Requiem on Doing Things the Hard Way

It’s been a season where I’ve done pretty much everything wrong, and in the moments where I’ve done something right, I’ve been dogged by bad luck and bad birds.

Turkey hunting is like that, and for me it is like that most of the time.

My opening weekend, my crescendo of failure if you will, has already been well documented in this forum, so we won’t relive the ignominy of that weekend.

Yes, I missed. Yes, I still feel awful. No, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

The remainder of my season can be summed up in several shorter vignettes than the opus of mediocrity that my first weekend required.

I flew around Central Canada for the week following the opener, but the second Saturday of May found me up early, watching the weather. Storms were in the offing, and the weather was forecast to be so foul that even my father, a die-hard turkey hunter, declined a hunt.  I went out in the grey, dingy, but thankfully dry predawn and after owl and crow calling with no reply, I set out an Avian-X hen decoy and planted my arse under a broad tree on a local landowner’s patch.  Ten minutes after that a gobbler sounded off…30 yards behind and to my right. As daylight hit, I could see him in the treetop and he hammered again and again. Another bird gobbled 20 yards further away in the same direction, and within minutes hens fired up all around me.  I saw the gobbler fly down through the hardwoods, and he has my well-bred hunting ethics to thank for that. I could have shot him off the limb easily.

His hens and himself moved off, and I went silent for an hour.  Eventually I called a long string of yelps and both gobblers answered. Five minutes later they voluntarily gobbled without my coaxing, and they were closer.  Moments later I saw two black puffballs moving through the woods towards me. I readied my 870, and at around 70 yards I could clearly see that one of the birds was a very solid tom with an unbelievably wide and tall tail fan. As they approached slowly I began to look for openings for a shot, which was really nothing more than a premature hope because four hens promptly intervened between the longbeards and I, marching away and taking the two gobblers with them. The toms gobbled lustily as I pled for them to come back, but eventually they left. I was to experience no other action that day.

The following week found me in the nation’s capital from Sunday evening until Friday night where the whole week found me working by day and dreaming of long bearded tom turkeys by night. My wife and I had plans to head north to the farm early Saturday morning for the Victoria Day long weekend, but I was stung from the previous weekend and I had to give those birds another early morning try.  Once again I snuck in (even earlier than the prior Saturday) and once again I found a broad tree to get cozied up to. The woods were significantly greener by then, but this time no gobbling answered my sweet turkey love songs.  Upon leaving in my car, I was disheartened to encounter two gobblers, including one real beauty of a bird, trying to cross the county road a kilometre from where I had been hunting, and they were moving away from my preferred territory. Again my hunting ethics prevailed as I could have run one bird down with my bumper and easily shot the other off the roadside.

But where is the fun in that, I say?

We headed north and I knew that more hunting awaited me as the rest of my family and several friends were already stationed in the woods. A flash hunt in the afternoon turned up no gobblers although we did have a close encounter with a bearded hen on her nest.  I resolved to once again hunt the family farm the following morning, dawn found me set up in a hollow near a spot we call “The Sumacs”.

Because there are sumacs there.

Not really expecting to hear anything, and fairly jaded from the weeks prior, I was surprised to hear a gobbler sound off the width of 100 acres away (give or take a few acres of course). He was up in a tree and I did a fly down routine that sounded perfect in the natural amphitheater of the hollow I sat in.  The gobbler didn’t like it though, and I heard him gobble his way across one of our fields and then cross into a block on the other side of a county road. Packing up my decoy, I slipped through the bush until I was parallel with the spot I thought he crossed.  Back up in the woods I sat down and called eagerly, and he answered from well across the road and back into a bush lot there.  For a time he actually closed the distance, and I thought that my improbable gamble would pay off.  Surprisingly, after the tom had done some gobbling another bird sounded off, again across the road and the width of a lot to the south. Maddeningly, both birds started gobbling and closing the distance between themselves before meeting up, still across the road, in the bush, and out of sight.

They then proceeded to walk directly away from me on a heading that was arrow straight and due west.

I muttered an unrepeatable curse and went back to the farm for breakfast.

