back to bed, but when he gobbled on the roost I knew I had to try him.  Ten minutes later, and well ahead of sunrise, I reached a finger of cedars that was directly south from his pine tree roost and I set to making myself invisible by hunkering back into the cedar edge so that only my gun barrel was poking out.  Just over 100 yards away he gobbled constantly until fly down and it took all my energy to not yelp ever so softly on my diaphragm.  I heard him hit the ground just before six and I steadied my shotgun on my knee.
For half an hour after fly down the woods were silent and nothing came into the pasture.  I worried that he had heard me or my car alarm and simply gone the other way.  A deep depression in the pasture stood between my set up and the gobbler’s roost, but it was the hen that I saw first.  Initially I could only see her head bobbing up and down, but within twenty minutes she had fed to within five yards of my set up.  I have never sat as as still as I did in that moment; if she busted me then it would have been game over early.  As she walked past me into the woods the gobbler started sounding off again. Obviously while I was watching her, he had crossed into the pasture.  At first I could only see the white of his head and the top of his tail fan as he came out of the low spot and up the hill in full strut.  He was walking right in the hen’s tracks and it looked as though he would finally make a fatal mistake.  Of course, that was the jinx.
At sixty yards he stopped and looked at me, or at least he looked in my direction.  While he stood stock still for ten minutes I tried not to blink or breathe; my heart hammered in my ears and my stomach was in a knot.  He took six more steps and stopped again, and again he stood as still and as silent as a statue for what seemed like an eternity.  The morning sun shone on him and he was all bronze, gold and green iridescence.  My legs cramped and my shoulders trembled at the strain of holding the gun at the ready; it had been almost two hours since this saga started and I had not moved more than six inches since I had sat down in the pre-dawn.  Suddenly, he hammered a huge triple gobble and began to trot away, cackling, gobbling and leaving me stunned and shaking my head.  I was emotionally gutted and as my two hour adrenaline rush subsided I realized I was physically exhausted.  For forty-five more minutes I could hear him walking away and gobbling, and I wracked my brain for what I had done to spook the bird.  Deep down though, I knew that there was nothing I could have done differently.  It was simply that the Pines Gobbler was better than me that day.  He intimately knew every stone, branch, and leaf in the area and even though I was hidden from the hen, I could not elude his wary stare.  I paced off roughly how far away I thought he had been before he left the scene and estimated him to be 50 yards away.  Should I have shot?  Maybe.  Does it matter now?  Not really.
Defeated, I snuck out of the area and to my car.  As I drove home I saw him one last time, standing on a hill a few lots north from where I had last seen him, and he looked as regal far out in the open as he did in the pasture.  Where he stood there was no way to get to him and although I am a little ashamed to admit it, part of me just did not want to hunt him any more that morning anyhow.  He had just beaten me soundly and my ego needed a rest.
My only hope was that he would make it through the rest of 2009 and the 2010 winter.  I should have been careful what I wished for.

NWTF Hunting Heritage Banquet in the Halton Area

The Halton Hills Longspurs Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation will be hosting their 1st Annual Hunting Heritage Banquet on Saturday, May 7, 2011 at Granite Ridge Golf Club in Milton, Ontario.  Doors open at 5:00pm & the dinner starts at 6:30pm

For details on getting your tickets, please see the attached images for contact and ordering information.

This is the Halton Chapter’s inaugural Hunting Heritage Banquet and I encourage anyone in the Peel-Halton region to go on out and support them.  I’ve been to a few Hunting Heritage Banquets in my time and they are always a good time and a nice opportunity to have a nice meal with other hunters and their families, enter a few raffles, bid on some auction items, expand your hunting network, and share some stories and experiences.

This is a great chance to support this chapter in their very first banquet!

Important Deadlines and Reminders for Hunters in Ontario

Since the vast majority of my viewing traffic is coming from Ontario, I thought that I’d post these quick reminders of some important upcoming dates for hunters, as listed on the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources website.
April 25, 2011 to May 31, 2011—Spring Wild Turkey Season
May 31, 2011—Moose Draw Deadline
For those of you viewing from outside Ontario, if you’d like to see more coverage of your area in Get Out & Go Hunting, send me an email with the kind of info you’d like to see and some reliable sources to research it from and I’ll do the legwork and post it up here for your one-stop-shopping convenience.

