Category Archives: 2015 turkey odyssey

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.

It Continues in the Morning

My alarm barked out and it felt like just moments earlier I had laid my head on the pillow.  I groaned and rolled over to silence it, then dangled my legs over the edge of the bed and slid on some socks.

4:20AM. Why did it have to be 4:20AM?

I checked the temperature outside and slipped into my turkey hunting uniform.  Warm socks, light shirt, camo pants.  The stairs groaned the way they always do in the old farm house, almost as if they were likewise complaining at being called into action at an hour so ungodly, but as my head cleared I became sharply focused on the task at hand.

There were turkeys in the trees behind the farm, and I intended to coax one into shotgun range.

I had a piece of toast and then re-inventoried my equipment.  License & tag? Check.  Shotgun shells? Check.  Various and sundry turkey-noise-making instruments? Check.  I was ready to go.  Walking out the door I wished my friend Lucas a good hunt with my uncle.  They were after a very mature bird in a spot that my uncle had permission on, and rather than crowd the joint I had the previous evening resolved to put a hunt on the birds on the farm property.

My other uncle had indicated that they had gone into the hardwoods adjacent to what we call ‘the hollow’ the previous evening, and I had a good idea of the lay of the land in there from a lifetime of experiences on the farm as well as from recent deer hunts in that exact area.  I trudged slowly and quietly throw a planted field, and reached a point of forest that forms the western treeline of the hollow.  I owl-called and not hearing a response from the immediate area, I moved quietly down a skidder trail into the enveloping darkness of the hardwoods.  It was 4:55AM and just the tiniest slivers of predawn light were filtering their way over the eastern horizon.  I placed one hen decoy on the skidder trail and moved about twenty yards away from it onto a ridge.  I found a great spot against a broad rock on the ridge and to my surprise it was a very comfortable seat.

I looked at my watch and it read 5:02AM.

For the next fifteen minutes I was absorbed into the dusky wilderness.  The soft titterings of songbirds rose around me, and a light breeze tickled my ear, but the overall silence was king.  It was not an oppressive, heavy silence but rather a calm edged with anticipation.  I closed my eyes for a few moments and when I opened them again the bleary nighttime had taken on cleaner resolution.  I thought about the morning to come and, like most turkey hunters, I imagined the various ways that the hunt might go down.  The contrast between the darkness in the hardwoods and the apparent increase in daylight on the adjacent field made me second guess my setup momentarily.  Then my doubts were erased as raspy gobble thundered from a treetop to the south of my position.

Just over a hundred yards south was a green cedar stand and it appeared that the gobbler was roosted in the hardwood surrounding those cedars.  He gobbled again, and I checked my watch.  It was just about 5:25 in the morning.  Initially, nothing answered his gobbles and a part of me hoped that he was a bachelor that particular day.  If I can help it, I’d rather not compete with hens for a tom’s attention.  Unfortunately after his third or fourth gobble from the roost, I heard a hen fire up.  Softly at first, but soon she was rasping away as well, bringing more distinct hen voices from their slumber as well.  I reached into my pocket and pulled out three shotgun shells, placing them in my lap.

I also slid the newest addition to my turkey calling arsenal from my vest.  The Woodhaven Cherry Classic crystal call took a resting spot beside my left leg, and after retrieving a striker I made a soft tree call.  The gobbler cut me off immediately and a hen yelped loudly over top of my calls.  Thinking that picking a scrap with the loud hen might be a good strategy I yelped and cutt and when the gobbler thundered she again called loudly over top of my series.  I waited for her to call again and this time I cut her off with a string of raspy, aggressive yelps and clucks.  She cutt hard and shouted me down once more, and the longbeard double-gobbled.  I set my call down, confident that both gobbler and hen knew exactly where I was.

The only conundrum now facing me was that I had to load my gun.  At the allotted hour I softly slid open the 870 action and with a delicateness of hand reserved for handling fine chinaware and newborn infants I placed a shell in and slid the action closed with a firm but quiet ‘snick!’’ Two more shells went into the gun smoothly and a few moments later I heard the birds fly down.

As soon as the birds touched ground, a hen riot the likes of which I’ve never heard erupted.  There was yelping and cutting and purring and flapping and more yelping.  Some sort of battle royale was going on a few ridges over from me and over it all the longbeard gobbled lustily.  I turned my left shoulder towards the racket and brought the gun to ‘ready’ position, fingers poised over the safety.  My pulse was pounding and my head was whirring with imagined visuals, such is the effect these birds have on my frail constitution.

A few moments later I heard running in the leaves and hen yelps growing near.  One hen, followed by a straggler went through an opening and made their way down a slight hill towards my decoy on the skidder trail.  The trotted up to the impostor hen and began yelping and purring, all the while circling and staring at the fake.  A couple of more hens fed slowly down that way as well and before long there were five or six hens on the ridge side and trail, all within thirty yards of me.  Then I saw the gobbler.

