Let's talk turkey. Or at least write and read about it.
Thursday morning, as the rest (or most anyway) of Northeast Iowa is greeting the dawn and trying to find the gumption to start another day, I’ll be nestled under a cedar tree trying hard not to make a sound that betrays my concealment.
If things go according to plan, I’ll be there before the birds wake up and start singing. I’ll be there before the sun bursts over the top of the eastern horizon. I’ll be there before the dew has dried on the grass. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Today (Thursday) marks my 25th year as a turkey hunter. All things considered, there are few things in life that provide me with as much pleasure. Hesitant to try it way back in 1990, I finally relented to a friend’s request and haven’t missed a spring gobbler-getting season ever since.
If you’ve never experienced waking up in the wild in full, undetectable camouflage, I recommend it highly. Even if pursuing a magnificent long beard isn’t your thing, being out in nature at dawn is something that’s so unique, so real, that nothing comes close to duplicating it. You never know what’s going to happen, what you’re going to see or what show Mother Nature will provide.
I’ve had a mink run across my leg. I’ve had a young deer stick its big, wet nose so close to my face (covered by a mesh-like mask) I could see the droplets of moisture and look into his nostrils. I’ve even had a ruffed grouse hop up on my thigh and drum away in an attempt to attract a mate.
And those are just the unusual encounters that come to mind as I write this piece. I can’t begin to count the number of times a raccoon has crossed my path or a coyote has ambled by or a deer has stood in front of me, snorting and stomping as he tried to figure out just exactly what I was.
Having a hoot owl or giant crow or red-tailed hawk land in the same tree you’re sitting under and call to the morning sun is also worth the price of admission. Indescribable.
At first, I was an extremely intense turkey hunter. Failure was most definitely not an option. Not only did I have to be successful in bagging a bearded turkey, I wanted to put down a monster – perhaps set a new world record. Heh, a guy can dream.
I used to keep track of every Tom I laid to rest. I even kept a journal noting the date of the kill, time, conditions, weight of the bird, length of his beard and size of his spurs. I’d made up my mind from the beginning, if I was going to hunt turkeys, I would give it my all. No half-assed efforts would be tolerated.
As the years, and decades, went by, my intensity level subsided, but not my love of turkey hunting. I’m just as passionate about it today as I was that opening morning in April a quarter century ago … however, I’ve learned to take a step back and appreciate the aesthetics of the hunt as opposed to making it a competition. It’s just as rewarding, and a lot more relaxing.
Have I had my share of success along the way? Absolutely. I’ve got a bunch of tail feathers and beards to prove it and several of them are proudly displayed in our home … in an appropriate spot, of course.
Have I screwed up and let the bird escape? If only you knew. Strangely, I can recall just about every blunder I’ve ever committed, but there’s no need to bore you with the specifics. Just suffice it to say, it hurts ... big time.
I’ve zigged when I should have zagged. I’ve raised my gun too fast. I’ve moved my head at the wrong time. I’ve yelped like a hen when I should have remained quiet. I’ve shot too soon … too late … or not at all. I’ve flat out missed. I’ve hit them on the fly and vice versa. I’ve bumped turkeys off the roost by trying to get too close. I’ve forgotten to put a shell in the chamber. I’ve knocked one down and assumed it was dead only to have it pop up and run away as I was doing my victory dance. I’ve set up in the wrong place. I’ve sat for too long … or not long enough. I’ve scared them away because I was hyperventilating and they could hear me breathing.
I have a lot more examples of how I messsed up afield, but you get the idea. Turkey hunting is not easy, and that’s part of the allure. If it were simple, they’d call it turkey killing rather than hunting.
Let’s sum it up this way: There’s an old saying among those who venture forth in quest of a gobbler – 101 things can go wrong when you’re turkey hunting. I bear witness to at least 99 of them … and a few that weren’t even on the list.
But I don’t worry about success or failure anymore. I’ve transcended that pressure. I’ve broken through to the other side where I thoroughly enjoy the entire experience … period. If I get a bird, fine. If I don’t, that’s fine too. I just want to be out there taking it all in.
My bestest hunting buddy, Jeff, and I feel the same way about the whole deal. We’ve made an agreement that as we age, if one of us has to push the other in a wheelchair, then so be it. We’re going turkey hunting -- no matter what.