It Begins

The western horizon was sliding from a fiery red into a deep purple as we made the turn onto the Cemetery Road, and I scanned the fields for any turkeys that had lingered prior to roosting.  Up ahead, where a bend in the road used to be, I saw two pickup trucks parked facing each other.  It was obvious that the occupants of those trucks were having a conversation, and on closer inspection I realized that those occupants were my cousin and my brother in one truck, and my friend Brian in the other.

Only on the Bruce Peninsula can you count on running into someone you know on the country roads, particularly when the people you know are also out scouting for gobblers.

We pulled over behind them and hopped out, chatting briefly before deciding to make for a small laneway up the road to reconnoiter about what the season had held so far and what the next morning was to bring.  After a few minutes and few laughs, my other cousin called from the farmhouse and said we should all make that way, have a beer, and plan the morning hunts.  Seemed like a good idea to me.

We hit the farm and lit a fire in the woodstove, before settling around the kitchen table and swapping tales of where longbeards had been seen, and where the best chances of a successful morning hunt were to be had.  The most recent information seemed to point to some gobblers in the woods behind the farm, so my brother Donavon, my friend Lucas, and I made a plan to get in the woods early and hopefully hang a tag on a turkey leg.

We made the pre-dawn walk, with my brother going to the south end of the property, while Lucas and I set up on a treeline corner.  Our Avian-X mini-flock of a fake jake and three decoy hens were just shapeless blobs in the gloaming darkness, but as the sun rose to our right, they took on a lifelike sharpness that I hoped would entice Lucas’s first longbeard in for him.  As dawn broke we watched a pair of porcupines chase each other in the field, and listened to the songbirds shake off the chill of the early spring morning.  In a hardwood stand across the road a turkey gobbled, but in the woods behind us, no gobblers sounded off.

Shortly after the ‘official’ sunrise, I yelped a series of soft tree-calls on my crystal pot call before ratcheting up the volume slightly.  After what was probably the third series of calls, a turkey rattled off a gobble from behind us.  A few minutes later I cutt hard and he gobbled again, closer this time.  I set down my call and reached for my 870.

The next time he gobbled it was without provocation from me.  He was closer and shortening the distance all the time.  Lucas shifted slightly and slid his Browning to his shoulder.  I turned slightly, hoping to see a puffed-up tom turkey appear on the scene in moments.  Lucas pointed his finger and I thought he was pointing at a turkey.

He wasn’t.  At first I thought someone was walking their Yellow Labrador on the county road, until I realized there was no person with the dog.  Then the ‘dog’ crossed the ditch onto the farm property and began loping towards our setup.  At that point I realized it was a very blond (nearly white) coyote that was bounding towards us.  I told Lucas to get ready for a shot if it came into range, but at seventy yards the varmint slid off to the south and offered no shot opportunity.  Suffice it to say my next string of calls met with no response from the gobbler.

In frustration, I briefly contemplated calling it an early morning, but then decided to conduct an experiment.  In a real wilderness situation, if a coyote broke up a flock, then that flock would eventually reassemble at the spot they were broken up from, or so I’ve read.

So I resolved to sit silently for half-an-hour before mimicking a reassembly of turkeys.  When the time had come I began with some soft yelping mixed with kee-kee calls.  To my surprise, ten minutes after my first series of kee-kees a gobbler sounded off in nearly the same position as it had all started from before the coyote busted the hunt.  I yelped and kee-keed again and two birds responded.

We were back in the game.

Once again the gobbling continued, but this time the two birds hung up.  At one point I could hear them drumming and walking over a ridge directly behind us, but they were spooked now and they never came into range.  Eventually they made a wide circle behind us and went down into a hardwood-surrounded hollow to the east.  Lucas decided to make a move on them while I was hoping to call them into an ambush.  As Lucas made his move, he said he found fresh coyote scat before actually bumping the same blond coyote in the hardwoods.  The coyote took off towards the birds and again we were busted.

I texted my brother telling him we were wrapping up the ill-fated morning and we made for the local breakfast spot.

Over an omelet and some coffees we related stories from the morning hunt and planned our afternoon of running and gunning in some spots that we had always had success with before.  The plan was to circle the township roads and set up in spots where we had permission.  Sometimes we were just prospecting, but more than once we snuck in, put the decoys out, and put in an hour or two of calling.

We had no luck on a couple of initial setups, but as we circled a local block we saw two longbeards in the shade of a treeline.  Knowing we could hunt the block we circled far ahead of the birds and snuck in ahead of their expected course of travel.  Donavon and Lucas set down at the base of two broad trees forty yards in front of me, with the goal again for me to call the birds into an ambush.  With my first series of yelps and cuts, the two birds hammered back, cutting me off in mid-series.

It looked like a lay-up hunt.  Which, if you’ve turkey hunted for very long, you know is a myth.

Things got eerily silent after that, and although I tried soft clucks and purrs as well as aggressive raspy yelping, the birds just would not respond.  Concerned that they were sneaking in the back door on us, I slipped into my vest pocket and pulled out a crow call.  A blast on the call made them slip out a single gobble, but they were now ninety degrees removed from where we had first heard them.  They were making a big circle away from us.  I yelped harder and more plaintively, hoping that a desperately lonely hen could pull them over for some action, but again they stayed mute.  Sticking with what worked, five minutes later I blasted the crow call again.

They hammered back, having almost completely skirted around our position. A few minutes later I heard some nearby clucking and whining as it appeared the birds had completed their circumnavigation of our setup and crossed the road into an adjacent property.  We packed up and headed back to the farm, beaten, but not discouraged.

Over a meal of fresh hamburgers made with two pounds of ground venison, a pound of butter, and some garlic and onions, we re-experienced the day’s hunts from our own unique perspectives.  Others trickled into turkey camp and we once more shared the day’s experiences with them.  With the gear hung and the guns stowed in anticipation of the next morning hunt, we made another drive into our favoured turkey hunting haunts and got a line on birds for the next morning.  The plan was to have my uncle take my friend Lucas into a spot where a very mature gobbler was holed up, while I was going to try a revised setup on the birds that we had worked that very morning on the farm property.

Back in camp after roosting birds, we sipped a chilled whiskey and went over a bit of video footage from the day, including video of the coyote busting our morning hunt.  Get Out & Go Hunting will be expanding into some video content in the coming months, and this turkey season is the dry-run of some of the tools and formats we are hoping to have success with.  There was already an apparent learning curve, but the initial results were raw yet promising.

Shuffling off to our rooms, we were keenly aware that the 4am wakeup call would arrive sooner than we expected; settling into my creaky bed, I clicked off the light.  I was hopeful for morning success, but blissfully unaware of the excitement and heartbreak that the next morning would hold.

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