The day of the hunt dawned clear and crisp… just kidding! In fact, it was cool, windy, and threatening rain. If it actually had been raining, I might not have been able to pull myself out of bed at 3:45 am, but as it was coming out into the ugly morning made me want to go right back, anyway! A friend had come up to help me call in turkeys, and he said, perhaps with a hint, perhaps to make me feel better, “Sometimes when it’s like this, I just don’t go out – maybe the weather will be better this afternoon.” I was having none of that, though – I was already suited up and out in the cold, and didn’t see any reason to go back to bed at that point (though the rational observer might note that I could still have gotten a few good hours of sleep before work)!
The evening before, we had gone to the spots where I had been scouting, and worked out our set-up for the morning. We got there before dawn, but the
sky got gradually lighter as we set up the blind and arranged ourselves in it. A cold drizzle also started to fall. As it turned out, we never actually saw the sun that morning, but the time passed when it was supposed to have risen, and shooting was legal. J sounded a tentative yelping whine with his box call. Birds sang sporadically around us, and we heard a gobble far off in the distance. Ten minutes or so later, J called again, a bit louder, this time with the diaphragm (or mouth) call. He got out his slate call and let out a few purrs. He explained that he was calling a bit louder than usual, because the rain would make things harder for the turkeys to hear. It certainly made it difficult for us to hear, as the rain drummed on the plastic blind and dripped past the windows.
After about an hour and a half, having heard no actual turkeys, I risked leaving the blind to attend to nature’s call, and realized that there were in fact still birds singing quietly outside, and that the drizzle was much lighter than what it sounded like inside the blind. Going back inside, I hushed our whispered conversation and re-focused on the possibility of a turkey. Meanwhile, the humidity had gotten to the slate call and J couldn’t get a decent sound out of it, and the box call was requiring more and more chalk. The water resistance of the blind finally gave way, and drips began to appear on the walls and ceiling around us. We found ourselves whispering a conversation that didn’t have much to do with the task at hand, and as the volume of the rain increased, so did our voices. By the timewe were talking in normal speaking voices, we finally accepted the fact that we weren’t being very serious about our hunting, and that if we were just going to chat, we could do that over a hot breakfast and bottomless coffee at the local diner! We packed up and headed in to get a bite to eat before reporting to work.
We went out again that afternoon, after the rain had cleared and the sun came out. We tried a different spot, where I had previously seen turkeys at that time of day. Since it was so close to sunset, and we weren’t sure how the rain had affected road conditions, we decided to park and walk in along an old logging road, alert for birds along the way. We walked down the narrow, rutted trail towards a small clearing above a creek. There was a nearly mature red pine plantation on our left, relatively recently thinned and quite open with some rolling terrain. On our right was a very young pine plantation, the short and bushy trees about 5 years old. Close to the road, those pines mixed with and eventually gave way to young aspen, then opened into the dog-hair landscape of a recent timber harvest. As we came through the tightest part of that road, we saw some hen tracks in the new mud and fresh scat on the sandy road. As we came out into a more open area, we saw a couple hens ahead of us, almost around the corner and beyond some brush. We hurried into the young pines and aspen on our right, hoping that they hadn’t seen us.
Those hens startled a bit, but it didn’t seem that they had run off entirely. I sat stock-still, while J sounded a soft clucking call. There was no sign from down at the clearing, and after J snuck around to check out whether they were still there, he beckoned me back to the road. We hurried down there and set ourselves up, leaning against young aspen and camouflaging ourselves as best we could with the surrounding brush and hummocks of bracken. I had a view down the trail in both directions, and we set up the decoy to draw gobblers in before they had a chance to spot us. At J’s first loud yelp, we heard a sound in the distance that J was sure was a gobble. As J called every fifteen minutes or so, I basked in the warm sun that had been so conspicuously absent that morning. As the end of the day neared, bird songs increased, and I lost myself in trying to remember if the sweet and spiraling call that we heard repeatedly was a Wood Thrush or Hermit Thrush. There was no further evidence of turkey, and as the afternoon progressed I decided that the “gobble” we’d heard an hour or so earlier was in fact the rumble of something loosely-tied going over a small bridge out on the highway a couple miles away. We left shortly before sunset, and hiked out, debating the thrush question.
At the end of this long day with no confirmed turkey activity, that lack of action was rubbed in our faces – within a quarter mile of my house, we spotted a flock of nearly 25 turkeys in a small field, including four or five gobblers. We stopped to watch them, take a couple hasty pictures, and discuss the morality of shooting a turkey next to your car in a zone that you don’t have a permit for. Moral or not, we decided that it was at least no fun, and went home to get organized for the next morning. Taking the dog out for a walk a few minutes later, I heard a sweet song in a young aspen stand at the end of the road and knew that it was a Wood Thrush we had been hearing all along. On the way back to the house, I heard the call of a woodcock, and looked up to see him in his spiraling flight above my head. He stuck with me for a little ways down the road, until his warbles were replaced by the croaks and peeps of frogs in the saturated ground next to the shoulder. A pair of mallards flapped in their constrained pond in a roadside ditch, too small and shallow to swim in. Even if I don’t get a turkey tomorrow, I thought, it’s been fun and exciting becoming so immersed in the world of the northwoods birds!