Confessions of a Turkey Hunting Gearhead—Part One

So…it has come to this already.  This blog, still in its infancy, has received its first fan mail, and to boot it is from someone who does not know me personally and someone that is not (I think) being ironic.  Before I go any further, I will say “thank you” to this particular reader who emailed and asked me what gear I would recommend for a first time turkey hunter to pack in their vest.  I can’t say I’m not a little flattered that a newbie would ask me for advice.  It also still leaves me a bit stunned that people read this at all.
Since I’m not a self-professed expert, I’ll try not to screw this up.  If you want to purchase any of the items I wear/use, I will include some links for each item with this, and future, posts on the subject of equipment.  If you don’t want to purchase them, by all means don’t or you might end up like me with a vest full of goodies that you feel obligated to use regardless of how effective they are.
Let me begin by adding this good-natured disclaimer:  I carry a tonne of gear into the woods so in the interest of making this as readable as possible, I’ll break this down into parts.  Today I’ll talk about all the stuff I wear.
I do recommend a vest, although it is far from a mandatory item for any turkey hunter whether a beginner or expert.  My father has never worn a vest and he has killed many a gobbler with nothing more than a fanny pack, a box call, some effort, and a shotgun.  However, based on the question, I can assume the reader that contacted me already has one.  For my money, I’ve tried on many turkey vests and found that the Primos Gobbler Vest was the best for me.  Pros?  It has a pocket for everything, fits well across the back (a must in my opinion), and has the comfiest seat of all the vests I tested out (also vitally important).  Cons?   It is a bit pricey (although not the most expensive on the market) and I found at first that it had too many pockets; so many that I forgot where I had placed certain valuable items, such as my license, left glove, and knife.
Prior to owning my current vest I started out with an entry-level model from Redhead.  While it was more than sufficient; the only two knocks on it were that the seat was prone to getting soaked by dew and leaching into my pants (a quick blast of ScotchGuard took care of that problem) and the wide-mouthed pockets, while handy for digging around in, had a tendency to let certain items escape forever…such as my facemask and two (much needed) shotgun shells which all made a break for it when sun-dappled afternoon and were never subsequently recovered.  Call them archaeological artifacts for future generations to discover.
For the entire spring turkey season I always carry the waterproof shell from my Remington 4-in-1 hunting jacket in a Realtree AP pattern.  It is warm enough for any really unpleasant days, it keeps me dry (which is of paramount importance) and it has extra pockets, which are always helpful.
Weather in the Ontario spring turkey season can run in extremes.  I’ve been on opening weekend (read-late April) hunts that were hovering delicately in the near-freezing area and I’ve likewise been out on late May hunts that threatened to melt me, and vice-versa.  2010 was great for examples this wacky weather.  In the first weekend of May 2010, I was lucky enough to experience five seasons (yes FIVE!) in one truly nightmarish Saturday of turkey hunting in the Barrie area.  That day began in a clammy drizzle, calmed down a to dull-gray but reasonably warm mid-day, became a sunny and balmy double digit early afternoon just before turning into a freezing windstorm accompanied by three kinds of snow.  With this in mind, I have gotten into the habit of wearing more than I need and then being able to strip down if necessary.
For most of the season I put on an Under Armour mid-weight base layer for hunts, and some polyester long underwear that breathes; this usually suits me fine for the morning hunts.  If in the mid-day and into the afternoon I find things are getting too warm, I strip down to just my shirt and pants.
My shirt is a long-sleeved, breathable synthetic t-shirt from Columbia in a basic, splotchy earth tones camouflage pattern.  My pants are Redhead Stalker Lite in a Mossy Oak Breakup Pattern.
My boots are just plain old Redhead Bone Dry rubber boots boots from Bass Pro Shops in Mossy Oak Breakup and they were the last pair they had in stock and therefore a bargain.  But best of all they’ve lasted twice as long as any other pair of more expensive rubber boots I’ve bought.  Some folks I’ve talked to have had durability or blister complaints about Redhead boots, but to date, I’ve had no problem.  I think the key, for blister control at least, is proper socks.  I wear a light wool sock that comes up to my knee.  They are snug enough not to slip, rub, and bunch up, warm enough for a cold morning and light enough so that I don’t sweat.  In fact, they are my all-season, all-species hunting socks.
To round out the look I have a ‘ninja-style’ camouflage face mask and some mesh camouflage gloves.  I like the ninja-style facemask because I wear glasses and they stay in place more consistently than they did when I used to have a ¾ style, elasticized, pull up/pull down kind of mask.  I cut about half of the index finger off each glove so that I can better run my pot calls and pull the trigger, but other wise I don’t make any other modifications.  I also wear a baseball cap in Realtree AP camo that my cousin had custom made for our hunting group of friends.  It is also my lucky hat.
So that’s what I wear.  Next week, I’ll post what I carry in terms of calls and equipment so if you’re still interested, then stay tuned.

Hunting. Not Hype.