By Jack Spaulding
When it comes to mismanaging one’s time, I really outdid myself this year in fouling up my turkey hunting. Between work, a round of food poisoning and family commitments, I missed the opening day, the first weekend and the second weekend of the season. For a turkey hunter, this only leaves the final days and the downward slide of the mating season with hard hunting and little prospect of taking a tom. As my good friend and turkey hunting mentor, Bill Barker said, “Late in the season, it sometimes comes down to just dumb luck and being where a gobbler walks by.”
I picked Bill up at 3:15 a.m., and we swung by to get his son-in-law, Chris Nelis on our way south. By 3:40 a.m., we were headed to Switzerland County, and hopefully a chance encounter with a tom turkey or two.
There are two major risks you can meet running the secondary state roads toward Vevay. The first is a late-night loser coming off the riverboat gambling casino, and the other is deer … lots of deer. The early morning run was true to form, no apparent gamers on this trip, but two separate encounters with herds of deer.
Bill and I would be hunting together in a wainscot ground blind, while Chris would hunt the far side of the farm. Rain was in the forecast, but Bill felt we would have at least a two-hour window following dawn with no rain. The dark starless sky looked a little ominous, and there was not a hint of a breeze.
After Bill crossed the gate into the pasture, I handed him the Mossberg 835 and swung my leg over the metal gate. Rather than forego using my black powder gun, I was borrowing Bill’s 835 to make sure any shot fired would be effective. My black powder gun 12 gauge was good to about 25 to 30 yards. Bill’s 835 with its tight turkey choke and loaded with a 3.5 inch magnum would make a deciding shot at 45 yards. Stepping out into the wet grass, we started the quarter mile walk along the pasture’s ridge toward the blind.
The setup Bill had put together was textbook perfect. The blind was tucked slightly back into the timberline with a clear view of both the pasture above us and the strut zone inside the timberline below us. Bill had been in the same blind the weekend before while I was at home on my couch, sweating out the prolonged effects of a bad sandwich. At dawn of the middle weekend of the season, a tom flew down from its roost and landed a mere eight feet away from Bill. The bird turned and immediately went to investigate Bill’s “Pretty Boy” and hen turkey decoys set up in the pasture. He spent the next hour and a half filming the tom trying to fight the decoy staked only 20 yards away. He smiled as he commented to me about the encounter, “Since this bird stayed within 20 yards for an hour and a half, I think even you could have killed it.”
As dawn broke, we soon realized the hot roosting zone in close proximity to the blind wasn’t the location last weekend’s gobbler had chosen to spend the night. In the graying light, we heard two toms gobbling from the roost. Both birds were a substantial distance away.
Sometimes turkey hunting is a waiting game as much as anything. The area around the blind was a prime travel corridor, and a feeding bird might wander through. By 7:30 a.m. the toms went silent. Even Barker’s most coaxing calls from a commercial slate call wouldn’t bring a response to break the quiet stillness of the woods.
As Bill worked the call, it did result in a response from a flock. No, not a flock of turkeys, but a flock of cows. The landowner had just turned a large herd of cows loose in the pasture, and they had come over to investigate all the “turkey talk.”
Bill had left a tail fan used on the “Pretty Boy” plastic turkey decoy lying in the grass, and one cow was mesmerized by the spread of tail feathers setting upright in the grass. As the cow was staring at the tail fan, a breeze moved it ever so slightly, and she snorted and stepped back. She continued to closely watch the tail feather fan for at least 45 minutes.
Suddenly, the stillness of the woods was broken by what sounded like a head-banger whacking on a bongo with a hickory stick. In a dead tree 40 yards away, we watched as Indiana’s grandest woodpecker, a pileated woodpecker hammered away at the rotten wood looking for its breakfast. The crow size woodpecker was the star attraction of the day.
As the sun swung high overhead and noontime approached, we gathered up the blind and decoys and headed back to the truck. No shots had been fired in the course of the day, and on this trip we didn’t see the first turkey from the blind. No bird, but one thing on which we both agreed … it was a great day to spend in the woods, watching nature at its finest, laughing at Bill calling in the cows, and enjoying a morning afield with no rain.
Readers with questions or comments can contact Jack Spaulding by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to him in care of this publication.
This farm news was published in the May 24, 2006 issue of Farm World.