When Something is Harder Than it Looks

I had a low-fat pudding cup with my lunch today, all as part of my greater long term goals of becoming a pseudo-healthy individual.  So instead of having a chocolate bar or some candy to actually leave me feeling satisfied after my lunch of high-fibre rabbit food…I had a low-fat pudding cup.  Or more accurately I attempted to have a low-fat pudding cup.  This particular pudding company (who shall remain nameless) seems to think their pudding should be sealed in the same manner as deadly toxic waste, and removing the foil covering of this particular dessert treat was nothing short of a baffling ordeal.

This particular piece of foil was attached to the cup portion with some sort of inconceivably strong adhesive.  Based on the colourful cartoon marketing on the foil, this product is aimed at children.  Either children of today have developed titanically powerful thumbs and forefingers (and given the rise of handheld technology in cellphones and video games, such a conclusion is not out of the question) or this is some sort of sick irony on the part of this company to tease children with the allure of secretly unobtainable pudding.

Nevertheless I persevered.  With hands and wrists aching with the strain of trying to remove this foil in one clean piece, the foil finally relented…the adhesive did not though and as the foil tore, I spilled gooey delicious pudding on my desk and my person.  It was not quite a pudding explosion, but it was enough of a mess that I let out a muted curse on the souls of the pudding oligarchs that conspired to leave me in this chocolate stained predicament.

Maybe my curse was not muted enough though; the woman in the adjacent cubicle snickered softly at my failure…not surprising really since I have developed a reputation as a witty but comically inept co-worker when it comes to the subject of social graces.

Once again I’ve started a hunting story from a non-sequitur.  Here’s how the minutia of my corporate existence relates to this blog.

There are “a lot of turkeys in Ontario” now, or so it seems.  There are certainly more than there were thirty years ago.  This past weekend I travelled the #6 Highway up to the Bruce Peninsula in search of some of those “abundant” birds.  I was scouting likely spots for the coming weeks of spring turkey hunting, which was going to “probably be pretty easy”.

The quotes come from a friendly but not entirely well-informed gentleman I met while I was having lunch with my uncle at the famous Lion’s Head Inn (an establishment which has passed my rigorous standards and now possesses my highly sought-after stamp of approval….read: good food, good service, cheap beer)

This man was quaintly polite in that, rural, ‘not shy about striking up a conversation about anything’ kind of way that I genuinely enjoy.  We talked briefly about federal politics, the weather, and upcoming events.  When the topic came around to my twin goals of attending a cousin’s stag & doe party and doing some scouting for wild turkeys, this nice man said that he had seen “hundreds of turkeys” and that since there were “a lot of turkeys in Ontario now, scouting ought to probably be pretty easy”.  That’s a direct quote.

He later referred to wild turkey populations as abundant, and commented that my cousin’s stag & doe party should be a pretty wild and fun event.  He was dead-on correct on the last point, but that’s a whole other story.

To the other statements, yes there are quite a few wild turkeys around in Ontario now and in some areas they are so abundant it is true that they have reached near-nuisance proportions.  Scouting however, is not necessarily what I would call ‘easy’.  Sure it is easier than running a marathon or going through childbirth, but it is not a “show up, see a turkey, come back in a few days and shoot said bird” sort of exercise either as some would have you believe.  If it is, they must be doing it wrong because the vast majority of hunters that I know put in a lot more effort than that.

And so it was that Saturday morning saw me primed and ready to go scouting.  A bitterly cold rain put those plans on hold.  Then I had lunch and the conversation with the friendly man mentioned above.  After lunch the rain stopped, and although the skies stayed a low, cloudy, grey, and a wind began to howl a bit, I hit the road.

I stopped first, symbolically, at the last place that I had encountered the Pines Gobbler in 2010.   I got out, walked around a bit looking for signs of turkey activity while periodically squawking on my crow call.  It got the post-rain crows fired up and curious, but not a single shock gobble rang out.  It was also at this point that I realized that I had forgotten my camera at the farmhouse, so I am unable to show you pictures of the vast areas of low shrub that were over-browsed by deer in this particular spot.  Honestly, it looked like someone had come through with pruners and snipped off all the shrubs down to a height of three feet.

Returning to my vehicle, I looped the block slowly with the radio off and the window down, looking for turkey tracks in the soft shoulder and listening for a yelp or a gobble.


I made my way back to Highway #6 and powered north.  I stopped at my cousin’s new house and travelled back a two-track road to an isolated field.  I shut off and walked back a few hundred yards before blaring on the crow call again.  Still no gobbling.

I made a run up to a block south of Cape Chin that has historically held some turkey sign, but again found and saw nothing.  In the interim the rain began to drizzle down periodically and the wind picked up.  Not exactly great weather for observing turkey movement, but I was out there anyways and I wasn’t going to turn back for a few sprinkles of rain.

I went to Cape Chin North and stopped at many of the fields along the way, looking along field edges for turkeys, and paying close attention to the shelter offered by hummocks of cedar and balsam.  Still no sightings.

I went down another two track road to our deer hunting camp and walked a couple of kilometres of ATV trail back to a spot far-removed from prying human eyes.  Although I was (finally) fortunate enough to come across a single, reasonably large, turkey track in the mud, the solitude of the abandoned and overgrown field offered only that: solitude.  The rain was intermittent so I leaned against an old apple tree and observed some of the life moving around me.  Two squirrels scurried about, chasing after one another.  A pair of mallard ducks circled silently, the wind muffling the whistling of their wings and the slate sky serving as a contrasting backdrop to the poison-green head of the drake.  Small songbirds flitted about, not really bothered at all by my impertinent intrusion into this quiet woodland spot, and the turkeys gobbled not.  After about ten minutes of pondering (about what I can’t even really recall) I began to march back to the vehicle, leaving the spot exactly as I found.  I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with more purpose; hopefully a tom turkey will be there too.

