I'd learned a lot the previous two springs, but I really went into my 1997 Wisconsin turkey season with just three tools: determination, scouting time and access to good ground.
For the first time, I'd hunt some gorgeous Wisconsin River-country farmland owned by the grandparents of a longtime friend. Having never been at the place, I took two days off before the season to scout the area. My boss thought that was a bit overboard, and maybe it was, but I wanted to learn everything I could.
I bumbled around the hills both days and located gobblers fairly consistently. I was also extremely careful not to bust any birds. But at the end of day No. 2, I still didn't have a firm idea about where to set up the next morning.
My buddy had told me his uncle typically saw and heard birds on the northern ridge of the property, so I figured I'd listen nearby for turkeys. Sure enough, at false light, a gobble erupted from a tiny finger off the northern ridge. The area was simple enough to access, but there was one small problem: a brilliant full moon.
"Crap, I can't get too close," I thought. "I'll have to slip into the southern ridge and try them from there."
That would have been easy enough, too, if not for the dry, calm conditions that morning. Every footstep sounded like I was walking on corn flakes, so I stopped and reassessed the plan. In the moonlight, I saw the dim shapes of several small boulders, probably left behind by the last glacier 10,000 years earlier. Why not? Trying not to fall and break my ankle, I skipped lightly from rock to rock, eventually ending up at the lip of the ridge across from the gobbling bird.
After that, the rest fell into place. I tree-yelped lightly, and several birds climbed all over it. When they flew down, I yelped softly and followed it up with cutting. Two gobbles cut me off. Then I waited a second and called again. The resulting gobbles were 50 steps away. Wow — they were coming.
I quickly readied the gun and watched two glowing white heads pop into view. Trying to calm my nerves, I focused on the right bird and fired, sending the turkey tumbling down the hill.
As I retrieved the longbeard, a heavy 3-year-old, I couldn't believe my good fortune. My first hunt at the new place was finished in minutes. I must have shot 100 photos of that bird, and at the time, I figured I'd really achieved sho-nuff turkey killer status.
Nothing like setting yourself up for a fall. Thankfully, however, I'd have to wait a year for that reality to sink in.