15 August, 2003
Here it is, August, and I'm looking at this big hole in the website -- 2003-Turkey. What happened to the turkey pictures? Did you bag one? How'd it go?
I used to say that you either had to come back from an adventure like this with either a trophy or one hell of a story. I guess it's time to tell the story.
It all started opening day. I had moderate success out on Gobbler's Knob at flydown. For whatever reason, the 5 or so gobblers that answered me that morning moved on down into Yellow Willow creek without showing themselves. That's okay. That's just opening day for you. After working another tom in Hootin' Holler, I got into my ghillie suit and waited for Mister Natural to come strutting out by Broken Corners. Mister Natural was as regular as grandma on prunes. He came out to strut in the pasture by the far barn every day at noon, and I figured I'd be in the bushes waiting for him. When I arrived at 10, he was already there and took off towards Hootin' Holler. I took up station anyway. There were at least two other gobblers that came out with the hens and dust themselves inside the barn.
About an hour into the wait, I looked up towards the farmhouse and saw some guys drive up and park. They started peering in the windows, which drove the dog nuts. I watched them through the binos, and the more they tromped around the house, the madder I got. Finally, I busted from cover, threw off the ghillie suit and stomped towards farm, determined to cause these intruders sincere grief. One was a sawed-off Mexican and the other was tall and skinny, both wanted in the house. I had 3 rounds of #4 jacked into the Mossberg, and 5 more in my shirt pocket. Nothing was getting away. It was only when I got about 50 yards from the house that I realized the little Mexican was actually Cousin Tim, one of the in-laws. He'd come out to drop off a refrigerator in the barn; he was moving back home and needed a place to store stuff.
I looked out towards Broken Corners about a half-hour later, and there was Mister Natural, dancing around my decoys, at one point he went up and walked on the ghillie suit, that was laying out in the field. Oh well, it's just opening day, right?
I tried to calm down and get involved in something that would get my mind off all the disruptions. Plumbing. That's it! Plumbing would do the trick. I had to install an outside faucet. No problem-- quick two hour job and then I'd go out and scout for tomorrow. Three days later, I finally stopped all the leaks. What I had not counted on was that in order to install the faucet, I was going to have to put 13 joints in a space of only 2 feet. A few of the joints would have to be done blind. I was not up to the task, and had to grow tremendously as an amateur plumber before surmounting the feat. Meanwhile, I was plagued with drips and spurts that would not go away. Furthermore, it's a pump-fed system, so the pump was turning on every few minutes to make up for the leaks. I could not get the problem out of my head, and I could not concentrate on turkey hunting. I'd go in early to work on the pipes and spend the rest of the day soldering, cussing and making trips into town for parts.
The leaks finally succumbed on day 3, but by then turkey hunting was a shambles. It got cold and rainy. I went out on day four in fog and drizzle-- had a remarkable morning that nearly had a payoff, came in for a quick cup of coffee and then it was going to be out to the barn at Broken Corners and my appointment with Mister Natural. On the way back in, I saw turkeys in a pasture, and had to lay flat in wet grass to glass them without being seen. I spent half an hour waiting for a gobbler to show, and finally gave up. That made me a wee bit wet, but not too bad. I was now in a hurry. I gunned down a quick cup of joe and left.
It's funny how little things can really make or break a hunting trip. At 2:30 AM, I'd rolled over and looked at my fancy Timex alarm watch to check the time. The watch had decided at that moment to stop working. I'd been forced to stay up, because I could not trust myself to go back to sleep without an alarm. Not wearing a watch hunting is usually not a huge problem. This day it was.
I'd been up since 2:30. I was damp. It was getting colder and the wind was picking up. I was sheltered in the barn, but I still got cold. In the gloom of the fog, I lost track of time. I was resolved to stick it out until noon, and the appearance of Mister Natural.
A few hens came by to dust at various intervals. That kept me on my toes. I watched the clouds. I shivered. I looked out at the gloom and listened to the spurts of rain on the tin roof above me. I shivered. I got up and moved around, got myself pretty well warmed up, and then sat down and waited. I shivered.
Finally Mister Natural appeared. He strutted out into the middle of the field, sawmy decoys and walked on over like he had spied the town whore on a barstool-- no rush, she ain't going anywhere. I brought my gun up.
It could have been that I was too cold, or too tired, or my blood sugar was non-existant. All I know is that I muffed an easy shot, and Mister Natural went sailing away towards Hootin' Holler, and I nearly passed out when I stood up.
