The Sorry Tale of a Turkey Season Lost…Almost

So exactly ten weeks ago today I broke my leg.  It wasn’t some kind of gruesome, traumatic, wretch-inducing injury, but it was, for the lack of a better term, crippling.  Absolutely no weight bearing for six weeks and a slow rehab process that will ultimately stretch out for another six weeks on its own made for grim prospects come turkey season.  Luckily surgical intervention was not necessary and I was fanatical about obeying doctor’s orders.  That, and the unexplainable fact that I seem to have re-strengthened the leg very quickly led to me actually attempting turkey hunting twice in late May.  Maybe I just have a strong psychological desire to experience hubris…who knows?

In the weeks I had not been hunting, much had gone on.  My friends on the Bruce Peninsula had gone on a spree and had taken down four or five nice birds, and my Facebook and Twitter accounts were full of others sharing their experiences in the great weather and outdoors.  I was getting (dare I say it?) jealous.  By mid-May, I was very committed to getting a hunt in.  On a more cerebral note, also in the time off that I had, I came to appreciate a number of things.  First, there are no people in your life that are more important than the people who take care of you when you are sick or injured.  My gratitude to the family, friends, doctors, nurses, radiologists, and so on that put up with me.  Second, it is easy to get into a funk of negative thought patterns and believe that you’ll never be able to do the things you love in the same way again.  That is false, or at least for a semi-serious (but complication-free) injury such as my own it is false…so perhaps I’m just fortunate.  Third, if you are going to break your leg, try not to do it while your wife is 37-weeks pregnant; the feminine sense of humour can only be stretched so far before it becomes simmering wrath.  And lastly, returning to something you really love doing after a long lay-off from it is invigorating and downright fun.  This is true both of turkey hunting (which was superb, even though it was bird-free unfortunately) and my chosen career, which I am lucky to enjoy immensely and missed while I was off for over a month nursing a broken peg.  I was happy to be back doing both.
My brother and I made it to the gate in the dark, but it was not going to be too long before dawn broke the way it only does on May long weekends in Ontario.  I had given myself ample, ample time to get around in the bush that morning, for even though the area was not particularly robust in terms of its terrain, the absolute last thing I wanted to do was tweak my leg in the dark…that would be most unfortunate and lead those in my life to question my relative intelligence.  And it would probably hurt, bad.  Slowly skulking to my chosen tree, I will admit that I had a little bit of mist in my eyes.  I’m not at all religious so it wasn’t gratitude with a higher power I was feeling, but it was an appreciation for all the loved ones and anonymous medical staff alike that had selflessly seen to it that I could be recovered enough to enjoy a turkey hunt in the still, temperate, breaking dawn of the Victoria Day long weekend.  Barely a whisper of breeze blew, and the coliseum of hardwoods amplified the whisper of cotton camo pants, and the (only slightly) labored breathing of this hunter as he moved along.  Eight weeks of sedentary convalescence had not been good for my already limited cardio.
In the dark I trimmed myself a little bower of solitude into the side of a verdant row of tree limbs and twigs, and then made myself back comfortable against the broad tree, preparing for what I hoped would be long sit culminating in the opportunity to punch my tag on a Simcoe County gobbler.  Saying a reverent apology for what I was about to do to the pristine predawn stillness, I raucously fired up my barred owl call.  For twenty seconds or so I ran through the standard “who cooks for you?  who cooks for you aaaaallllll?” routine with no shock gobble forthcoming from any cagey toms nearby.  As the sun rose to push into hiding the twilight’s greys and deep blues and likewise welcoming the rosy and golden hues of morning, I slipped my owl-hooter casually into a secret vest pocket.  As the crows around me began to wake up their world with raspy music, I chomped down on my crow call and joined in, mimicking their every note and reveling as I joined them in making the unholiest of rackets.  Still not a peep slipped from the beak of whatever gobblers might have been roosted in the surrounding trees.  The crows formed ranks, in the way that crows always do, and begin to wing their way off to some arcane meeting place that only other crows have ever known about, and as the area grew quiet again I did some tree yelps and fly-down cackle.  In time I brushed some twigs and leaves with my hands and did a louder string of assembly yelps.  As I brought the raspy ladder of yelping to a conclusion I thought I heard something a long ways off.  Two or three crows calling at once in a discordant fashion has always sounded vaguely like distant gobbling to me, so I passed that sound as nothing more than a few tardy crows chasing after the mob that had left the vicinity mere minutes before.  In time I yelped again and did some moderately excited cutting…with no gobble in response I was certain there was nothing nearby to answer me.
The woods and meadows around me progressed in their reveille and I smirked as chickadees, orioles, cardinals, and a host of other songbirds and winged creatures began to flit about around me.  The calm, warm dawn promised the eventual arrival of mosquitoes, especially if the later part of the morning brought with it no breeze to keep the little bloodsuckers at bay.  I guess mosquitoes have to eat too, I just wish they didn’t have such a penchant for puncturing parts of me.  It is my blood and they do not have my permission to take it.
I brought my knees up towards my chest and was pleased at how little my right leg was complaining about this whole thing.  I leaned my Remington 870 against my formerly broken appendage and thought about how I had dusted my first gobbler from exactly this same position on exactly this same property.  Feeling the need for extra volume, I slid my box call out of its holster and dragged the lid across the sides, with some effect if I do say so myself.  Looked down on by some as a ‘basic’ call variety, I have always loved the tactile pleasure of working a box call.  You can literally feel the sound waves travel through your hands and up your arms as you delicately work the box and hinged lid; the visceral feeling of turkey music early on a spring morning as it rings through your head and torso is an experience unmatched by any other in hunting, at least in my estimation.