He was out of range and following the hens.  This time he wasn’t gobbling.  He was drumming and it was the clearest and most audible that I’d ever heard.  He dropped behind a bit of a ridge and my hope was that he would cross the same opening I had first seen the hens through.  A few moments later I saw the top of his tail fan over a ridge top immediately left of where the required opening was.  I estimated him to be about thirty-five or forty yards away, and he was strutting and spinning on the spot.  Most importantly, he was not offering me the slightest of shot opportunities.  This went on for what felt like a half-hour but was more realistically ten minutes.  My arms were comfortable and my left elbow rested on my left knee, but my breathing betrayed my motionless.  I was nearly panting with excitement and adrenaline pounded in my brain.  I needed him to take just a handful of steps to my right and he would be wide open and in range.

In the meantime, while I was pleading a psychic message to this gobbler, the hens had grown weary of bullying my decoy and when I cut my eyes right I could see that they were starting to move away.  To my dismay their movement was not past me to the fields as I had hoped, but along their backtrail deeper into the hardwoods.  About this time I saw the gobbler’s tail fan disappear, and knowing he had dropped strut and was likely leaving the hens, I had a moment of panic.  I clucked hard on my mouth call, but nothing happened.  I cackled loudly and he gave me a full periscope shot, but all I could see was his head, neck and a thin line of black feathers above the hilltop.  I had one blaring, conscious thought in my head at that moment.


Instinctively obeying that monologue command, I raised the bead ever so slightly so that it was in line with the point that his jaw met his neck.  I squeezed the trigger and what sounded like cannon-fire echoed in the still morning air.

The bird jumped and started running, and the hens putted and sprinted off.  I leapt down the ridge side in a bound and ran twenty yards up the trail, passing my decoy before running back up to the spot where he had been standing.  I saw the faintest outline of a gang of wild turkeys necking their way through the hardwoods and disappearing from view.   My watch read 6:25AM.

I said some bad words.

Looking down I saw the leaves that the rapidly departing gobbler had kicked up and on close inspection of the area I didn’t find one speck of blood or a solitary black neck feather.  It became immediately apparent that for the second time in my turkey hunting career, I had blazed a round of copper-plated lead clean over the head of a gobbler.

I said some more bad words.

First I cursed out that lousy, hung-up gobbler, then the skittish, ornery hens and finally, and perhaps most accurately, about the gaping failures I exhibited myself.

Every move and decision I had made that morning put me in a position to succeed, until the ultimate action was upon me and then I had cocked it up.  It had been a picture perfect hunt and I failed in giving it the ending it so rightly deserved.  I was pissed off, utterly.

I knew that my Dad was across the county road and that he’d have heard my shot.  I knew that he’d want an explanation.  I knew my buddies were going to ride me mercilessly over this one.  I was right on all three accounts.  Worse than the ribbing of family and friends (which I have been taking all my life with grace and aplomb) was that although part of me knew I could not have played it differently, the self-loathing inherent in turkey hunting told me I should have waited longer and he would have crossed into a full opening, or that I should have let them walk and tried to circle them, or that all my poor decision-making had done was educate a gobbler and a bunch of hens, making them supernaturally more difficult to kill.  At the time it was hard for me to see it any other way than in the negative.

For their part, no one else had succeeded either (although none of them had thrown a few ounces of lead shot aimlessly into the forest either) and when I got back to the farm and had cooled down, we decided to head for breakfast.  My cousin Dane and his brother-in-law were out on a run-and-gun for a bird, but my brother, my uncle, my friend Lucas, and my friend Brian had all come up short on tagging a morning bird.  We headed to the diner for a bite to eat and as I stepped into the diner parking lot I looked down to see my cellphone ringing.  It was Dane.

In a flash hunt, he and his brother-in-law Chris had struck a longbeard and Chris had drilled the gobbler as it snuck in to investigate Dane’s calling.  So at least the morning wasn’t a total bust.  It was a nice hefty bird, maybe three-years old, with a solid beard and nice sharp spurs.

A very nice Bruce Peninsula gobbler. Photo Credit: Lucas Hunter

We had some coffee, toast, bacon, and eggs and I was forced to re-live my failure of mere hours prior.  We also all took in the tale of Chris’s bird and we laughed at the inimitable embellishments and narration that only Dane can provide.

With bellies full we headed back to the farm for photos and to clean the bird.  A short rest later we planned the setups for the rest of the day.

The afternoon seemed primed for redemption.

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.

