The Turkey Hunt that Wasn’t

I want to tell you a story about my second turkey hunt. Not the first one – which was a great experience with a mentor this spring, and unique in it’s own way – but the SECOND experience. Because the second experience is a better story. I’m telling you a story, because I didn’t shoot a turkey to brag about. A story is all I’ve got.

First, I have to make a bunch of excuses. Sometimes life just gets in the way. This spring was my very first attempt at a turkey season of any kind. But I also had three numb fingers due to carpal tunnel issues and had to have hand surgery because I was getting progressive nerve damage. The opening day of Spring Gobbler Season found me still with sutures in place from surgery earlier in the month. Though it was my left hand and not my trigger hand, I didn’t think that the tender sutured palm was going to hold up to supporting a shotgun in the field. Not to mention that I had very little grip strength in that hand. So that screwed the first weekend of the season, and I stayed home.

The following weekend, with the sutures removed, I WAS able to get out with my mentor and friend for a morning hunt to at least get a taste of things. We heard a few distant gobbles, but were not able to convince any Toms to come closer. The experience DID whet my appetite though, I learned a lot, and it was a fun first experience.

The weekend after that my Mother was ill, so that Saturday was spent visiting her for Mother’s Day instead of afield. I was also on-call.

The next available weekday forecast promised severe thunderstorms and quarter-size hail, so I stayed home yet again as I anxiously watched the season tick by. I contented myself with making cosmetic modifications to my shotgun, so that did help my attitude a little.

The NEXT available Saturday forecast promised heavy rain. There was due to be a few hour break in between storms, so I invited my adult daughter to come with me to check how the camera and blind had fared in the hail storm. Naturally, because I had not brought hunting gear, the weather cleared in late morning and stayed clear. Figures.

We did flush a turkey on the path through the woods though. I was armed with only a .357 and not a 12 gauge, so I simply watched as the turkey noisily broke cover and ascended on heavy wings up over the tree tops, and out of sight. I did yell “BANG” at it though, just to make myself feel better.

The following weekend was Memorial Day Weekend and my LAST opportunity to act as if I really were a turkey hunter. There is no Sunday hunting in that state, so Saturday was my big opportunity, and is where my second hunt story begins.

The property is over two hours away. It takes  a bit of pre-planning to hunt up there, especially if you want to be there before dawn. When I got home from work that Friday evening, I was exhausted. I was also on-call again, but it was the last weekend of the season, so I thought I’d chance it. I didn’t want to overpay for a hotel up there on a holiday weekend just so that I could already be there in the morning. But I was too tired to load up the gear and sleep overnight in the car.  So I packed a cooler-ready picnic lunch, pre-loaded the Subaru, and went to bed early.

The alarm went off at 3:30 AM. Yeah, that was my reaction too. I did manage to slowly drag my sorry butt out of bed, but it was ugly. To say I was moving slowly would be an understatement. I think I felt every joint in my body creak. Despite my best intentions and a cooperative coffee pot, I didn’t leave the house until after 5 AM – which got me to the property gate about 7:30 AM. Obviously well after dawn. Not an auspicious beginning.

On the road to the gate I met a ruffed grouse. While it was in fact a grouse, it did its best imitation of a squirrel, as it darted into the road, stopped in the middle, feinted as if to go right, then took a few steps left, and stopped in the middle again. I was forced to bring the car to a full stop while the bird made up its mind. In retrospect, this little tableau was a foreshadowing of my whole morning.

After Mr or Ms Grouse made it safely to the side of the road, I unlocked the gate, pulled the car into the clearing and popped the back hatch. I decided to walk the half-mile or so through the woods to the spot I wanted to go, so I hitched on my Walmart Turkey vest, made sure I had calls and shells and a water bottle (the temp was already over 70 degrees), shouldered the gun and away I went. Except a couple hundred yards down into the woods I realized that I had forgotten Henrietta the Decoy.

