Friday, April 15, 2011

Turkey Hunting 2011 Part 1

We were at an undisclosed location somewhere in a very rural area about 45 miles west of Springfield IL. I awoke Tuesday morning at 4:30am in a familiar but strange bed.

There’s a hot homebrewed Cuban-style espresso waiting on the kitchen counter for me, and a pickup truck already loaded with our gear in the garage. The rural inky darkness is splattered with an infinitesimal amount of stars at 4:45am as we depart the farmhouse.

Our drive takes us from his secluded farmhouse on a long one-lane gravel drive to a paved two lane county road. The two lane county road eventually leads to a divided four lane state highway, then we turn to enter a two lane county road a few miles away. Soon we turn again onto a paved one-lane twisty road that dips into ravines and over the hills passing rich farmland, some planted and some not. I lost all sense of direction in the dark.

We are deep, deep in the rural countryside where I feel as if I really belong. It’s a place where one can speak his mind publicly and have others nod in agreement. They fish, hunt and live like genuine rural Americans do. Most are not at all happy with the current state of government events and what’s going on at the Blight House and in D.C. They are not at all afraid to let you know it. Truth be told, Illinois is only a blue state north of I-80. Out here residents are deeply annoyed that their state is ruled by two densely populated northern counties loaded with union lefty sympathizers.

Appropriately, country music plays on his satellite radio. Not the newer pop crap but that classic country music from the late 70’s performed by likes Johnny, George, Waylon, Willie and Merle.

The presence of deer is unavoidable on this road trip as we twist and turn up and down the gently rolling hills and ravines. There are separate groups of five to over a dozen deer in the surrounding fields, some crossing the road, then a solo deer or two dashing dangerously close in front of us here and there. Their eyes glow as the bright off-road lights give away their presence in the darkness.

I have never in my life seen so many deer within one five-mile stretch. And it’s no stretch to guess that we passed over a hundred deer. Some are small but most are large with a few huge bucks keeping their distance.

The twists and turns lead us to a gravel one lane road that leads us to a one-lane dirt road appropriately named “Dirt Road”. We soon turn onto the farm we intend to hunt.

Nobody lives on this farm, there is no home, no barn, silo or shelter but there are many deer bounding about as we drive to the back-end bottomlands. My good friend and hunting buddy (we’ll call him “N”) cash leases this production farm to a nearby farmer.

I exit the pickup, load the shotgun with three rounds of 3” magnum turkey loads, grab some decoys, a ground chair and a water bottle.

My path leads me down the hill and across old corn stubble on the way to a thick tree line beside a creek. My path is lit only by an LED flashlight as the day begins to break.

Loud turkey gobble sounds come from the woods to the north and south. A few hen clucks further stir up the toms and jakes into one big gobble chorus. This is where they roost all night and I intend to sit on the edge of their dining room.

Arriving at the base of my chosen tree I pace off twenty yards and plunge two stakes into the open field where my turkey decoys will be balanced on the tops. Hopefully they will twist and turn in the breeze adding a lifelike presence.

My comfortable stub-legged chair is opened at the tree base I will call home for the next 4-5 hours.

After the binoculars are strung around my neck, the headnet placed over my face and the fanny pack hidden by a thicket of brush I assume a comfortable reclining position in my camo ground chair where the shotgun will rest on my knee pointed in the direction of the decoys. My intent is to make little or no movement once the turkeys are lured into my two decoys (one hen and one tom). With everything set up I sit back totally concealed in camo from head to toe on the tree line as I relax and wait.

Soon the dim natural light reveals fresh new bright green buds on the surrounding vegetation. It is about 5:45am. Owls hoot and toms gobble loudly.

Woodpeckers peck, turd birds chirp and geese honk as they fly by at low altitude. I am enjoying a rather mild early spring country morning. This farm is so remote that hearing a passing car, semi or train is next to impossible but the sounds of nature are almost deafening.

To my left is a ridge where the turkeys roost in high trees about a quarter mile away At my back is a small gurgling creek.

With my position set I try as I might to be motionless. A noise from the thicket to my right causes my head to turn. Just as the year before, a few small young scout does emerge, heading out to the corn stubble looking to consume whatever grain may be left. Soon a few more larger does follow. They cannot see me but they certainly are aware of my position due to my aroma. Turkeys have a poor olfactory sense so human odor is of no concern to me on this hunt.

There are a total of nine deer that I can see and the final two appear to be good size bucks. They are totally aware of where I am but cannot see me. I enjoy their company, sit back and just watch. As they draw closer the wiser older deer catch a snoot full of my scent and they all literally high tail away into the field. They suddenly stop far enough away to feel safe then soon look back toward my position. They then bound safely into the thick woods about 200 yards away.

The gobbling stops at about 7am. This is a sign they have left the roost and are on their way to scour the fields for a breakfast of bugs and leftover grain to nourish their breeding effort.

Nothing comes my way. I saw nothing. I do hear nearby gobbles on the ground on the farm behind me, which leads me to believe they have decided to feed in another field. Dang.

At 10am I can see N emerge from his position. He picks up his decoys, which is a signal to me that nothing will happen today. N knows his gobblers and their habits very well. N is as good as any pro guide.

As a sidebar, if one wanted to hunt turkey at a private club nearby the cost is about $1500 for a thee day hunt.

N heads for his pickup parked on the hill and I soon follow.

Once at the truck we talk about our experience as we unload the guns and pack up for the trip back to his other farm where he and his family live. N also owns three other farm properties.

On the road back I can see what I missed in the dark. In distant fields we can see turkeys grazing and farmers planting. And there are clumps of deer in the fields as thick as herds of cattle.

Since I will be around for three days of turkey hunting my expectations are still high. The birds are definitely there.

All I need is a bit of luck.

Just like last year when I scored my first ever gobbler.

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