Yesterday evening I encountered a good problem to have. When I posted about my work thus far for my turkey hunting essay, something didn’t ring true with the words I had written. I thought I had written something else about these birds. Then I found those words. I will include those below, the second half to my notes that I had written in a different location and had yet to combine with my notes I posted yesterday.
Now that I have these two sets of notes in one spot, I’ll keep you updated on how they advance. Again, for you nonwriters, hopefully Fowler or Farrar will post something interesting soon. For the rest of you who find this at least a little bit interesting, let’s see if I can find any gold in all of these words.
Hunting Nebraska’s “Almost” Bird
I despise turkeys. And I am not alone in my hatred toward this overabundant Nebraska big game birds. Ask a certain Commission waterfowl biologist who shall remain nameless (Mark Vrtiska), and he will tell you that he too has a disdain for this vindictive, absent-minded, yet hard to kill bird.
Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time in the field hunting turkeys will marvel at their eyesight. I have been “made” by a turkey, meaning I have been seen by a bird, from as many as 200 yards away. A twitch of the head, a shine from my gun barrel, it’s all the same. When they see you, you know. For they start running, quite suddenly and quite animated, as if they are straight out of a child’s cartoon.
But that is not the only way they leave. I was recently talking to a non-turkey hunting friend, who was recalling the time he “almost” shot a turkey with his bow while deer hunting. “They were moving right toward me, at least a dozen of them, and they got within about 50 yards of me before they just started to veer away from me, across the field. They never ran, never spooked, they just walked in the opposite direction.”
“They made you,” I told him.
“No they didn’t,” he said.
I persisted. “They did. No doubt about it.”
Because that’s what these birds will do. They’ll pretend they’re not looking in your direction, and with eyes, set on the sides of their heads and able to see __________ degrees around you, they’re always looking.
But I don’t think that’s the part that frustrates me most about turkeys. I’m okay when geese flare when we’re not hid well, and I’m okay with a deer that keeps a 150-yard radius from my bow stand and then disappears once he gets downwind of me, and I’m even fine with a big bass spitting a crankbait, and its 6 or 9 hooks, back in my face mere inches from my hand. Yet having a bird make me at 150 yards after I scratch my nose, and then watching one peck a glass window senseless after trying to attack its own twin, is a bit much for me to take.
I can’t even keep up with the amount of birds who have just happened to stay out of gun range, gobbling each call I’ve made, but unwilling to step further. Or how many I’ve seen who have absently gobbled when a truck has driven across a bridge, and walk within 15 yards of me.
I’ve also shot a bird, watched it roll over, stand up, and run away. In hot pursuit, with a jammed gun, I ran after the bird only to watch it fly away as if it had never been shot.
I knew turkey hunting was for me when a friend of mine, who is scared of snakes, spiders, raccoons, possums, and all other sorts of critters, told me that he was wading across creeks to get to potential turkeys on the other side. This was coming from the same friend who once, while he was a police officer, refused to walk in a dark school building at night after a police call because he was scared of the dark.
I knew turkey hunting was for me.
It’s relatively warm, I always hear birds, and the woods are alive that time of year. Last year, one morning I arrived in the woods at 3:30 in the morning. I was bound and determined to get as close to the roosting tree as possible without being seen. And while shooting time wasn’t for another 2 hours, time went by fast once birds starting gobbling, less than 75 yards away from me. I never saw the toms, who continued to woo every hen in the woods to spend the day with him. Once they were on the ground, they of course walked in the opposite direction.
I called, they responded. I called again. Another response. We did this for nearly forty-five minutes after daylight, but the birds failed to move closer. Their return calls only trailed longer. Then I saw why. Through the woods, across a creek, and into a cut corn field, were five toms with at least 20 hens I had no shot, and would be stuck spending the rest of my morning watching this group of toms go away from my lone, rusty-sounding hen from my locale.
Then I saw the group of turkeys begin to suddenly run back toward the creek, with may flying back into the woods where I was located. Upon a closer look, a coyote and a badger, running in tandem, were trying to catch them a morning gobbler for breakfast. But their failure, so I thought at the time, would lead to me getting a shot.
At least 10 birds flew back into a tree about 100 yards away, and we again began talking back and forth. Call. Response. Call. Response. Until the group flew back down, and began to walk away from me again before flying back across the creek.
So, like any other insane turkey hunter would do, I started crawling through the woods in an attempt to head the birds off. I crawled through a patch of stinging nettles, across a muddy, wet, creek with very poor footing, and found myself on the edge of a cut corn field nowhere near the group of 20 birds who were now moving left to right across my vision at least 100 yards away. By the time I would be able to head them off down the field, they would again be gone, probably farther away than they currently were.
Then I saw something to the left of me through my itchy and sweaty face. A lone tom, trying to catch up to the flock, was 45 yards away from me. Seconds later, I shot, ending my hunt on the edge of the corn field with a 20 plus pound bird in my hand and an empty vest, a vest that before my crawl through the woods had contained one box call, two slate calls, three mouth calls, a dozen heavy load 4s, camouflage gloves, facemask, and bug spray.
I spent the next hour trying to relocate my equipment.
That’s another problem I have with turkey hunting. You are hunting a bird that will refuse to get out of the way of your car while you’re driving, but will often refuse to respond to one call but come readily in to another call. A bird that at one moment convinces you that you are the dumbest person on earth, while during another makes you feel as if you are Daniel Boone. It’s too much of a roller-coaster ride for me to handle on most days.
But I still continue to go.
With Nebraska’s overabundance of turkeys, it’s a great time to start despising them yourself.
I’m convinced that it’s okay to dislike certain parts of nature. Sure, everyone in my business speaks about the love they have for the species they covet. Pick up any outdoor calendar noting the pictured species and the words “majestic” and “__________” and “_________” will be included. When is the last time that an outdoor calendar has been entitled “___________Whitetails” or “_____________” or “____________”.
Any famous writers talk negatively about animals???
Turkeys have character, Matthew Marx recently told me. “They announce their location before sunset so that every female within a square mile can hear them. Then they sleep in what we would consider the most inhospitable of circumstances. After what can’t be a good night sleeping, they still wake up before dawn, again announce their location, only to respond even louder if a potential rival is in the vicinity. Then, from the time he gets on the ground, he repeatedly gobbles and puffs out his feathers. Once there, despite doing his best to stay around as many hens as he can during the day, the sometimes finds himself alone in the middle of the day.
This point is probably the most curious related to the turkey. How could someone be so boastful, so conscious of his surroundings, only to have his main objective, those hens around him, to disappear. But I would be remiss if I didn’t confess that many of these hens do run away.
The time when the tom finds himself alone is also the time that many hunters favor hunting toms. “Easier to call in,” one will tell you. Once a lonely tom does walk, or even run into your decoys, a hunter is apt to see a turkey attack a decoy. Maintaining the bravado he has shown throughout his entire day, he will jump and down, stabbing his would-be plastic victim with his knife-sharp spurs. Paying no attention to the texture differences between a ____________ and feathers, skin, and meat.
Turkeys keep me up at night. They force me to call in sick to work. They pull me away from my life-long love, fishing. They make me cranky to my wife, child, and extended family. They force me to clean my shotgun more than I would like. They teach me unique ways to swear.
I despise them more than any other game animal.