Eight of us were sitting around a supper feast of bean soup and corn bread in a cabin at Harrison County’s Willow Lake Park on Palm Sunday evening. The afternoon’s cold rain had changed to a sleety snow blowing horizontally through the pines around the cabin. It wasn’t a pretty sight, considering that we all intended to be hiking into the nearby Loess Hills State Forest well before dawn, to be hidden and ready when the wild turkeys flew down out of their roost trees to find some breakfast.
It was still windy and well below freezing at gray dawn when my hunting buddy and I tucked back into the brush on the edge of a cornfield. It was a site where we had successfully harvested turkeys for the past couple of years. The turkeys, however, stayed well hidden all morning; not wanting to get out into the open where they’d be exposed to that cold wind. We hiked out and headed for the Old Home Filler Up And Keep On Truckin’ Cafe at Pisgah for some lunch. I returned to our old lucky spot by myself that afternoon, since my buddy had supper cooking duties to perform. Two young toms (called jakes) made a brief appearance along the woodland edge on the far side of the cornfield, but ducked back into the woods without responding to my call (or maybe going back into hiding was their response). Monday evening found all eight of us around the table again, but only one could brag on having harvested a nice tom.
Six of us returned to the woods under slightly better conditions on Tuesday morning. It was clear with a full moon setting in the west, but still well below freezing. Again, we saw no turkeys. We did hear a few toms gobbling for a couple of hours after dawn, but they were all in the distance. We returned to the same field yet again on Tuesday afternoon. I chose to set up near where the two jakes had emerged on Monday. We did see a couple of hens, but no toms were following them. We were still empty-handed as we hiked out in late afternoon.
The “magic” was obviously gone from our old site, so we opted to hike into a new area looking for better hunting conditions on Wednesday morning. The birds had been staying in the woods out of the high winds, so we followed suit. The first hour after dawn again gave us only distant gobbling from a few toms. We pulled our decoys and were walking out when we heard a tom gobble a little closer. We called and he responded – usually a good sign. We moved ever so quietly in his direction and paused to call again. He responded and sounded closer than ever, indicating that he as moving in our direction – a good sign indeed. Another call from us and another gobbled response indicated that he was probably no more than 100 yards away. It was time to set out a hen decoy and get hidden. There was a small opening just beyond a tree line where we thought we could place the decoy. We were about to do so when we noticed another hunter’s decoy not far away. Opting not to spoil his chance at the advancing tom, we backed quietly away to look for an unoccupied site. The old gobbler sounded off a couple of more times as we left, but we never heard a shot. We returned to the same area after lunch to find the other hunter gone. We set up in a likely spot, but saw and heard no turkeys. Temperature was dropping fast and a light sprinkle indicated that it was time to head for the cabin again by late afternoon.
I returned to the same site by myself Thursday morning and set up near where we had last heard the old tom gobble. The other hunter obviously didn’t get him because I heard him gobble again about 8 a.m. He was gobbling from where we had been when we first called to him on Wednesday. He got my hopes up when he gobbled a response at my call, but he only wanted to talk and didn’t feel it worth his while to walk my way. His last gobble indicated that he was moving away toward a corn field and a mid morning snack. I had several hours to drive and returned still empty-handed to the truck to head for home.
It was a tough hunt, but not without its high points. A pretty little turkey hen ran 200 yards directly to my call, and tried to find me in my little brush pile hiding spot from only ten feet away. Hundreds of cedar waxwings swooped through the trees around us. When they landed it looked like the trees had suddenly grown brown leaves. A rufous-sided towhee flitted through another hiding spot and actually brushed the bill of my hat on the way by. Tame little ruby-crowned kinglets ignored us as they looked for insects in the branches around us, and a blue jay spent ten minutes calling from a branch only a few feet over my head. A few days of sitting in camouflage very quietly watching for wildlife is always worthwhile.