The slate squawks out another series of hopeful yelps, not much like the ones I'd heard earlier this morning sadly. I plead with the call a few more times, but to no avail. A phrase runs through my mind as I sit in the blind-”The best laid plans of mice and men go awry.” I believe it comes from a poem by Robert Burns- “To a Mouse.” The furry little rodents had nothing to do with how my morning was ending this day.
I set out on another series of trailing off yelps from the slate. Nothing.
At the crack of five-ish with sprinkling clouds overhead, I made my way through the dark to my turkey hunting spot-sunrise would be a late today I thought. Perfect, a few extra minutes to set decoys and hunker down before daylight. Hopefully I'd not bust any birds in the roost as well. After crossing a cut cornfield to the edge of a thin strip of woods and cover and about to take that first quiet step to the blind, I startlingly hear it. The unmistakeable haphazard beating of wings and feathers bashing branches from the tree directly above me. Then another, taking flight, crashing twigs and trunks in the opposite direction. So much for a quiet entry. The echoes of their flydown only stopped when they hit the ground a short ways off. I'd been busted, or I busted them-either way, not ideal. I wondered how long they'd watched my dark shape tip toe across the field heading their direction?
With a shrug I went about my business of setting up the deeks and getting comfortable-nothing I could do about those hens now, besides, maybe I could pull them back with some calling if they were in search of each other. Potentially, it could work in my favor if they brought a tom with them? I'm trying to be optimistic here. I contemplate that idealistic strategy in the dark, sipping the first of a tiny thermos cup of coffee and digging out a call to place on my knee. The waiting game was on.
He remained quiet, did his tango silently, just as he had when he moved in an hour earlier. It most likely was him I'd heard gobble far off in the early dawn, and I'd like to think my calling brought him in, covering maybe 40 acres. It seemed as though he'd answer my plea from time to time, but on final approach, he didn't make a peep and he remained that way now. It was pointless to call now, he knew the “hen” was there.
My eyes started to water as they stared unblinkingly at the jet black spot between two trees 60 yards away. The dark daub would seem to move, turn directions, then disappear. Red and white exchanged places with the blotch in that sliver of space between two maples, then a flash of ochre would peek out and then back to black. I could hear the “thump” of a fan being unfurled by the big mature gobbler, being careful to remain half hidden at all times. Eyes strained to see him, but he was winning at this game of peek-a-boo.
Moving a bit closer, but not much, he paraded back and forth displaying and making a spectacle of himself for the plastic decoys he could just see in the field. I wondered why he didn't improve his vantage point, which would put my quarry in range. Nope. His head and neck would stretch high when deflating his posture to confirm the “hen” was still there. “She” was, and he'd start his promenade again in the leaf litter.
Tens of minutes clicked off, I started to hate this bird. Back and forth, back and forth he'd waltz, never closing the gap an inch. Hate maybe to strong a word, for this is hunting, and no animal can frustrate more than a pea size brained turkey it seems. This singular focus on one strutting bird 50 yards away was getting the best of me. He would-not-budge, I wouldn't shoot, just wasn't comfortable with a long shot, so I remained as patient as possible.
The weathered 870 laid coldly across my lap, slate and striker tucked in a pocket. My stare burrowed into that feathered spot making me crosseyed. As his head turned and extended upward, I caught a movement, dark shapes- off to the side. An agonizingly slow turn of gaze revealed 3 confused jakes 10 yards away skirting the decoys. With red heads and pretend tufts of beards, they were bewildered as to what these fake birds were. Understandably, they noiselessly appeared on scene while all my attention focused on the tom. Maybe at the same moment, the mature bird also noticed them-perfect, I mused, he'll charge in and defend “his mate,” offering an opportunity finally. Not exactly.
If one could only figure out what these animals would do every time, in every situation, I guess it wouldn't be a challenge-at this particular moment however, I'd take less of a contest. For whatever reason, he stayed put-not how it's supposed to work. The gobbler showed his best strut, slow walking back and forth provoking the youngsters. Instead of my well thought out harvest plan, they defied me and walked toward the big bird, false yelping and cluck-putting along the way. The woods exploded with some loud gobbles from the tom-he'd show who was boss here, his silent treatment apparently expired. He charged at the juveniles-excellent, “come on back and join them” I think , ever hopeful.
The flapping, jumping and chasing continued but crept further an further away-did they not know my well thought out strategy? Steadily moving away, I got on the call, just to remind them their lady friend was still motionless waiting at the edge of the field. Apparently, it didn't matter-no amount of calling would distract them from marching deliberately elsewhere...together. The 10” bearded gobbler joined the 3 teenagers and made their way...away. Thanks for nothing.
The rain returned and kicked in a bit heavier and brought out the scent of the season of the woods. I wish they could bottle that fragrance, sans the strong garlic smell of the ramps I'd stepped on coming in. The incense of this landscape, along with the spring sounds, are the best part of being out here. But again, I was here to try and outsmart a bird.
The four turkeys had long since wandered off after reappearing a second time for a possible return bout. There had been a lot of downtime after the jakes initially “stole” my tom, but gradually, they'd worked their way north, then east and back near enough that I could hear and see them again. This time, they'd keep their distance and I suspect maybe they'd picked up a real hen along the way. I'd call softly and get a reply, and even thought I saw some interest in their reappearance. I even went so far as to eye up some potential shooting lanes if they got closer.
The first bird in line had a long swaying beard-”that's the one!” I thought. At 80 paces, and plenty of brush and trees between us, I'd have to be patient. I am. Another muted call from the slate and the birds froze, trying to pin down my location. Potential? I tied a few more reserved yelps to coax them nearer.
With eyes strained again, I looked at every opening, searched for any movement, for something...as quickly as the birds had arrived, they disappeared. What started out so promising, just petered out-the turkeys vanishing, off again dang it. I think their return was just to tick me off. It worked, in as much as these things do, but I remind myself it's about being out here, although some wild turkey in the freezer would be good too.
Rain continued and I'm sure by now the hens I'd rousted from the roost are long gone, perhaps joining up with my gang of bachelors. Maybe that stubborn hung up tom finally tracked them down, preferring the real thing over plastic-who knows. It's the last day of my season and I'll just relinquish the battle to the birds. They won this round-next time perhaps my game plan, my strategy on hunting them will pan out differently. Maybe not.