The sun slices through the morning haze, illuminating the white landscape below, and I see them.
They’re just blobs at first; shapeless yet unmistakable, seemingly motionless atop the endless crust of snow. As my truck approaches, I make out their beards dragging along the ice and see their heads hunting for long-buried corn kernels. At first, I only spot two. Where’s the third one? Ah, got him. He’s hanging back by the woods, poking around for food or just doing whatever else a gobbler does during a frigid January morning.
I’ve come to know these turkeys well — I guess as well as any passerby could. For years, I never knew they were there. Then, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation decided to reroute a major east-west highway, and the new road happened to border a beautiful chunk of cropland and timber.
During one of my first trips along the new highway, I spotted the trio — they’re inseparable — of longbeards strutting in the newly planted field. That discovery wasn’t remarkable, of course, because folks in turkey country see roadside strutters all the time. However, these gobblers got my attention because the marshes, CRP fields and small woodlots in this chunk of Wisconsin had been pretty well turkey-less until then.
After that first sighting, looking for the Gang of Three became a highlight of my daily drive to work. It seemed as if they were always there, morning or night, strutting, feeding or just acting like turkeys. Every now and then, I’d spy a hen or two in the neighborhood, and inevitably, the boys would be strutting hard for the local girls.
I lost them for a while the next winter. Maybe they wintered at a different spot, or perhaps they had a hot food source on the other side of the woods, away from the highway. But come March, they had returned, strutting in the field like nothing had changed.
I watched them often that spring, even while driving home from turkey hunts elsewhere. Surprisingly, seeing the carefree gobblers never brought a frown to my face, even if the turkeys I’d been hunting had done me wrong.
Sometimes, I wondered if someone was hunting the Gang. I never saw any evidence of it, but I couldn’t imagine that such visible gobblers would be left alone for long. Still, none of them ever mysteriously disappeared, and I never saw anyone near the little woods.
That summer, the boys seemed especially visible, and they had lots of company in the form of hens and poults. Apparently, they’d had a busy spring!
I still see turkeys near that woodlot and in the field, but I’m not sure the original Gang of Three is still around. It’s been a few years, after all, and turkeys — even seemingly unhunted ones — don’t live that long. Still, their descendants have done well, and on a warm spring evening, they fill that little field almost to capacity.
I’ll never hunt those turkeys. Nope, I’ll never run a call and hear them gobble, nor slip up to that field edge and spy an old longbeard strutting in the morning haze. They’re safe from me, and I guess I don’t mind that.
Somehow, it’s just nice to know those birds are thriving. Seeing them always renews my anticipation for the coming spring and gives me hope for the renewal of wild things.
Here’s hoping those birds stick around. Without them, the drive to work would be much longer.