This year’s spring wild turkey hunting season is now in the history books and I hope everyone had as an enjoyable time as me. As I’ve said before, our hunting adventures are more about the entire ride, not a click and a bang!
It was the mid 1980’s when I began taking to the woods for one of our nation’s premier game birds. Back then my exploits took me to neighboring states. Even the places I had permission to hunt in southern Indiana required a several hour drive. The reason for the travels was simple. There were no wild turkeys in central Indiana. But that has changed. Now nearly every Indiana County boasts of sizeable populations.
Back then the majority of my hunting was alone. I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, plus fewer people hunted turkeys during those earlier years. Yet there was always something missing. But as time went on even that has changed. Over the past few years my hunting party has expanded from a single person, namely me, to now include brother Jim, son Joseph and son-in-law Rob. The joy I felt when witnessing them collect their first birds are memories etched in my mind forever.
Indiana’s spring turkey season is special. It gives us the opportunity to spend time in the woods enjoying another consumptive outdoor activity. There is nothing like watching a mature gobbler strut in front of you before belting out a raucous gobble.
At the beginning of every hunting season I pause to wonder what special memories will be created. It began with Jim taking a great bird on opening morning. Even more notable, I watched the whole episode unfold. A week later Joseph collected a mature bird and again I enjoyed the show and the beaming excitement on the face of my son.
But for me this season was one to remember, for the good and not so good. Through the years I have been dealt a fair hand, as far as success rates go, something I remain thankful for. Through the decades the birds I have taken required one small squeeze of the trigger. But this year started off completely different. There were times I sat in sub-freezing weather, torrential rain and even times what felt like gale force winds.
One particular day when the rain was persistent I managed to work a bird in close but he remained in the thick spring underbrush. On a bold move I tried to sneak in. Several days of wet weather had quieted the woods making a stalk a possibility. “He has got to be right in front of me,” I thought, while carefully scanning the thick growth. All of a sudden a glowing red head materialized in the thick shrubbery right in front of me. Quickly flipping the safety I shouldered the 12-gauge, took aim and fired. The bird ran down a small ditch as I squeezed off another shot before it took flight disappearing through the trees. It’s amazing how birds that big can navigate through thick growth and disappear in seconds. Needless to say I missed.
Then a week later another opportunity presented itself. This time I had a long bearded bird fan his tail and drop his wings in full strut 30 yards away. Not wanting to take him with his head tucked tight to his shoulders and tail fanned wide I waited. The bird moved to what I thought was 40 yards before squeezing the trigger. It immediately took flight and disappeared into the adjoining woods. “Oh my God!” I said out loud.” Lying back in the soft earth I couldn’t help but think this year has been such a folly and I’ll always remember those misses as well.
After having decades of success under my belt this was a huge blow to my self-confidence. This proves that no matter how long you’ve hunted wild game, especially something with the brain about the size of a walnut, you can always discover something. What I learned was if you ever think for a second a turkey might be a bit too far to shoot – it is!
Thankfully a few days later another opportunity presented itself. This gobbler was smart and had been called by other hunters during the season. Just when I thought the hunt was over things unfolded perfectly. Unlike the previous episode I let this one nearly walk into my lap.
Then on the final weekend Rob succeeded in collecting the second bird of his career and again I was fortunate to be with him.
Even though there are still times I prefer to be alone in the turkey woods, I am grateful to have family who have become interested, no, enamored with turkey hunting. Watching them take birds and the excitement they display is beyond words this outdoor scribe is capable of describing.
So in the ensuing years I will sit back and think “what special memories will this season provide?” There is no doubt I will wish for success and safety and most of all that I don’t consider another year as a folly!