Thursday, June 6, 2013

Using Fowl Language: Spring Turkey 2013

Spring Turkey 2013 has come and gone faithful followers (well obviously, since its now June.  So much for timely blog posts).  Spoiler alert:  We didn't get any.  However, we did spend some quality outdoor time and make some great memories, for real.  

In recap, I applied for and procured limited entry permits for Goethe State Forest.  Upon hearing of this, my good friend Charlie, who as I've mentioned was instrumental in reintroducing me to hunting after all these years, decided a chance at an Osceola tickled his fancy and he proceeded to make plans to fly over from California to spend a nice few days in the woods with me chasing turkeys.  

Charlie arrived on the Wednesday before the first weekend of the season.  We made him legal to hunt at the local Walmart, then proceeded to spend Thursday and Friday scouting several areas of the forest, some of which I was familiar with either from hiking or hunting. On Friday afternoon we spotted a nice mixed flock walking one of the woods roads at the western boundary of the forest.  If it had been the season already, I'm pretty confident I'd have gotten a Tom that day, a grown one paused and posed pretty for me just 25 yards or so off in the woods, right between two cypress trees. 

Charlie wanted to set up nearby but I, ever the paranoid one, was reluctant to hunt that close to the boundary with private land.  I talked him into going a little farther east where we picked a nice triple intersection of trails and set up our blinds for the morning.

The pre-dawn of opening day was slightly chilly (ah, memories!  Won't feel cold again soon...) but we warmed ourselves up on the hike in.  I had bought a small flock of inflatable decoys on clearance last spring, so after a bit of puckering up and blowing we set them up and then blended ourselves into the adjacent background as well as possible, I with my 835 and Charlie with his recurve.  I intended to let him take a first shot if possible, of course, since he traveled much further for it. 

Charlie, geared up.
Over the course of the morning we heard gobblers in several different directions.  One took an interest in Charlie's calling and he carried on a nice leisurely conversation with him.  Alas, some unknown breach of turkey etiquette evidently occurred and his answering gobbles reversed course and faded into the distance.  

We spent the last couple hours of that hunt walking farther north.  We found another triple intersection that we felt really good about and decided to make it our new hunting ground for the next morning.

Turkey blow-up dolls.
A heavy fog hung over the forest on Sunday morning as we exited the truck and made our way a few miles back towards our blinds.   I felt really good about this setup, near a place we spotted another small flock while scouting and with plenty of tracks.  Again we placed the turkey blow-up dolls out in the opening and faded into the brush.

Foggy dawn over the Mossberg
It was there that the coolest few moments of the hunt occurred.  Although it was still foggy, it had brightened up a bit.  I heard a rustle from behind me.  I froze and shifted my attention to a faint trail scarcely ten feet to my left, one I had obviously underestimated as a potential travel lane for the morning.  What emerged from the woods confused me.  It was a turkey all right, but instead of the normal browns and bronzes of the typical wild variety, it was a mottled grey and tan.  Man, I thought at first, somebody's farm turkey has got loose and is wandering around.  

A slight concern for personal safety followed, as it dawned again on me that a full-grown turkey who's head was at an even height as mine was standing the aforementioned ten feet away, staring at me intently.  These damn things used to chase me around my grandparent's farm when I was a little kid, and I had a dim flashback as I struggled to control my breathing and slowly squinted. My camo apparently worked well though, as the turkey wasn't alarmed and continued picking its way past me.

Due to the angle away from me the oddball turkey had assumed I was unable to ascertain the presence or absence of a beard, so I didn't attempt to pull the trigger as the turkey walked directly across my line of sight and down to the awaiting decoys.  If it was a Jake I was sincerely hoping Charlie would get a good shot at it.  

A few minutes later the turkey again ambled right through my line of sight and I was able to clearly see that it didn't have a beard.  By that time I'd wracked my memory and sneaked in a quick Google search to determine that it was likely a leucistic hen.  Since then I've learned that these have been spotted in the area before, rare but heard of.  I felt pretty special to have been so close to one.

The hen spent the better part of an hour walking back and forth into and out of our rubber flock, clucking a few forlorn clucks now and then.  I was actually pretty happy to have a live "decoy" now, but no other feathered brethern and sistern showed up.  Little Miss Lonely finally gave up on her stuck-up new friends and took off to the south, calling all the way. 

That was the highlight of the Sunday hunt, maybe not the same as turkey tetrazzini but I enjoyed it none the less. 

The next day we woke up to rainy forecast for the late morning but made our way out anyhow.  It was relatively clear until 10 or so, when a steady drizzle began to fall.  I tenting in under my poncho and was actually quite content listening to the woods in the light shower while putting out an occasional call and a bit of hope until Charlie finally decided to call it a hunt. 

Monday morning coming down.

Its a skunk ape!  Charlie in his blind in the drizzling rain.
That Monday hunt was the end of it for Charlie and he hopped a jet plane back to Cali the next day.   I, however, got myself a permit for Phase II during the pickup period. I only got to take one more stab at it the next Saturday, chosing an area on the side of a prairie, not far from where I called up a gobbler last spring.  It was a beautifully clear morning with a waxing moon hanging over the dawn, which made it worth the trip regardless.

Blow-up dolls in the middle distance.

Just a few clouds for decoration.

Florida Maple, more leafed out than we saw it last.
I tried to talk to a few distant gobblers but got no real response so after late morning I headed back home.  When I stood up I noticed this rub on a nearby tree that I had missed in the darkness.  Hopefully this is an omen for things to come:

There's always next fall.

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