The next day’s scouting turned out much more productive, from an “actually finding what I was looking for” standpoint. I parked my car up on a ridge just before sunrise, rolled down the windows, and tried to avoid the spitting rain that fell onto my lap, glad that it was at least relatively warm out for an early spring morning. Before too long, the birds began to sing, and I heard a gobble in the distance. It was eventually echoed by another one to the northeast of me, and as I waited for them to start moving, I took in the other wonders of the early morning. The cranes stayed farther away this time, but I could hear their occasional calls, along with a pair of geese that flew overhead. Robins darted, flew, and called out their sweet-and-sour songs. In a dead birch next to me, a bird warbled out a complicated song that I couldn’t identify but that intrigued me. The clouds flew by overhead – a precursor to the windy day ahead – and as the storm clouds alternately gave way to light clearings and the sun began to rise, the changes in light and clouds was fascinating.
I began to hear the gobbling again, this time more enthusiastically, and I pinpointed their location as just across the small lake from my perch. It sounded like they were coming up the brushy hillside from the lake, toward the road – the spot where I had parked my car the week before, and seen all the turkey tracks in the dust. I was pleased to see them following a similar pattern – if they were in a different place every day, it would be hard to find them on the day of my hunt. Soon I saw a dark spot moving on the road, and I pulled out my binoculars to see a good-sized tom begin moving up out of the brush. Before long, I could see some hens, too, and possibly another male. They gobbled constantly, and danced their display for the ladies, and moved on up the road. After they were out of my field of view, I stayed in the car for a few more minutes, beginning to shiver as the wind picked up, and then drove out past where I’d seen the birds. As I reached the top of the hill, a startled a couple of hens, who went scuttling off to the east – right into the spot I’d hoped to set up when the day came!
As the day wore on, the wind blew harder, and when I left the office to walk out to the shop around noon, I was startled by the chill in the air. The rain turned to snow, and light white flakes floated around our lot in the gusts. I couldn’t help feeling a little cheated – it’s not unusual for us to get snow in mid-April, but it is a little disappointing, after a March with bare ground and temperatures closer to 100°F than 32! I began to re-plan my attire for the big day, and considered whether I should drive into town that night to pick up a warmer camo outer layer than what I already had.
By the time I got off of work, the precipitation had stopped, but it was overcast, and very cold and windy. I drove down to the south end of the property again, and saw a tom and two hens cross an old logging road between two pine plantations. I stopped and watched them from the car, and they turned and walked farther down that road, not sure that they should stick around my idling car too long. I drove on, and pulled into the next logging road, which I was pretty sure formed a loop with the first. I parked in a little clearing at the end that was full of turkey poop, and walked down the hill to the creek, away from where I expected the birds to be coming from. I climbed up the steep hill on the other side, through a recent timber harvest and aspen that was only a few years old. Summiting the ridge, I could see quite a ways in every direction, back to my car, out to the pine plantation closest to the river, and down to the next plantation to the west, beyond which I had seen the wolves the day before. I shivered in the wind, though, and kept moving, heading east so that I could make a big loop around the birds I’d seen before. I went over a few smaller hills, then headed back north towards the small creek I’d crossed. I hopped over it again, and beat my way up through slightly older (and denser!) aspen towards he pine plantation above me. To my surprise, I found myself already on the road that I had been hoping to hit a little farther down. I walked quietly down it, and suddenly saw the turkeys ahead of me. I darted back quickly and crouched in the brush, but they had seen me. The tom folded up his wings, the hens stopped playing “hard to get,” and they all hustled off in to the brushy aspen, down the hill to the creek where I’d come from. I thought that I might get lucky and they would follow the creek until the clearing I had parked in, or climb the hill across from it so that I could see them on the way, so I dallied on the trail, looking for more turkey sign. I saw a little scat here and there, but also got to see some plants coming up and even starting to bloom. The prize was a couple little white flowers on Trailing Arbutus, barely discernible from the snow flakes on the stiff green leaves!
I got back to where I’d left my vehicle, and since it wasn’t dark yet, decided to continue on in the other direction, still hoping to catch another glimpse of the turkeys and find out their route. I headed into the recently harvested area along what I thought might be a game trail, and was rewarded in seeing turkey poop in ever small clearing along the way. I walked about halfway to the next plantation, that marked the border between State and County property, and decided not to hike all the way over there. As I stood on the edge of a hill in the wind and rain, I saw a dark shape moving under some small pines on the opposite slope, and though that it looked like a tom strutting! As I watched, though, it became apparent that it was less like “strutting” and more like “waddling.” For a moment I thought that it might be a small bear, common out here among the cherries and blueberries in the summertime, but as it emerged from under the trees I could see that it was light brown in color, and definitely neither a bear nor a turkey! I watched the large porcupine make his way out from under the trees, across the slope, and down through some small trees, back out into the open. Here on the northeastern bracken grasslands, or “barrens,” it is common to see “frost pockets” on the landscape. They are depressions in the ground where cold air settles, creating frost even in mid-summer, and nothing but the eponymous “bracken” grows in the bottom of them. The porcupine was headed down into a very large frost pocket, that was possibly even wet at the bottom, because he came out in what looked from a distance like a mono-culture of Leatherleaf (side note: leatherleaf is not a very exciting-looking plant, except when it’s blooming, but is has a beautiful scientific name: Chamaedaphne calyculata). The bottom was almost perfectly round, and two game trails crossed nearly in the center, creating the appearance of a helicopter landing pad. About then, I climbed up on a stump to try to get a better view, and the porkie decided to get out of the open space where he was more vulnerable, climbing up into the brush on the far slope. I shivered, remembering the wind, and went back, again checking out the plants along the way. There was still no sign of the turkeys, and the sun was starting to think about setting somewhere behind the thick clouds, so I hopped in my car and headed out, turning left at the highway towards town so that I could pick up a few last-minute supplies for the big hunt before heading home to get my beauty rest.