When I got back to the house, it was 2:30 PM. I'd been out there 6 hours with no food, and the temperature was down in the forties. I ate. I warmed up. I cursed the heavens for toying with me and then went to get my watch fixed.
The lady at the Radio Shack didn't have a clue how to change the battery, but she held me up just long enough to miss the jeweler, who left early. That forced me to drive clear back to the city to a Walmart, where they replaced the battery and got the watch working again. It worked fine until bedtime, and then stopped and never worked again. The pieces of that watch are scattered about the house.
Angie brought me an old watch with an alarm from home, and the weekend brought a modicum of luck, though no payoffs. Hootin' Holler was productive. The bottoms of Yellow Willow Creek were active. The ridge we call The Boonies was crawling with gobblers. #2 son and I had several good mornings.
By Monday of the next week, I was sick. I'd never fully recovered from the long vigil out at Broken Corners. Doc declared it Bronchitis and gave me pills, but I was not up for hunting until the weekend.
By the next Saturday, I had a new watch, my lungs were functioning again, and the plumbing had held at the farmhouse for a week without leaking. I went out and found a Zero. Zip. Nada. It wasn't until I ventured down into the bottoms of Yellow Willow Creek that I found what had happened to all the gobblers of Gobbler's Knob.
All the gobblers had retreated to the sycamores along the creek. I was treated to a spectacular concert on Sunday morning as I sat and listened to the gobblers sound off. I could not count the number of voices in the chorus, but one old boss would erupt, and a wave of gobbling would pass up and down the creek and then pass back up like a ripple in a bathtub. It became obvious to me that hunting in the intervening week had made the turkeys withdraw to this safe bastion in towering trees. It irked me that my turkeys were in there too, that probably meant someone had been poaching, but it was too late to do anything about that.
I was not through with Mister Natural. I went to the barn at Broken Corners again, and waited for his arrival. This time I brought food, I brought a book. Most importantly, I brought my watch. In fact, I'd trucked in a whole load of gear the night before, determined to stay as long as it took. Mister Natural came, but never got within sixty yards of the barn. I watched him strut for an hour with my eye to a crack in the siding. After that, he slipped into the tree line and wandered off towards Gobbler's Knob. At 3 PM I finally had to call it quits and start packing for the trip back to town. I left the gear in the barn, and figured I would drop out with the pickup on my way out.
I was on the porch, sipping a Pepsi a half hour later and I saw Mister Natural doing his thing out in the middle of the field, not 10 feet from where I'd been sitting. I didn't want to disturb him, so I sat and waited. After another hour and a half, he finally passed out of sight. I had been packed for an hour or more, so I was getting rather impatient. Dog and I mounted up and headed for the barn to retrieve my cushion, blind, decoys and book.
As I came over the rise at the first barn, there was Mister Natural. He was blocking my way. I honked the horn, and he stood his ground. I backed down over the rise, put it in 4WD, took a deep breath and gunned it. I popped back over the top and bore down on the gobbler. Mister Natural moved downhill just enough to keep me from hitting him, and then came back into my track after I'd passed. I rolled up to the far barn and as I got within about 50 yards, the far side of the barn erupted in an explosion of dust that rose a good 40 feet in the air. Within this cloud were a dozen or more hens and gobblers that had all come in to dust themselves. They took off, some toward the bottoms, some towards the knob, some towards the hollows on either side. I looked back and there was Mister Natural still mocking me in the middle of my track a couple hundred yards back. After we made eye contact, he sauntered off downhill into a thicket and was gone. After the dust settled, I went into the barn to retrieve my gear. It was covered with fresh turkey feces and dirt. The ghillie suit showed signs of having been dragged about, and one of the decoy bodies was shredded.
I never saw Mister Natural again. I hunted another 3 days later that next week. On Saturday I had a sizeable gobbler come in during flydown out in the Boonies. I waited until he was on level ground. I waited until he poked his head around an old dead cedar. I waited until he took that one more step and-
He was gone. Oh well. That was good enough. I walked out of the woods, knowing I had fought the turkeys in fair and honest combat and I had been bested. There was nothing more to say or do. The turkeys mocked me as I sat on the porch Sunday morning sipping my coffee. I had had enough. After season was over, three of the gobblers stayed close to the house and I was still hearing their gobbles at flydown until early July.
Gobblers and hens still congregate in the pasture by Broken Corners, but Mister Natural is not one of them. Perhaps next year he'll return to his strut zone. Next year I pray that I am ready.
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