When the sun warms the earth and pollen coats everything in yellow, I know that the time change is a-coming. I ride my bike year round, so it only means that I get to be warmer when riding . . . but what it also means . . . turkey season is in full swing! Just this past Friday, a group of students came up to me doing a school survey about what we, the teachers, were doing during Spring Break. Riding my bike and turkey hunting was my reply. Yes, it can throw a wrench into the weekly milage for a bit, but when you are walking 10-12 miles in hilly terrain, it still keeps the heart rate up.
So today the wind was blowing like a fat man in a 5K, and I knew that calling was almost useless. I use a slate mostly, but I also thrown in a diaphragm every now and again for varied pitch in my calls. In this kind of wind, I always go to my plan B. Turkeys, in general, do not like the wind, especially when it’s howling. It causes too much noise in the woods and their hearing is taken away, making them susceptible to coyotes and bobcats. As a result of the handicap, they move to open areas to rely more on eye sight.
I approached a large green field and immediately spotted three hens moving about, feeding and pruning feathers. I crawled to the edge and set up to watch them. Many times I’ll watch turkeys feed and mill about, without every taking one, maybe because of age or distance of shot. Of course, these turkeys were hens, so they’re not to be taken anyway. It was now that I was resolved to sit and watch them. This show continued for about an hour. The hens fed out then back in and back out and down behind a small slope. I checked my phone and shifted my seat. As the ladies came back over the rise, there were now five of them . . . wait. Two of them aren’t ladies. One was a jake, but the other was a hoss. The big one stood back and followed from a distance, while the jake chased the girls a bit (until one of them smacked him around).
My heart was pounding. It felt like I was climbing a hill at a 15% grade on a 25 pound Wal-mart bike. Now, I started to panic a tiny smidge. Why? The ladies were leading the fellows back over the hill and away from me! Oh, by the way, they are all about 75 yards from me (too much even for my 3.5″ magnum 12 gage). For a flash, I thought about crawling out and down the hill, circling around, and catching them on the backside. But first, let’s dance. I pull out my slate and bump a cluck and medium pitch yelp. The big boy looked immediately in my direction. The largest hen did too. They all froze. The wind was still slamming the tree tops. The biggest hen took a step in my direction and another and another. She was coming, and everybody else was falling into place, with Big Tom pulling up the rear. Now, they were at 60 yard, then 50 . . . yes, I can hit at that range but no need to chance it.
Understand that this is not easy, at all. I now have 5 sets of VERY good eyes looking in my direction. I snap my safety off, but I leave the shotgun down. The ladies all walk by, heads bobbing like teenagers with earbuds in but very, very alert; then the jake bounces by, just like a goofball one-year old. The gobbler is now at 41 yards. He didn’t get this big by being stupid. Slowly I bring the gun up. When it makes it to the pocket of my shoulder, the Tom is at 37 yards. I take a deep breath and release it slowly. My sights fall on the part where his neck attaches to his head. He’s still walking. I squeeze. The roar of the shotgun leaves him flopping on the ground and turkeys scattering in all directions. I’m up and on him. When I make it to him, I cannot believe the size of him! He’s the biggest I ever taken. Later, I weighed him at 29 pounds with a 10″ beard and 1.5″ spurs! He was definitely in his prime season. The jake will take his place. This will be a story and a meal to remember.