I played with my kids and puttered around the farm all afternoon, my will to hunt thoroughly degraded, but a family barbecue and many hunting stories shared that evening stoked my fires again. Hearing two birds gobbling south of the farm as they went to roost didn’t hurt either.  I was starting to know one of the gobbles by heart and part of me fantasized that the bird I missed in the early season was down there, waiting for me to exercise some redemption.

Now up to this point, one daring blonde coyote and my onerous shooting display of the early season notwithstanding, I had been the victim of the wiles of the game. Hens had flummoxed me, tight-lipped roost birds had foiled me, and the persnickety nature of turkeys at large had humbled me.  But that Monday morning, all the fault was mine.  Rain had once again been forecast, and Dad and I had (what I thought) was an airtight pact.  He had said that he would set an alarm for the morning and check in on me with a weather forecast.  He did neither.

So maybe some of the blame goes to Dad.

By the time I woke and realized it was not raining, I also realized it was quite late in the morning, from a turkey hunter’s perspective at least.  I scrambled into my gear and made the woods just as legal shooting light hit.  I had intentions to make for the corner of a cedar rail fence near a meadow’s edge as it was a spot where birds had been crossing, and I loaded my gun and double-timed it down the trail.  100 yards from the spot I saw the tail fan, or more accurately the back of the tail fan, of a strutting gobbler.  I ducked into a cedar thicket, and luckily I had not been busted, so that was good news.

The bad news was that the bird was strutting fifteen steps from where I had planned to set up.  I muttered the curse again, this time at myself.  Obscured in the cedar thicket, I slowly stalked ahead to a spot where I thought I could ambush the birds. I purred and clucked softly, and while I watched, the gobbler strutted around and bred three of the four hens that were with him.  They passed by me at what I thought was 80 yards or so before beginning to move off.  Getting desperate, I cackled and ran a series of fighting purrs.

Miraculously, two of the hens started working their way over. Then the third showed interest.  Then I saw something I had never seen before.

The gobbler dropped strut and began to run my way. I slowly shouldered the gun as he got ahead of the hens. Then the bird popped into strut while still out range and like a cattle-herder began to drive the hens away from me.  He chased them back across the meadow before the gang of them hopped a fence and went onto another property.  I circled through the woods to a spot that I once again thought would be ahead of them, only to see them walking straight south towards the village of Barrow Bay.

I shook my head, walked back to my car, and unloaded the gun. It was just a comedy of errors, bad luck, and ornery turkey behaviour. And I was ready to give up.

Fortunately, I came down with a wicked chest infection that laid waste to both my work week and to the torturous turkey behaviour I had been planning to subject myself to the following weekend.

Rain storms, and the religious theocracy that refuses to allow my township the liberty of Sunday gun hunting shortened my closing weekend to a mere four hours in the bush.  Not a single putt, cackle or gobble was to be heard.  I just sat under a tree for four hours, avoiding mosquitoes, and talking turkey talk to myself.  A passing rain soaked me, and the rumble of thunder made it official.

I was done for spring turkeys in 2015. So here I sit, perturbed at what the season ended up being but also grateful that I was able to be out as often as I was.  While I write this, a quiet rain is falling, and it is the tail end of the rainstorms that shortened my last day afield.  I have traded text messages throughout the day with my cousin and Dad, both of whom were hunting on the northern Bruce Peninsula for the closing weekend, and it seems that the weather conditions there were not significantly better.  So in a way this turkey season is ending with a whimper.  A wet, rainy, windy whimper.

Still, regardless of how uncooperative they were and how many fits they gave me, being out and observing the behaviour of the birds is as much goal as the harvesting of the bird, but sometimes the kill is just an additional benefit.  I’m learning with every hunt, and the day that stops may be the day I quit.  Every time I get beat, I learn something about how to come after a gobbler the next time, and with every beat I’m a little wiser to the survival skills of the wild turkey.

Dad says the same thing every year, and it is becoming a mantra for me in the turkey woods.

“If they were all easy to kill, there wouldn’t be any left.”

That is true…but just once I’d like to get an easy one.

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