Frustration in Spades—Saturday, April 30th, 2011

When we last left off, I had mentioned that for the last three spring turkey seasons, I had managed to get a turkey to gobble at a location not far from the cabin that serves as home base during the November deer hunt.  Despite my best efforts in the past few years, I had been unable to close the deal on any gobblers there though, and had frankly never even laid eyes on a bird at that location.  I had seen tracks, heard gobbling, and spent many hours trying various strategies on the elusive birds in that area (calling a lot, calling a little, not calling at all, trolling the hardwoods for sign, etc) but to no avail.
My uncle had spoken recently with some members of the group that owns the property, and had secured permission for us to hunt the spot.  He had also confirmed that there was still a fair bit of gobbling going on at the cabin and in the surrounding area.  My uncle let me know that some of the owners of the property were going to be in the cabin over the weekend, so to avoid disturbing them in the early morning, I set my sights on a likely spot in a slightly overgrown field with a few promising ambush points.
Getting to this particular spot entailed a ten minute drive and a twenty minute walk, so I set the alarm for three-quarters of an hour earlier the night before.  When it went off at 4:20am, I was fairly certain that I was insane for doing this.  My hunting partner Lucas thought the same and let me know so.
There was a heavy frost on everything, but no wind blew, and no clouds obscured the stars of an early spring morning or the scimitar blade of the crescent moon.  It was the kind of still Zen-like quiet that turkey hunters (and perhaps all hunters for that matter) love.  We loaded the car and set off.
We parked on the two-track gravel trail and unloaded in silence.  With whispers that still seemed to echo in the still early morning air I ran down the plan.  We’d walk for about ten minutes back to the field and set up against the perimeter and call.  We set up with Otter Lake to our right and hardwoods that stretched to our left.  Three times before I’d had audio on turkeys here, and I felt like with an extra set of eyes and ears with me, we could get something good to happen.
After a leisurely but purposeful walk along the trails, we sat against a couple of trees and waited for dawn to break.  The air was empty of wind and man-made noise, and the distant yips and howls of coyotes floated across Otter Lake.  A short while later, still in the blues and greys of dawn, a loon called plaintively from the marshy lake and a more distant compatriot answered.  Softly at first but building to a raucous crescendo some Canada geese began to cluck and moan on the water.  Chickadees, sparrows, red-wing blackbirds and crows woke up around us, and a soft nearby rustling of leaves betrayed the movements of a small rabbit.  It is truly a rare experience, to have the wilderness wake up around you, and to dwell within it once only makes a person starve with longing to experience it again.  I almost didn’t care that the gobbling calls of turkeys failed to ring through the still morning.
As the blues and greys of morning became the vivid, gold-burnished shades of a sunrise in the woods, I slid my hickory striker across the roughed Pennsylvania slate of my pot call and was startled by the realistic clarity of the notes that rang out from the instrument and echoed through the stands of maple, ash, and beech.  Although a proficient caller, I’m convinced that the morning air improved the sounds of my calls more than anything attributable to practice or operator expertise.
Not getting an answer from any lovesick turkeys, I cranked the volume up steadily with each series for the next two hours.  Lucas pitched in as well with yelps and excited cutting on his box call, but this was all to no avail.  My foot had fallen fast asleep while we had sat there, and the tree against which I leaned was causing some complaints in my lower back (this getting old is hell, I tell ya’) so I decided to walk the country a bit.  I updated Lucas on where I was going and where I would turn up when I returned so as not to surprise him.
I walked out of the field and down along the edge of Otter Lake, spying ahead on the shoreline a pair of Sandhill cranes.  A raptor of some variety wheeled high and away out over the lake, and all I can be sure of is that is did not have the shallow “V” wing profile of a turkey vulture.  Aside from that, it could have been any kind of local raptor…in 2004 a bald eagle watched from a dead tree near the lake as we set up our deer camp, so there is even an outside chance that it was a descendant of that majestic bird.  Who knows?
As I walked, and as the feeling returned to my lower extremities, I looked closely for any signs of turkey activity, but also kept a sharp eye for whatever other creatures may have been stirring around that lovely morning.  I heard the far off drumming of a ruffed grouse, and as I walked it grew in volume.  In short order I spied the culprit.  He was standing, strutting, and drumming on the door frame in a skeleton of a cabin that was started but will never be completed.  I watched the little drummer and snuck to within twenty-five steps before he made me as a threat and blew off the door frame in a whirr of wings.  Continuing on I found the bill and fore-skull of a mallard, but not much else.  Clearly something had made a meal of this bird once, and this was all that remained.  Later, I stood and smiled up at a comical porcupine, one of the largest I’ve yet to observe, as it tried to make itself comfortable in the high crotch of a sickly looking tree.  He looked very healthy and seemed to pay no attention to me, instead remaining focused on finding a balanced spot up so high.  I moved on, leaving him relatively undisturbed.  If the buildings at the deer camp are ever being damaged by porcupines, I may have to answer for not shooting this specimen, but that morning I was after wild turkeys and since this fellow was a very fair distance as the porcupine waddles from the nearest useful deck plank or cabin wall, I saw no reason to harass him with anything more than a quiet giggle at his incongruous bulk as it perched high up in that spindly tree.
