Taking it hard
But it wasn't as bad as I initially made it, I suppose.
I hit the target assault area -- an unplowed Ingham County, Michigan, field where the three gobblers -- known as "The Three Stooges" -- were last seen displaying May 28.
As sun rose, light sporadic bellows of a lovesick tom could be heard on the east side of the field, opposite from my setup.
I spied him in the binos milling about 200 yards away, picking at the ground, and occasionally looking in my direction where I was making soft yelps and clucks.
He bit, and was slowly making his way to me.
It seemed to take forever -- as it always does -- before he made his presence known near my perimeter of death. But the word "near" is the appropos word. Because he, and his two cronies -- who joined him shortly thereafter -- never broke the plane of this perimeter. Not in the two hours of dancing we did together, alone, in this field.
Twice they came to the fringe, and I was at the ready position for the last time, while peering through the bush that provided most of my cover from the wary prey with my eye in direct line with the tom's neck and the shotgun bead, but in the end, the built-in range finder in my head determined the shot to be beyond the magical 50-yard mark.
So I checked fire. Waiting. Calling. And more waiting for the shot that would guarantee a swift and final end to one of these stubborn turkeys, who seemed held back behind an invisible electric fence. Like the one the neighbor has for which I'm quite grateful because it keeps his hostile-looking great Dane on their side of the road while I jog past his yard.
After the two hours elapsed, and then having been inspected by the local hen of the field, I was left with nothing. Only hearing The Three Stooges' gobbles grow less faint with every step they took up and over the rolling grassy hills to the west.
From the time the first bird came promenading in with the sunrise beaming on his perfectly circular bronze fan at 7:35 a.m. to that last time the trio looked over at my direction at 9:40 a.m., I thought for sure I was going to hit paydirt.
These birds were hot. I would yelp with the mouth call, and all three red heads would get parallel to the ground in harmony. A crow flying overhead would caw, again, they would sound off. And this seemed to go on and on, all the while with a hen frolicking amongst them.
Now I'm left with a constant replay of those shot opportunities in my head.
Almost nightmarish, the memories have at least somewhat slowed.
Many reading this would say, "What's the big deal? You played the game and lost, now get on with it."
And to this I would agree wholeheartedly. But being the obsessed turkey hunter with issues that go way beneath the surface, I reply in kind, "It's gonna take some time."
For some reason I cannot explain, I'm never convinced I did all I could to set up a shot. Or I second-guess my estimation of the range they were at, which some observers might say is a good thing.
The good thing that will come of this is I'm going to buy a range finder and put this beast to rest. Enough.
I even stepped out 49 paces to their general vicinity before they left and didn't see any sign of tracks there or in sight from beyond this spot. Yet, the voice continues, "Maybe they were in range after all." Huh?
What has always been the best medicine for this crazy bird chaser after committing a grievous turkey gaffe -- and there have been a few -- I was almost tempted to write a Top 5 All-Time Turkey Blunders and I still might -- is to get back out in the woods and get calling on another bird.
Which is where the problem lies: It was my last time out for the season so I'm denied the chance for therapy through getting back in the saddle again, as it were.
So I'm left to writing about it instead and milking all those close to me for reassurance.
I've heard some of those efforts.
"Why do you think you'll get something everytime you go out," said my wife, Jeanne.
"A hunter has to make those decisions, he's either comfortable with the shot or he doesn't take it," said Walt, my longtime turkey hunting partner.
But just tonight I got a call from John, another hunting friend, who asked after hearing my pitiful story, "Did you use a decoy?"
"You see I had thought about using a decoy," I began telling him, "but the last few years they've been hanging up just out of range and ... "
It's going to be a long summer, I can already tell.
(For more articles like this one and to read about and see pictures of the bearded hen Walt shot this year, log on to www.macshuntingmag.com)