I drove the East Road up to the spot where it terminated at a T-intersection with the Dyers Day Road.  Turning right I headed towards the village that lent its name eponymously to the road.  I stopped at another two-track road and walked for ten minutes back to a hidden field, kicking a ruffed grouse up along the way.  I’d hunted this field for the previous two springs, hearing a gobbler there in 2010, but never laying eyes on the bird.  Turkey sign there was a scarce as it was at every other place I had been to that day.  My ears were aching to hear a gobbler, no matter how distant.

Back on the road, I stopped to observe the hum of waterfowl life in a flooded field, or more accurately two flooded fields since both sides of the road were mostly submerged in shallow spring melt.  The right side of the road held a gaggle of Canada geese, some mallards looking stately, and a small mob of six or seven greenwing teal.  When I pulled the car over to the shoulder, the teal exploded up and flew off in that swerving, mazy way that teal do.  Not surprisingly, although I’ve shot at teal in the fall, I’ve never put a single pellet on one.  The left side of the road held more mallards, a couple of hooded merganser drakes with their striking black and white crests on full display, and twenty ring-necked ducks.  I’ve always liked ring-necked ducks, and they porpoised and dove as they swam away from my parked car.  I was temporarily excited to see to larger gray shapes against the trees a few hundred yards away, but on closer inspection with my binoculars I saw that the shapes were in fact a pair of Sandhill cranes.

A word about Sandhill cranes.  In flight the may soar, but on the ground they have such an ungainly, awkward gait, with a stooped, shambling posture that they are almost comical.  I imagine bumping into one of these birds unexpectedly in the dawn or dusk would be particularly frightening, and it is little wonder that many of the Jersey Devil sightings of the last few hundred years are attributed to chance, surprise encounters with Sandhill cranes.  This particular pair was moving in a slow, hunched way that was almost menacing.  Something must have startled them, because as I sat on the shoulder of the road, they came trotting and then flying up the field, crossing in front of my car about forty yards up in the air.  I rolled my window down and was delighted to hear their trumpeting, ululating call.

I moved on and checked into two other spots that I’d hunted before in the Dyer’s Bay area but to no avail.  Then the rain came back.  As I decided to call it an afternoon, two birds of prey whooshed past my car, flying down the country road almost at eye level.  They were apparently engaged some kind of pursuit, the lead bird was most definitely a kestrel, which is a pretty common little falcon in the area.  The pursuing bird was much larger and darker and I can say with some certainty that it was neither a Red-tailed hawk nor a Northern goshawk.  It may have been a Cooper’s Hawk, but my accipiter identification skills have fallen into disrepair, so I can’t be certain.  They towered away into the hardwoods and I can only assume the chase continued.

Having given up and with the weather deteriorating, I rolled up my windows, put the binoculars away and headed back west along the Dyers Bay Road towards Highway #6.

Halfway to the highway, between passes of the wiper blades I could see a dozen or so black blobs moving across a field ahead on my left.  Sure enough, it was a group of wild turkeys.  I pulled over and rolled the window down, getting a blast of cold, mid-April drizzle in the face.  I scrambled out my binoculars again and trained my optics on the cluster of birds that was making a hasty retreat into the woods.  I counted ten birds in all, and I could clearly see three longbeards; one was exceptionally big.  The rest were either hens or jakes, and in a matter of seconds all had reached the safety of the woods.  I noted the exact location of the field, the time of day, and how many birds I had seen.

After over three hours, varying degrees of miserable weather, and a quarter tank of gas, I had seen some birds.  But all those metrics are irrelevant in a way, because had I not seen any wild turkeys at all that day, I still had been privy to the small dramas and day-to-day trials of the wildlife that calls the area home, events that scores of people will never have the benefit of seeing first hand.  It was a relaxing, centring experience and for good measure I got a line on some birds.

That evening at my cousin’s stag & doe party after a little bit of ale and a dram or two of whiskey had crossed my lips, I talked with my hunting pals about turkey seasons past and future, the hockey playoffs, life in general, the day’s scouting, and this blog.  My other cousin’s husband Chris (who himself is a very recent, and very enthusiastic, convert to the hunting fraternity) suggested a tour of scouting in the same area the next morning at 7am.  I couldn’t say no even if I wanted to.  And I didn’t want to.

At 9am the next morning, with the countryside under a ¼ inch of snow, Chris came by to pick me up (it was, as I said earlier, a very ‘successful’ stag & doe party).  We travelled the same spots, talked about hunting, bounced some turkey calls off each other, shared some stories, and witnessed a whole new day of wilderness life.  We saw three times as many turkeys together as I had seen the day before, and even thought of some strategies to implement when it comes time in a week to go after these birds.  Then a blizzard blew in, visibility was reduced, and the turkeys sought shelter.

Chris and I decided to go get breakfast.  There were bacon and eggs, hash-browns, and toast, but there was no sign of difficult-to-open-pudding anywhere.

So there it is, opening a pudding cup ought to be easy, but sometimes it is deceptively tough.  Likewise it is with turkey scouting; there are birds out there, and sometimes they show up in the damnedest of places.  But it is not easy, and the rewards are not always as obvious (or sweet) as a spoonful of pudding.

But unlike my ordeal with the pudding cup, there are fringe benefits to be had when crossing the rural and wilderness landscapes by car or by foot, primarily the reward of being a player in the real world toils of wildlife, as opposed to being a passive observer just sitting at home watching the latest documentary about migration on NOVA.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go pre-treat my pants for the laundry.  After all nothing gets chocolate out.

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