Every once in a while I’d sit down and yelp on my mouth call, waiting for a gobble to cut the morning air.  No such thing ever materialized.  Making my way back to the field I picked up Lucas and we began our walk to the car.  A hundred yards or so from where we had set up I saw a swath of turkey feathers on the ground.
Looking down at the frost covered feathers, all I could say was “Something or someone killed a turkey here recently.”  I picked up a feather and looked at it.  It was the feather of a male bird.  My heart sank a little bit.  A little further along, by the edge of the trail, I spied an unnaturally green, small object.  It was a 3 ½ inch Remington shotgun shell, that was once loaded with #5 shot.  Now I was certain that a turkey had died here, and it had died at the hand of a turkey hunter like me.  While I and my family and friends claim no exclusive rights to hunt the area, I was unaware of any other turkey hunters that would be frequenting the place, so I was a bit puzzled. 
When we came into sight of the cabin, I saw the dogs rambling around out front and noticed a couple of the guys were out front, so I sidled over and said a polite good morning.
As it turns out, one of the owners of the cabin was a turkey hunter (not really surprising) and that he had taken a tom out of a group of three that had come to the same field the evening before.  I was glad that my plan, in theory, was vindicated as potentially successful, but just a bit down that someone had beaten me to the punch.
That is not to say I begrudge anyone their success, far from it.  I am not one of those hunters that claim some kind of “ownership” of the turkeys I hunt.  If someone else, but especially the rightful owners of the property, shoots a gobbler there, I don’t feel that they’ve killed “my” bird.  I’ve met enough hunters who think that way, and I find them generally distasteful.  But still to quote Charles Elliott I can often say that I’ve listened “for the sound of the other’s gun—hoping all the while (I) won’t hear it.”   What really had me steamed was that neither of the two remaining gobblers in the vicinity had come to pay Lucas and I a visit.
I heard the story that the man told, we’ve hunted geese together once or twice and he is a sportsman of some renown and pedigree, and I congratulated him on his bird.  He told me of other spots he’d heard or seen gobblers, but I was in the mood for breakfast, as was Lucas I think.
Lucas’s cell-phone rang as we got back to the house, and it turned out that my cousin (also named Lukas…but spelled differently) had managed to connect on his first bird, a jake, that morning.  While we waited for them to arrive for some handshakes, story-telling, and photos, we enjoyed some bacon and eggs (again).  As we waited for what seemed like an inordinately long amount of time, I enjoyed a light, post-breakfast nap.
Finally the crew arrived with my cousin Lukas, his brother Dane, their brother-in-law Chris, and my friend Tack…“Tack” being short for Tackaberry, which happens to conveniently be his last name.  Lukas held his bird high, and lo and behold, Chris had a jake-bird in tow as well.  Seems they had gotten onto another bunch of jakes and had whittled one out of that flock as well.  The serialized stories of both these hunts will appear here in a near future edition of Get Out & Go Hunting.  For now here is a picture of the two happy huntsmen.
(L-R Lukas West, Chris Chatterson.  Chris’s jake was marginally bigger.  Photo by Lucas Hunter.)
This was great for both of them and it put me in mind of my first turkey as well, so we chatted and dressed the birds out, and had grand old time telling lies and stories to each other.  With two turkeys down, the afternoon was going to have to be pretty productive to match the morning.  Overall, it was a bit of a bust.  We put some miles on running and gunning the Bruce Peninsula from Spry to Dyers Bay…frankly it was mostly “running” as the turkeys weren’t co-operating.
We saw some wildlife, including a good-sized bear and some hens, but we were coming up short in terms of the gobblers.  We stopped in to rattle off a few calls at a place where a mutual friend has some property, and found a hilariously ironic sign that I am yet to receive a photo of.  This gave us a good laugh.
Eventually, Dane and I got a visual on two good-sized birds at the distant end of a field we had permission to hunt, and attempted to sneak within calling range.  After being set up for a while with no response we got up and moved closer to their last sighted whereabouts, hoping to get a visual on where the birds had moved to.  As it turns out, they had just disappeared…gobblers sometimes do that.
We wrapped the day up, and I had to get back to Cambridge on Saturday evening, so we had a quick dinner of sausage on a bun, threw back a couple colas, cleaned the house up and hit the road.  It had been a frustrating weekend that had started with promise, but that had ended with Lucas and I getting skunked…and not even hearing a gobbler in the process.
But as we drove south down Highway #6 and looked to the east as we passed through Mar we saw a strutting gobbler and five or six hens, which made me think on the positive side.  After all, it was just the first weekend of what will be a few this turkey season, and I’m sure it won’t be long before I get on a gobbler.  When I do, I’m sure I won’t have any problem remembering the details to share with all you readers.
And hopefully those memories will be created tomorrow morning in the Halton County Forests.  We’ll see.

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