The Longest, Loneliest Mile & Other Metaphors Forced by the Desperate Turkey Hunter

There is a time in every person’s life when anticipation crosses over from simple forethought into obsession, and for me that time is now.  Worse still, it is a recurring experience that happens at least four to five times a year.

Opening day has passed and I was not out there for it.  I’m cooped up inside, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about.  The exigencies of career and family often conspire to keep me home for several opening days a year, and this week it was the spring turkey season opener that I spent in a boardroom instead of nature’s amphitheatre.

We tell ourselves convenient lies meant to assuage our anxiety, and I’ve heard them many of them and told them pretty much every one.

“The hunting is better later in the season.” Says one hunter.

“Everyone is going to be out on opening day…it will be less crowded if I go later.” Opines another.

Yet another states assuredly that “It is too early in the year, so the birds won’t be responsive until it warms up.”

One frustrated individual cries that “Birds are still henned up in the first two weeks, if I give them time the hens will go to nest and the gobblers will be out searching for a mate.”

“Opening day is just a day like any other” mutters a disaffected miscreant in the corner.

Now most of those lies above contain a kernel of truth, and yes I have hunted early season days when birds are henned up, hunters are everywhere making all kids of racket, and gobblers are silent.

But to say that ‘opening day is just a day like any other’ is as blatant a fabrication as one can blaspheme in the springtime and in my humble opinion it has no basis in fact.

Opening days in general, but especially in spring turkey season, are a turning of a page, and a renaissance of the hunter’s spirit.  After a long, grim winter (and we know more about that in my neck of the woods than many would care to admit) the oncoming verdure of the spring signals the renewal of life.  If human existence could be said to be represented by the seasons, with autumn and winter embodying aging and ultimate death respectively, spring can only remind us of our childhoods and of salad days when we were carefree and full of youthful exuberance.  Missing out on these moments shortens our proverbial ‘lifespan’ in the woods, and brings us closer to the moribund purgatory that is the off-season.

That dreaded off-season is a time that (although cyclical) is really just one of a virtual ‘hibernation’ if you will.  Sure you might get out in the woods and hike around, maybe you look for shed deer antlers, or perhaps you go to the range and keep your shooting skills honed, but you’re really just fooling yourself into thinking that you are in some way connected to hunting.  Because you see, if the off-season is a metaphor for a marathon, those winter days of idle busy work are the early miles of the race.  As the off-season wanes, any delays in starting the season are really the equivalent of that last, long, final miles that we run in pain before breaching the threshold of a finish-line.  And even though I can’t be alone in my ordeal, it feels like the most solitary and isolated mental state one can inhabit.  I know there are others suffering with me, but nobody else quite understands what I’m going through. I’m limping to the end of this proverbial race all alone and only by virtue of endorphins and my own stubborn will.

I can see the finish line, but I’m not getting there fast enough.  Story of my life.

But soon this will all resolve itself because in spite of my petty mental weakness and inability to escape the advance of my turkey hunting separation anxiety, the steady march of time plods onward.  Eventually I’m going to walk out of my office and the only thing in front of me will be the drive to turkey camp.  The music, the laughs, the early mornings and the rampant expectancy of a gobbling bird.  The hits, perhaps the misses, and the celebratory meals and beverages.  The stories that we’ve told over and over again, the repeated fabrications and lies, and the time spent under a tree on a bluebird spring afternoon.

I may even have a siesta in the May sunshine, which is a delight so pure and unadulterated that it borders on the illegal.  The trials of career, world politics, and modern society will be far, far away.

And then maybe, just maybe, while I snooze with a soothing springtime breeze caressing my hair and a diaphragm mouth call wedged firmly betwixt cheek and gum, a tom turkey will fire off a distant gobble.  I’ll methodically rise from my dreamlike state, and cradling my shotgun, I’ll seductively call back to him.  With any luck, he’ll gobble harder and begin to head my way.  He’ll winnow his way through the trees, or maybe he’ll break into the open from a field edge and the sun will make him glow in that iridescent purple, copper, and emerald way that only a spring afternoon can.  He’ll strut and drum, before spinning his way into range, and the turkey gods willing, I’ll rest the front bead of my barrel on his red throat before launching a salvo downrange.

He’ll go down and I’ll soon get to lay my hands on him.  I’ll hold his beard in one hand, and thumb his curved and keenly sharp spurs with the other.  I’ll fan out his tail and smooth out any feathers that may have gotten mussed in the hunt.  I’ll heft him up and feel the weight of his life, thinking about what his days were like before I was privileged enough to take him home to the roasting pan or the deep fryer.  We’ll take pictures and I’ll smile in the giddy way that all turkey hunters ought to when they get a chance to put a tag on the red legs of such an animal.

It will be exceptional.

As you can see, I’ve got it bad folks, and getting my butt under a tree in the spring is the only cure.

Wish me luck.