Turkey Hunting. The woods are quiet but alive today. The forest breathes calmly. The blind seems to inhale and exhale.
I’ve watched the roof expand and deflate for hours. The sun is rising higher and melting the last remnants of frost away. The warmth gives me a second wind and refills me with patience. Time to call again.
My turkey vest has two calls in it and I believe they are getting worn out. Maybe the Turkeys are just sick of hearing them? This isn’t my first hunt of the year. Trips to North Carolina and Michigan left my freezer empty and me wanting. I’m hoping northern Indiana provides some thrill but so far nothing. I’ve tried the diaphragm plenty and gotten quite good at it. I like the sound I’m getting. Tight air seal, tongue slightly against the reed, “chip,” “chirp,” “chop-chop,” “chalk-chalk.” I try again and again using different cadences, volumes, and pitches. Nothing! Switching to the box call..
I’m new to turkey hunting and the challenge of these elusive birds has caught me by surprise.
Ever since I was a kid I have been a fisherman. I’m used to fishing. I don’t often go long periods without reeling in a bass or landing a mess of bluegill. I have learned out on the water that when I do get skunked and return with nothing to fry up that my time hasn’t been wasted. Experience has taught me that time in the wilderness revives us.
Stresses of life are put at bay by nature. Some of my best times on the water or in the woods have been so rewarding because it was quiet or because I witnessed some unexpected beauty. A family of Pileated Woodpeckers, a storm on the horizon, a moment of silence, or a conversation with a buddy. These are lessons I remember while I wait.
So far this season all of the toms that have come close to encountering me have remained alive in these fields and forests. The wind rustles the blind again and I can’t help but consider that I also feel more alive.
A short season of different life rhythms, reduced obligations, and the peace of the outdoors has been revitalizing. All the nights lying awake in excitement for these hunts have not been wasted. Sometimes this point of view is needed to help you persevere through to the end of the hunt. Besides, after hours and days of hunting I know I haven’t given any birds a dirt nap but I also don’t know what tomorrow brings. Potential is one thing that is a constant on any hunt. Possibility keeps renewing my excitement.
I’ve chosen one hen and one jake decoy in hopes I can attract a hen or a tom. I expect that if a dominant hen comes into view she’ll bring a gobbler into range. While staring out at my proud decoys I notice a scent of wild onion or maybe even ramps.
Ramps grow in the eastern United States and have a garlic onion flavor that would be perfect for a wild turkey dish. They are very pungent and their aroma seems to permeate this neck of the woods almost mocking me, “I bet you can’t down a turkey,” they say! I don’t even want the ramps without the turkey. Together they would be an incredible pair.
Conversations increase in the woods as the morning creeps on. I’m quiet but there is a scurry of squirrels that are working some family issue out. More and more wildlife is awakening and animals are going about their day. A rabbit just ran across my view. Rabbit and ramps might be good?
I don’t know the rules or season for hunting them so I guess I have to pass. Crows are landing in the trees to my left and cawing at an unprecedented rate. It would be easy to be tempted into a crow shoot but I have to admit that crow pie, even for this outdoorsman, isn’t something I’ve been craving. The crows are relentless, like a mob of protestors shouting insults into the woods.
A seasoned hunter would have realized at least the possibility that the crows were not just “crowing” randomly but maybe have been heckling some turkey nearby. This thought wasn’t on my radar until I heard the gobbling. Crows are clever birds and I’m fairly certain I heard one mimicking a turkey call. It was easy to confirm there was a tom sounding off as well. Scouting the roost the night before has paid off and this tom flew down from his perch, wings flapping vigorously, directly in my view about 60 yards out at the edge of the timberline.
Presented before me was my best opportunity of the season. This guy was gobbling his brains out and headed my way directly towards the kill zone. Periodically he would stop and check his surroundings strutting his stuff and fanning out a bit as he made his way towards my hen. I gave my best shot at gobbling on the box call to entice this male in but honestly, he was pursuing no matter what.
The moment finally came when this gobbler stretched out his neck and I stopped him in his tracks with a tight spray of number five-shot. I finally got my bird. What a beauty with his patriotic head and a fan of feathers displaying copper, a green iridescence, bronze, gold, and hints of red.
I have always loved the outdoors. But I probably don’t fit the normal hunter mold. I’m often content in the woods if all I shoot with is a camera. Even without the thrill of the kill, I would have harvested what I was after. The wilderness experience never fails to bring the life that I need.
I plug into the wild to recharge, reorient, and reimagine. It prepares me for the next run of responsibility I have as a leader, a husband, a dad! I am ecstatic that I can gather up some wild ramps on the hike back to the truck. I’m thrilled that the turkey slung on my back is DEAD! And I’m thankful that the woods have refilled me and reminded me that I am ALIVE.