Meridian Star

Outdoors

April 11, 2014

Portraits of defeat

MERIDIAN — We turkey hunters must have a suppressed need to be frustrated because we suffer a lot of it and still keep going back for more. We get up at three in the morning, wade through snakes and briars in the dark, sit perfectly still for hours while mosquitoes puncture our bodies and we do it day after day in March and April.

    Mostly we perpetuate failure. Our perceived skills, coupled with more luck than we like to admit, yields a bagged gobbler once in a while, but most of our days afield end in frustration; healthy diversions from life’s troubles, yes, but frustration nonetheless.

    Not only must we hold the wild gobblers responsible for foiling us on most days, but often we take our undoing into our own hands. Among numerous personal examples of such self defeat is the time in Kemper County when I had a hot tom sounding off just after daylight by giving him just one quiet tree yelp as he screamed his first calls of the morning.

    I had a great set up, what with the opening of an old road bed lying between the gobbler and me and within easy gun range. I relaxed and waited for fly down when I figured a couple of shy clucks would bring the old monarch stalking in to my trap.

    But when the gobbler flew down from his roost and I called to him, he began walking away from me, as smart ones often do. I quickly picked up my gear and headed into the thicket on a circuitous route to get ahead of him.

    A few parting gobbles assured me that he was headed away. I tore through thick brush, fearing the noise would spook the bird. When I reached a spot I hoped to intercept him, the rascal gobbled right back where I had been set up! The underbrush was so thick I could not get back to the clever gobbler without spooking him, so I just stood there and listened to him gobble in the opening, right there 25 yards from where my shotgun muzzle should have been pointed had I stayed put and not been duped by another tricky tom turkey.

    Another example happened in southeastern Wyoming in the edge of the Black Hills. As a young companion and I watched at sundown, a flock of Merriam's turkeys ascended a rocky ridge covered in ponderosa pines. I knew the turkeys would roost on the mountainside. When we heard them fly up to roost, I urged the youngster to go straight to their roost tree and scare them to flight by shouting and firing his shotgun. The turkeys would scatter and be forced to roost separately making them anxious to get together the following morning and thus calling constantly to find each other.

    Turkeys so flushed instinctively head for their original roost tree when the danger (or darkness) has disappeared. Before first light the next morning, my buddy and I arrived at the roost tree. It was so thick in the area that I suggested we take a stand in the meadow below at the mouth of a canyon where I had seen at least one of the flushed gobblers fly after the flush.

    We hid in a small depression and watched the woods line where I expected the gobbler to emerge, anxious to get back to his willing female friends. I, with my flawless calling, would become a surrogate and the enamored suitor would come dancing to my impersonations. My young friend would bowl the lovesick tom over and tell everyone who would listen about my keen strategy and impeccable calling.

    As soon as the assembly calling began, that gobbler charged out of the canyon and headed straight for us, my pleading calls urging him on so fast that he didn’t stop to strut, instead stumbling and tripping as he dodged sagebrush clumps that lay in his way.

    Suddenly, when the bird was just 50 yards out, one of his real hens called from beneath the roost tree. That tom put on brakes, wheeled to the right and tore off uphill for the roost tree. He joined the others there and they left for parts unknown.

    That gobbler remembered something that I had not. “Gather at the spot where you were last together.” We learned one turkey hunting lesson a little better, and poured another serving of frustration into an overflowing cup.

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