After returning home from an eye-opening Alabama hunt, I was ready for another go at my home-ground turkeys in Columbia County, Wis. Better, I'd drawn a first-period permit for that unit, so I was brimming with confidence.
Funny thing about the first period in Wisconsin, though. It usually falls in mid-April, and if you've ever been to Wisconsin in mid-April, you know it can sometimes resemble late winter more than spring. In fact, the first morning I ventured into the woods that year, the Turkey & Turkey Hunting office received 5 inches of snow. I was about 120 miles south of there, however, and was greeted by heavy rain.
I waited and called as long as I could stand it that morning but eventually had to quit. I was soaked and frozen. If the turkeys ever flew down, I wasn't there to see it.
The rain stopped the next morning, but a nasty front came in behind it. Temperatures plunged into the 20s, and a 30-mph wind gusted through the woods. I actually saw a few turkeys fly down that morning and tried to mess with a gobbler in a field, but to no avail. The turkey never even craned his neck at my calling and eventually wandered into a small woodlot on the neighboring property — probably to build a fire and get warm.
By the third morning, panic was starting to set in. In those days, Wisconsin's turkey periods ran five days, and you had to quit hunting at noon. If you didn't get it done quickly, you were often in trouble. But I was determined. Or bull-headed. Or both.
The weather had calmed down, and stars shined brightly in the darkness that morning. I slipped into a familiar setup across a ravine from where turkeys often roosted. And when gobbling — the first I'd heard in days, mind you — commenced, I rejoiced.
Of course, turkeys being turkeys, the gobblers hammered loudly at my tree calls and then flew down with hens. They were about 120 yards away, where the hardwoods opened up to a small pasture bordered by a large cornfield. It would have been difficult to move on the birds, so I used the only other tactic that came to mind: I poured the coals to the yelper.
For the next 30 minutes, I yelped and cutt aggressively at the henned-up turkeys, and they gobbled ... and gobbled ... and gobbled. But they didn't move. In fact, they eventually started to drift away from me.
Realizing I only had one shot, I got to my knees and prepared to attempt a long end-around to the north. Just then, however, a gobble erupted about 75 yards to my left. A bird was sneaking in.
I dropped back on my buttpad and readied my gun. Soon, drumming filtered through the woods, and minutes later, a telltale white softball bobbed through the brush. When the longbeard stepped into the open at 20 steps, I clucked once on my mouth call and fired. Hunt finished. Season saved.
As I toted the heavy 2-year-old out of the woods, the other turkeys continued to gobble, and I tried to soak it in. The memory of that sound made me smile the rest of that spring, as I prepared for great new adventures.