Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Gobbler luck turned around

The day of May 15 ended up much better than it started for my Michigan turkey hunt.

As I sat at the site in the gloom and dampness just above the Ingham County swamp that seemed an eternity to get to, the call from my cell phone went out to my wife: "What time did you tell (the babysitter) I would pick up the kids?"

"All day," she impatiently answered from her cell phone while driving to work.

I looked at the time on the cell phone clock -- 6:23 a.m.

"Well, I'm probably going to come back early and get them 'cause nuthin's happening here," I told her.

"What? After all that ... she's probably never going to baby-sit again," my wife bellowed. "I've gotta go."

It was around 6:40 a.m. Still no gobbles.

Then, I saw a white head bob up from just below the hill I was sitting on. That was a turkey head, no doubt about it, I said to myself. And not much longer afterward, I heard a gobble from above my left shoulder just off the ridge to the north. Soon, another one in the lowland below me.

Maybe things are turning around after all, I thought. I braced the shotgun with my left knee and waited from the open window in my blind. Five minutes passed ... then, 15 minutes ...

The whole time sporadic gobbling was continuing all around me but nothing closer than 100 yards.

I considered moving up to the ridge where I continued to hear a tom asserting his authority. Up to this point, I had been exclusively using my H.S. Strut slate call.

When moving, I always like to slip in a mouth call. It allows for faster mobility. So I reached into one of the hundred pockets in my new vest and pulled out my favorite, the H.S. Strut two-reeded cutter, from the mouth call case.

But while deciding if moving was the right thing to do, I tried a few yelps and soft clucks with the cutter. And then I went with a couple of "coo-coos" for lack of a better name for the call.

Up they came, three of them. As my heart pounded, I quickly aimed the Mossberg in the vicinity and waited for the one to come into my lane. Boom! Down he went and the other two scattered in opposite directions -- flapping wildly and making tracks like the ground was on fire.

I walked up and claimed my prize not believing the beard was as big as it was. Almost like a paint brush. A-hooooooooooo.

I finally got to owl hoot like Eddie Salter does in the H.S. Strut videos after he bags a bird.

Looked at the clock and it was 7:24 a.m.

In an hour, my luck turned from the pits to the heavens.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The tom slip

My West Virginia turkey hunt-unload the mother-in-law trip proved to be slightly unsuccessful.

No turkeys of the bearded type were had, but the mother dearest was returned to her doorstep in fine order after a very shaky trip. Turns out my truck's front end is in u-joint and tie-rod disrepair. This, in turn, has created cupped tires because my alignment is way off and forever wacked until I make the necessary repairs. This could be awhile because the first estimate I had done tallies more than $500.

When I asked the mechanic how long I could wait, he said, "Oh, geez, until winter." Winter it is. Damn truck.

Anyway, the first morning in the woods found me weary from my trip and slightly disappointed because of the quiet from the surrounding ridges. I went to my old reliable state land spot, which is usually vacant of hunters and loaded with gobblers. But, sadly, not that Friday morning (May 5).

Ended up running into another hunter, who at that time was kicking around for mushrooms near the parking lot. (I now wonder if he was looking for "mushrooms" inside my truck when I happened upon him.) He said he thought the season should come in earlier than the April 24th opening date. The same thing the Wal-Mart clerk told me when I was buying my license. However, the "mushroom" picker was successful, claiming he shot a two-year-old bird with an 8-inch beard. (I'd take that one.)

The next morning, Saturday, May 6, I hit my friend's in Marion County where I've killed three birds over the years. Wasn't sure if my friends were back from their winter home in Arizona but it seemed like they weren't. Saw a strange car parked outside the new gate he installed. Figured it was another hunter. Kind of bummed me out but I perked up when crow cawed and the sky above rang out in a huge gobble. "Right above me," I murmurred to myself. And off I went. It's tough to manuever on a bird like that with light breaking. He's already a million eyes looking for you or whatever it is walking below him. And then, he's straight up the ridge with the best view, and a bear of a climb away at that. No way to be quiet or discreet. So I think he busted me going in. It happens. Part of the hunting game. Time to worry about it is when it happens time after time. Then you have to revise your strategy.

Looking back on it now, I went the way I figured the "other hunter" probably wasn't, which was the most visible to Mr. Tom. Well, the other hunter parked at the gate, turned out to be the landowner who couldn't get past the gate because it malfunctioned.

And it happened on the last hunt I went on behind my house in St. Clair County, Mich. This time it was when I was leaving rather than coming. Had a hot gobbler across the river answering my box call at sunrise. I waited three hours. He never appeared. At one point, I think I heard a gobble from behind my position about 150 yards away.

Guess he crossed where I wasn't.

I did follow up on my hunch by calling a couple of times in the vicinity I last thought I heard him. Nothing. Got up and took two steps toward my house and woof, woof, thack, thack, thack. Up it went from the main trail straight through the wooded canopy.

The turkey retreat. And the hunter retreat. I went back and hit the rack for a few more hours of sleep before work.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Best of the best

Nothing like spring gobbler season.

It's my favorite. For a couple of reasons, really, the weather is much milder -- damn bugs though -- and it's something I feel fairly competent at despite having blown 10 times the opportunities per actual kills.

Regardless, I'm always back at it come April and May, putting myself in prime position to bag a 25-pounder tom with a 12-inch beard only to botch the shot somehow. But every once and awhile, I'll connect my shotgun pattern with a keen-eyed gobbler's head.

Today, May 2, and the opener, Monday, May 1, weren't one of those times.

I went out behind my house in St. Clair County on Monday and heard one lone gobble, probably 200 yards or so out. Way across the river. Knew it was gonna be dead -- 50 degrees, overcast and cool. And it was only a two weeks ago before my season started, every morning there would be turkeys sounding off all around the house. Why does it always have to be like that?

The next day at Walt's spot in Ingham County was a much different story. Action got very hot. One big ol' boy nearly came down Cherry Lane right to my ambush spot but then veered into a field with waiting hens. We also had four or five other birds gobbling but none ever came in close enough for a shot.

Now I'm in R & R mode in preparation for blowing this popsicle stand of a job and taking a long weekend to return mom-in-law to her rightful spot -- home in West Virginia.

Of course, one giddy turkey hunter from Michigan would not make such a trip without hitting the ridges of the Mountain State in an attempt to bring back a long beard.

Certainly not.