The third time was not the charmWORTHINGTON — It was so close I could almost taste it, don’t count your chickens before they hatch and close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. These are all sayings that could describe my turkey hunting efforts this season.
By: Scott Rall, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — It was so close I could almost taste it, don’t count your chickens before they hatch and close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades. These are all sayings that could describe my turkey hunting efforts this season.
I am by no means a die-hard turkey hunter, but I have two friends who have at least a little turkey blood running through their veins, Scott Roemhildt and Tom Bauman. I met each of these guys through my association with Pheasants Forever. Scott was a regional representative working with area chapters and Tom was a member of Pheasants Forever’s Habitat Team who worked with private land owners to implement conservation practices on their farms.
Both have since taken other jobs. Scott is now the Information Director for the south half of Minnesota, working for the DNR. Tom runs his own private enterprise, Leseuer River Seeding Company, doing the same work but as a private business. I have hunted with them for three years and as close as I get, I can never quite close the deal. I am zero for 3 in attempts, but in every year of those three years I have had a turkey within 10 yards. There was just always something between me and those birds.
We started out this season in a small wooded area near Janesville. This area is mostly a mix of woods and farm fields. Tom had been scouting the area for the weeks leading up to my arrival and had picked a few spots where the birds had been seen with the most frequency. It was a small wooded area (about 50 acres) that someone had backed into the edge of and cut a large oak tree. Their activity left a small open area about 10 by 20 feet square. The tom had been strutting on the edge of these woods, so we put a turkey decoy about 20 yards out into a planted corn field and took cover on the edge of this opening in the woods.
If the plan worked as we expected it to, the tom would either show up on his own at about 5 p.m. like he had been doing the past two weeks or he would heed our calling efforts and make an appearance earlier. Tom started calling and there was no response at all. A tom will often gobble when he hears a call or you can actually use a different kind of call to get them to vocalize. A crow call used in the woods will often prompt a tom to gobble.
If this works you at least know there is a tom in the area. Otherwise you might be hunting in an area with no toms present. No turkeys made any sound for the first hour and we thought that maybe a different hunter had harvested the tom we were after on an adjoining property earlier that day or week. We continued to sit and wait, calling every 15 minutes or so. Another hour passed, and after a crow call a turkey gobbled so far away I could barely hear it. It was a long way away, but at least there was a turkey in the same mile.
Every 15 minutes Tom would call and each time the gobble we heard was getting a little closer. I had my back against a tree waiting for the approaching turkey to come walking up the field edge. Closer and closer was the gobble. When the sound of the gobble was what I guessed to be within 300 yards, it became apparent the turkey was not coming up the field edge. He was making his way from the opposite direction right through the thick woods.
I could only see about 10 feet into the woods, so there was no way to see exactly where he was coming from or where he would appear. The undergrowth was very thick and it seemed unlikely he would have taken this route. As he continued his approach I turned around and knelt on the ground. I would hear a gobble and thought he was coming in from my right. The next gobble appeared that he was coming in on my left.
I put the gun barrel on the right side of the tree, then after the next gobble it sounded like I should have the gun on the left. This turkey was getting closer and closer and from the gobble it was not obvious from which direction he would make an appearance in our little opening.
I could hear him getting closer and closer by the rustle of the oak leaves on the forest floor. It was decision time, so I braced the gun on the left side of the tree and readied to make a shot. As I was holding my breath a big tom appeared about 8 feet away to my right. He was so close he looked as big as a pony. He eyeballed me with an eye like that of a blue whale, cocked his head, made the instantaneous decision there was nothing there that looked anything like a female turkey, and a just like a ballerina, he pirouetted on one foot and in a split second he was gone.
The first gobble to our close encounter took an hour and 45 minutes. This was the most delicate dance of turkey hunting I had ever experienced. The shot I would have had, even if I had the gun on the right side of the tree, was a poor shot. I was expecting a shot at about 30 yards that would have been out in the open. At 30 yards, the load of 5 shot from my 10 gauge shotgun would have been a pretty high percentage shot. The shot I would have had at 8 feet would have to have been executed perfectly. The shot pattern would have been about 1 ½ inches across and a head or neck shot would have been the only one that would not have destroyed the bird.
In each of the past three years I have had a gobbler easily within gun range. Each time there was a visibility or terrain issue. Whether I eat wild turkey or not has little to do with my satisfaction of turkey hunting. Convincing that tom we were a hen in need of attention and getting him within just feet was about as exciting as any hunting experience I have ever done. Only after the missed opportunity did it become clear from the noises of the retreat that there were actually two turkeys working their way towards us. The second bird never showed itself, but they were 15 yards apart. This was the reason I had a hard time sensing my intended target’s incoming direction.
I said this year the third time was going to be the charm. Now after three near misses, my new saying is that the fourth time is going to be the charm. My wife and I will just have to fill in the time between now and then fishing, training the dogs and riding the Harley.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe’s outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.