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October Odyssey

Fall gobbler from Turkey & Turkey Hunting MagazineIt was a beautiful October afternoon in northeastern Wisconsin when my wife and I grabbed our bows, quivers and backpacks and walked to our favorite deer stands.  The 2000 fall turkey season was just a few days old, but the cool, quiet day was much more conducive to deer hunting.

However, that didn’t stop Tracy from asking the inevitable.
“When you go turkey hunting in fall, do you go for a hen or a gobbler?” she asked.

“Yep,” I responded.

Tracy smiled. If it meant more meat for our dinner table, she knew I’d slap my tag on whatever came along first.

To the Woods

After crossing a familiar creek and sneaking to the edge of an alfalfa field, we glassed the field to make sure deer hadn’t shown up early for dinner. They hadn’t.

Tracy indicated she would head to her favorite ground blind alone. I wished her luck, and reminded her to watch the wind. If it kicked in from the east, she’d have to pick up and move to another spot to avoid spooking deer.

Meanwhile, I headed for a tree stand we had hung a month earlier. It was at the southeastern corner of the field, offering great views of the field and the neighboring woods.

Three hours in the tree stand without seeing anything but squirrels must have turned my mind to mush. I had long entered the trance most bow-hunters experience while sitting stone-like for hours. My eyes stared deep into the woods, but there was no focus. I saw nothing but a dark green haze caused by a sea of red pines.

Then it happened. The corner of my left eye caught a dark flicker about 100 yards into the woods. Shifting slowly, I focused on the spot. Within seconds, I learned the flicker was jet black, at it was heading my way.

“Turkey!” I gasped, “Wow, that would be cool.”

I soon realized the black blob had a friend, and both blobs had beards like dress socks.

Although I was perched 20 feet up in an oak, my spring turkey hunting instincts shot into gear. Don’t move a muscle. Squint hard. Be ready for a shot.

The gobblers were approaching on a well-used deer trail that wound through new pine growth so thick that it would almost be impossible for them to see me until it was too late. If they stayed on the trail, they’d step into an opening just yards from my stand. The first bird wouldn’t know what hit him.

Moral Dilemma

Ambush a mighty gobbler? How could I dare kill a bird that hadn’t been duped by a call or at least purposefully hunted?

Oh, I could dare, thank you very much. Dare to do it with a smile on my face.

If compassion entered my thoughts, I certainly don’t remember it.

This was a wild turkey –– one of the smartest critters in the woods.

Besides, how often can a bow-hunter get drawn on a turkey without being busted?

As the gobblers continued their frantic pace, I started fabricating the story. I had found the gobblers a week earlier while scouting. They were feeding heavily on acorns. Yeah, a bumper crop.

Then I snuck up on ‘em. Then cut ‘em off at the pass. Then I did some kee-kees and purrs. That really fired ‘em up. Fired ‘em up real good.

But, it was my lost-gobbler yelps that sealed the deal.

Yes, my buddies would have a difficult time believing I did that and went bow-hunting for turkeys on purpose, but I figured that part of the story could be crafted on the way to the check-in station. Besides, they’d have to believe me. How else would I arrow a gobbler in fall?

Getting Close

The gobblers didn’t stray from the deer trail, and they stepped within 30 yards of my stand as I shuffled my feet on the steel platform and pivoted my hips and shoulders toward shooting lane.

The gobblers were about 10 yards from the opening when they put their heads down and stepped behind a brush pile. Perfect timing, I thought. My bow was already up and pointed toward the spot.

Exhaling slowly, I flexed my shoulder blades and pulled the bow-string in slow motion.

Busted.

Unbelievably, the birds stopped in their tracks, and one let out a single, heart-piercing putt.

Struggling at half draw, I tried to grin and bear it. The tactic worked. Although the birds didn’t come any closer, they didn’t spook either.

The lead gobbler putted twice more as  he and his buddy made a cautious retreat to the pines.

What Could Have Been

The close call was all the excitement I could have asked for that afternoon. Settling back into my stand, I realized fall turkeys are meant to be hunted. Even if that meant ambush from the ground, the only way to outsmart old toms like those was to think like a turkey and put myself in position to escape their radar eyes.

Oh well, the afternoon was still young, and deer were bound to show up. It was time to get back to the task at hand –– acquiring venison for the freezer –– and save those longbeard dreams for another day.

Two hours passed when things got interesting. Turing to watch the field, I notice two does had exited the far woodlot and began feeding on alfalfa. Before long, I notice movement at the field’s edge. A small 6-point buck was working a licking branch over a scrape. The deer were 150 yards from my stand, but there was a chance they’d wander into bow ranger before shooting time expired.