As I thought about just how damn perfect this morning was coming along, the esoteric tranquility was shattered, but not by the strident gobble of a turkey with amorous business on his mind.  No such luck.  Unfortunately for me, it was the rattle of a big tractor engine, followed by the metallic bounce of farm implements jaunting across the field.  For two hours the owner of the immediately adjacent stretch of land tilled the soil, rendering my sense of hearing void and creating a scene that no turkey would likely come jogging into investigate.  My brother was along some time later…right as the tractor pull was drawing to a close.  We had not given ourselves much time to hunt that day, and I had to soon be heading down the highway with my family.  I planned to be back in a week’s time.
A week later and the weather and morning were just as perfect.  With my brother working, my Dad and I planned a run and gun through a few Simcoe County Forest spots where some wild turkeys had previously met their demise in the hopes of at least one of us attaching some gaudy yellow paper to a gobbler’s leg.  My alarm going off at 4am woke up my wife, who rolled over long enough to mutter something derogatory about my relative sanity.  I kissed her softly on the cheek and headed out to meet up with Dad.  Pulling into my parent’s driveway at 4:30am, I was pleased to see the lights on and the stirrings of Dad preparing for the day.  We hopped in Dad’s Jeep and made for the Simcoe County Forest tracts northwest of Elmvale.  It was still decidedly gloomy, but starry, when we parked at our first stop.  Dad hopped off the trail at a spot where he had before taken a gobbler, and I went up to an intersection of roads that had always just had that “feel” about it.  If you hunt, you know what I mean by the “feel”…it is just a place that seems like a likely spot to harvest game.  In this instance it is a stand of hardwoods with some good low cover to keep you hidden, but enough openings to go give a hunter a shot at the head and neck of a turkey.  There’s a big maple tree there that is so form-fitting and comfy that it may as well be a sofa to boot, which is always nice when you’re going to sit still for a few hours.  As I walked to the spot, I saw a single turkey track in the sandy trail, and that gave me hope that I’d get at least a close encounter with a bird.  The morning was even calmer than the previous weekend’s hunt, and it just felt like a day to sit still and listen, so it was well after daybreak before I pulled a hickory striker across a piece of Pennsylvania slate.  I clucked and purred and yelped on my pot call for some time and once again thought I heard the faraway response of a gobbler.  Since nothing showed up, but Dad heard it too and he’s nearly deaf from decades of shooting so I know I’m at least not going insane.  I heard a far off hen fire up a couple of times, and was able to identify a pair of scarlet tanagers whisking their way along the low understory, but still I was unloading my gun “the quiet way” back at the Jeep.  We went up to another spot on the Wildman Road and this time saw a half dozen good (fairly recent) turkey tracks skirting the road back and forth in the mud.  As Dad went east and I went west to our respective spots I came across the distinctive j-shaped droppings of a male turkey.  Further on I walked past a dusting spot and some more turkey tracks.  If nothing else I was happy that there was wildlife in the area.  I also found a spot on a crossroads where a coyote had deposited a few week’s worth of scat.  A territorial signpost if I ever saw one.
I briefly considered relieving myself there just to mess with old Mr. Coyote’s head, but I had not toilet paper and time for turkey hunting was a-wasting.
Reaching my second stand I began to call on my Woodhaven Calls Copperhead2 mouth diaphragm.  It usually sounds halfway decent even in the mouth of an operator as clumsy as I, but on that still morning as I sat in a clearing near a pine stand it sounded great….to me.  No turkeys came for a visit and not a single gobble rang out in the greenery, though so what do I know?  A while later Dad and I reconvened and made for one last sit at a tract on one of the Flos Roads…I’m not sure which…but let’s just say I’m glad we finished with that one.
This particular spot had undergone some recent logging and aside from being snaggy and littered with blowdowns from the skidders rolling through, it was muddy and had some overgrown skidder trails that were just itching to turn my ankle over and put me back to square one on the recovery trail.  It was also a bit on the swampy side, which at about 10am on a sunny, breezeless, Saturday on the last weekend in May makes me nothing more than a handsome piece of mosquito bait.  Oh well, we all suffer for what we love right?
My now complaining ankle and I set up where two reasonably open roads intersected and Dad retreated back behind me and started working his old Quaker Boy box call.  It’s the only call he’s ever used, and I can’t argue with the results.  He’s shot a dozen birds or so in the last decade and they’ve all been inside 30 yards (or so he says) so when he wants to do the calling, I don’t get all uppity about it.  Half an hour in, something began mimicking Dad’s calls from a position well behind us…since we hadn’t seen any other hunters, footprints, or vehicles I could only presume it was another turkey, but since we made no visuals on the noisy culprit it remains an open case.  An hour in and my ankle was frankly throbbing, and even one as averse to complaining as I had to admit that this had shifted from turkey hunting trip, to a ‘get back to the vehicle without requiring a visit to the emergency room’ mission.  I was also getting thoroughly chewed up.
Back at the Jeep on level ground and away from the hordes of biting insects, I slid the same three shells out of my old Remington and, with a hint of resignation, zipped the weapon back up in its case.  Dad and I had a good chat on the ride home, and the day (hell, the whole weekend) remained sunny, temperate, and beautiful so I had no real reason to complain.  Sure, it would have been really nice to have had a close encounter with a wild turkey this spring, yet it was not to be, so instead I went home, had a nap with my month-old son, and just enjoyed the rest of the things that make my life pretty good.
Waterfowl hunting is in less than three months around these parts…so until then I’m just tinkering with gear, practicing my calling, going down to HuntFest in Orangeville come July, and generally trying to find a way to not break any other limbs between now and then.  I’ll be stopping in here a lot between now and then.  Make sure you follow on Twitter @getoutandgohunt and check back here often.

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