Cursed or Blessed?
By Bob Zettler
April 11, 2016
I am blessed sometimes and today was an unexpected one…
One of my nicknames is “Dark Cloud” due to all the “stuff” that either happens to me or around me. I mean last week it a broken drainage (read that sewage) pipe underneath the crawlspace, this past weekend was finding out that the railroad is creating a new crossing right through where I store a lot of “stuff” and then there was this morning, the opening day of the 2016 Illinois Wild Turkey (First) Season for the northern zone.
My usual opener is mostly a scouting mission whereupon I try to capitalize on past experience(s) and current conditions. Now the last couple of years had been a little tough as it seemed a big Bobcat had moved in and even the deer numbers were down. Again, I am still blessed as the landowner has let me hunt his property for maybe 10 years or so and he has a pretty good population of Wild Turkeys on or adjacent to the farm with enough terrain to wear out even the hunter who is in shape. And by shape, I do not mean round as I am but someone who can go up and down the ravines and the like without having a heart attack or calling for a med-evac!
Now I had spent most of the weekend getting ready by cleaning my shotguns and returning the primary three to a 3-shot capacity down from their extended magazines for the Conservation Order Season for Snow geese. Then there was getting the right clothes and gear together and all the sundry odds & ends like calls, video cameras, shells, and, of course, my permit. This was in addition to washing clothes, cleaning house, etc. And while I had a great time with my daughter and her husband of two weeks for an excellent leg-of-lamb dinner, it took a five hour chunk of time out of all the aforementioned!
Interesting aside on my hunting clothes. I wear leafy camo jackets over everything that I layer on as the weather can change in a flash here in Illinois. It can start out with snow in the morning and be in the 60's by Noon. But what got my attention this time was I all of a sudden started getting what I call “clench-throat” where the pollen(s) and the like come the third week of Turkey Season will be so thick that all of a sudden I will start to choke – which is not conducive to chasing turkeys or one's health. And that is when I recalled I hadn't washed them since last season and hat the artifacts were still potent a year later, kind of like how Poison Ivy/Oak can remain potent on our clothes for months – I discovered this years ago when I got a bad rash from them in early December.
Anyway, I digress but I had to establish the background as it seems that no matter how long you have to prepare for it, it ALWAYS comes down to the last minute crisis that keeps me up late the night before and last night was no exception. I couldn’t find my permit, nor could I find any of my dozen shotgun carry slings or my….well, I actually did find the permit and just gave up on the rest as it was near 10 PM and I had to get up by 3:45 AM in order to get to the farm well before legal shooting time. Amazingly, I got to sleep right away and that is unusual as I suffer from severe to moderate RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) and Insomnia. But even though I fell asleep by 10:30 PM, I still had to get up twice to perform “old man” obligations in the bathroom. Que sera. Que sera.
There was a big part of me that simply did not want to get out of bed this morning but somehow I managed to and was out the door about 4:10 AM after making several trips loading up the van with my two shotguns, boots, 18-gallon container of hunting “stuff” and the like. Fortunately, I had a spare slip-on sling in the van so I would make do with that for the opener. Then it was westward until I remembered my cell phone was still at home – got to make sure I can call 911# when I need to – and made it to the farm around 5:25 AM which provided me with plenty of time to get my gear on and head to the general area I always start with, for historically it holds birds. You see, in my thirty years of chasing Turkeys, I can count on one hand the number of times I have roosted birds and this was no exception and that is why I wanted to allow enough time for me to haul my carcass across the open field and into the woods BEFORE the birds started to sound off.
Now I have a bum right knee and my back is always killing me – some say it’s the extra 100 pounds I carry but what do they know – and I was halfway to the edge of the woods when the first bird sounded off, then the second, third and so forth! Life is good some mornings but it sounded like I might have company as it sounded like another hunter on the edge of the farm hooting his owl call every 20 seconds! C'mon guy, you heard where they are sounding off, there is no need to blow them out of there on opening day! Unfortunately, the woods are already greened up thicker than snot in places and the birds were sounding off several hundred yards deeper than normal, so I had to forge my way through the brush to get as close as I felt comfortable to the four or more sounding off maybe 100 yards or less away to my right. Sure I could hear one way back from where I had parked but he would never travel that distance and I had these right where I wanted them, or so I thought...