However, as the minutes ticked by, I realized my chances were dwindling. That’s when I heard something walking slowly to face the tree, I stretched my had around my bow hanger to get a better look.

Turkeys!

Unbelievably, the gobblers were again approaching my stand, this time on a deer train to the north. Despite my earlier blunder, the longbeards were determined to make it to the field.

This time would be different. I would draw my bow early and hold it until one of them stepped into range.

The birds closed within 40 years when I brought the fletchings to my lips. Although the birds were determined, they weren’t stupid.

Instead of pacing along at the steady clip they used before, the gobblers stopped every few steps and craned their necks to survey the treetops. They were on to me, and there was nothing I could do about it.

The lead gobbler closed within 25 yards when he stepped behind a small pine. Struggling to hold the bow-string back, I started shaking.
“Putt!”

Like before, the birds didn’t low-fan it out of the area. They merely retreated to the woods. They were more vocal this time, putting incessantly until the sun dipped below the tree-line.

No More Foolin’ Around

Why those gobblers didn’t booger to the next county is beyond me.

Although I have messed up on spring gobblers only to kill them later in the morning, I had never before been picked off like I had that fall afternoon. They might have known what I was, but those gobblers certainly knew I didn’t belong up in that tree.

When darkness blanketed the woods and field, I climbed from my stand and met Tracy at her ground blind.

“See anything?” I asked.

“Yeah, a couple of does,” she whispered. “One was getting real close, then something spooked it. She ran about 50 yards then stopped and kept looking up at your corner of the woods. You didn’t get down early, did you?”

“No,” I replied sheepishly. “I didn’t move a muscle. I don’t know why that doe would’ve spooked.”

“Hey, honey?” I continued as we walked to our truck. “I think I’ll bring the shotgun tomorrow morning. It’s supposed to rain, and I have a feeling those turkeys will show up in the field when it stops.”

Tracy smiled again. She didn’t know what went on near my tree stand that afternoon, but she knew darn well it had something to do with turkeys.

Miserable Morning

Daylight was at least an hour away as I slogged across the dark field with shotgun and portable in hand. The rain, which started at 5 a.m., was still coming down hard, but that wasn’t going to deter me from trying. I’ve sat through many spring storms while waiting on field-roaming gobblers.

My plan was simple: Hide myself at the field’s edge and bunker down for a long sit. The gobblers were coming to the field for a reason, and I was bound to get a crack at one of them if I was patient.

Calling it a Day

It’s funny how hunts are often remembered by seemingly insignificant moments.

Cold raindrops streamed down the brim of my cap as I looked down at my wristwatch, which read “7:58 a.m.”

In two minutes, I would have been sitting still for three hours. My body was stiff, but I vowed to hang in there for at least a little while.

“Another half-hour,” I thought. “This ain’t worth getting sick over.”

Then, no sooner did that thought enter my mind, I watched a black squirrel scurry up a nearby pine tree and begin barking.

That could only mean one thing: Something big was approaching.

Relaxing my muscles, I slouched deeper into the blind, pushing my lower back into the we ground and bringing my knees closer to my chest.  Shotgun atop my left knee, I steadied the barrel toward an opening in the weeds.

A sudden gust swirled leaves and misty fog into the field, momentarily taking my focus off the woods. When my eyes returned to the woodlot, I saw the unmistakable black outline of a turkey.

They bird had just stepped off a deer trail into the field.
I tracked it slowly with the shotgun’s barrel while pressing my diaphragm call to the roof of my mouth.

“Cluck!”

No response.

“Cluck- CLUCK!”

Ditto. The bird continued feeding across the field on what I later learned was a bumper crop of caterpillars. After several anxious moments, I leaned forward and shouted, “Hey!”

The gobbler finally lifted his head, and I pulled the trigger.

A Revelation

No, my first successful fall hunt didn’t include the drama of calling in a turkey after scattering a flock. Heck, in the end, my voice proved more deadly than a few perfect hen clucks. No matter.

A little perseverance and a lot of dump luck allowed me to kill one of the biggest gobblers our area had seen in a long time.

The bird weighed 22 pounds, sported a 13-inch beard and had one spur that was just a few whiskers short of 2 inches.

Even more amazing, that gobbler’s buddy is still out there.

Wisconsin’s Fall turkey season opens soon, and I’m hoping to receive another tag.

If I do, I can guarantee I’ll go bow-hunting for deer that day. After all, I wouldn’t want to jinx myself.

 

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