I decided on an semi-open area that looked good and one I had hunted in several times as I could hear Hens on both sides of me – and close! After I had sat down, I started to wonder if I hadn’t set up above the first hunter I had ever heard on the adjacent property as there had been a pop-up blind there the last several years and this guy, or guys, would not shut up! I mean it was non-stop yelps, kelps, clucks and the like just 40 or so yards away to my left and slightly down into the primary ravine running the length of the farm edge. But, hey, with him calling and I am already seeing Hens walk near me within 20 to 45 yards, those four or five Tom’s just might beat feet to me and make this one of the first openers in a long time where I scored. Or would it?
Interesting, those four or more Tom’s had gone quiet early but not till after it sounded like they were actually moving away from me, while the one that had been a quarter mile away to my left sounded like he was getting closer. And those two hunters, they had gone quiet. I was in a pickle as I could not move as I had deer and turkey all around me and I sure didn’t want to get shot by those hunters down below me. So I waited…
Then, it got more interesting as the two hunters had been quiet for a long time now BUT that Tom from afar was now pretty darnn close; actually between those “hunters” and me now. Then I decided that maybe those hunters were actually Hen’s after I saw that Tom appear with his deep red head and neck just 35 yards away. But he had so much downed tree branches and the like between us that I had no what I would call a good shot. Sure, I had both video cameras rolling and hopefully they captured him, and I almost took the shot when just his head and most of his neck was exposed in a very, very small opening but it was for only for a second or two and it wasn’t a high percentage shot IMHO. And as he was responding to my calls (forget those real Hens), I should be able to get him into the open as he traveled from my left to right. Alas, he was fleet of foot and was chasing tail that he must have spotted from his vantage point and they all headed deeper into the woods away from me and back towards the pond…damn, he was a really good bird too!
I waited awhile and then began the slow trek in the direction they had disappeared towards and kept spooking deer left and right. Mostly left but I kicked up maybe 7 or 8 of them as I went farther and farther from where I was parked with no turkey sounds to lead me either. I took a breather finally at the junction of two areas known for Turkey and actually catnapped for 20-30 minutes before deciding to head back towards the area I had started in and closer to my van as this would be ALL uphill. I had heard one gobble in response to my calling earlier and thought I had seen a red head pop up on the edge of the no-till corn field but had to give up when it never reappeared.
Got back to the edge of the field where they usually roost next too and close to where that one Tom I had seen had come from and decided to give it till 11:15 AM before heading to the Van. I immediately fell asleep (ala George Moon) and woke up 20 minutes later when the cool ground had transferred most of the heat out of my body. Gave a few calls and waited another 5 minutes before deciding to get up and go and that’s when I saw two or three birds making their way towards me. Probably Jakes and Hens but not sure but IMHO it held out hope that a Tom would be in tow and sure enough five minutes later there he was, the Big Boy from earlier. However, he was on the opposite ridge and the adjacent farm but he was coming and responding to my calls!
Even though he disappeared behind a big tree, I could hear him gobble and he was less than a 100 yards away and he sure was loud. Wait a minute, he was getting closer but didn’t that last gobble come from behind me on my side and MUCH louder? There he went again and I realized I had Tom’s on both sides of me with the ones on my side a lot closer! So I shifted around 180 degrees and in less than a minute I saw a head on the outside edge of the woods coming from the field – Hallelujah! Wait, there Is another head, and another and another? What the ____!
Then, Nirvana hit as one, no two, no three, no four Tom’s came strolling into the woods and at range of less than 25 yards. No time to measure beards or look at spurs as they ALL had nice ropes and the safety was off, trigger pulled and BBD (Big Bird Down)! I will have to look at the video to see how many there were as several vamoosed with my shot and I had filled my Illinois First Season Permit on opening day! And to make it all that much better, he was double-bearded with a 9.25” and a 4.75” beard with 1” spurs. You gotta love it when things work out even when all my planning in advance wasn’t quite complete – no shotgun strap, no single vision glasses (I wear bifocals), no leafy camo top (I had brought two pairs of pants), etc.
It will be a long wait till my Fourth and Fifth Season Tags what with the weather greening up the woods a few weeks earlier than normal and the birds ahead but I’m not complaining today – yet!
POSTSCRIPT I weighed him in a Rubbermaid container that weighed maybe a pound or so and combined they weighed 27.6 pounds! WOW, that's one of the heaviest birds I've ever killed.