Heaving a sigh, I trudged back up to the car, flung the bag containing Henrietta over my shoulder and started back again. I was already breaking a sweat in my full body camo and I hadn’t even gotten started. When I closed the hatch I could have sworn I heard a gobble in the far distance behind me, but “behind me” was way off the property. It turns out that was the only gobble I heard all day. 

I took my time quietly working my way down the path through the trees, noting with annoyance that there were new ATV tire tracks in the mud since the previous week. A pox on teenagers with ATVs. I understand that the machines are useful as farm equipment and as often necessary transportation when setting up a blind or hauling out a harvested deer. But I absolutely cannot abide trespassing joyriders tearing up the landscape.

It had rained overnight. In truth it had barely stopped raining all month – there were literally tadpoles in the mud puddles for crying out loud. My trip down the path was accompanied by the sound of water dropping off the leaves of the trees, and the the “Bung-glung” of a bullfrog over in the marsh. The birds were busy with their morning jabber while the mist started rising into the sunshine. If nothing else, it was a beautiful morning.

As I approached the meadow along the muddy access road, I heard a noise I hadn’t heard up there before. There was a whooshing noise coming from the gas well across the meadow. Approaching cautiously, I ascertained that the noise was indeed coming from the well equipment, and decided that I’d better call the gas company guy. 

That was phone call number one. I left a voice mail, but decided not to stick around too close, in case there was really something seriously wrong. I worked my way back down the road to a spot under a pine tree that looked promising, and seemed a safe enough distance away from the well. About ten minutes later my phone buzzed on my belt. It was the well guy calling back. He said he’d be there in about 20 minutes. That was phone call number two.

I had tried my slate call a few times during all of this, but had gotten no response. While I peeked over the weeds and wondered whether this day was going to get any better, I heard engines revving in the distance. The sound got closer until I saw two ATV’s emerging from the trees on the access road coming toward me. Now I was mad. I stood up from my hiding place and strode over to the dirt road – still in full body camo, with my 12 ga in the crook of my arm – and stood there waiting for them. I pointed to the spot in front of me, indicating that I wanted them to stop. 

“This is private property, guys”, I announced to the two young men, over the noise of their infernal machines.

“Oh, we’re sorry ma’am, we didn’t see any signs.” Which I knew was a lie, because I’d been posting for two months, but I let it slide. “You won’t see us back here again” they assured me.

They were polite, but I’ll believe it when I don’t see them again. I advised them to turn around and go back the way they came, as I didn’t have a key to the upper gate. At least they did as I requested. By the time I sat back down under my tree, I was all stirred up. Hopefully word will gradually get around that this isn’t an absentee owner property anymore, and the signs mean what they say.

Ten minutes after that little episode, the gas well guy arrived in his pick-up. He grabbed a big wrench and made some adjustments which made the whooshing stop. It turns out that I wasn’t just being paranoid after all – there was a legit pressure problem – and he thanked me for calling.

Five minutes after the well guy left, my phone buzzed on my belt again. I was being paged with a baby formula question. That was phone call number three. *Sigh* – Three strikes and you’re out. I gave up on getting any hunting done that day. I figured no self-respecting turkey would be within miles of my location after all of that activity, and I might as well just pack it in. What a cluster.

I was pretty disgusted with myself and the situation by that point and was not at all quiet or careful on my walk back to the car, so naturally I kicked out a hen on my way back through the woods.

That has been the really frustrating thing. There ARE turkeys there. The tracks are all over the place in the mud puddles in the road, and I caught several of them on trail cam. I just didn’t manage to have a gobbler show up when I had a shotgun in my hands. And honestly, I really don’t have enough experience to know what I’m doing yet.

When I got back to the car I was in a pretty foul mood. I stripped off my gear, hopped up into the back and tucked into my lunch from the cooler. As I was chewing, a THIRD ATV trespasser showed up. He saw me hop down from my tailgate, and probably saw the .357 on my hip, because he didn’t even have the courtesy to stop and talk to me. He just turned around and headed back out to the main road. There IS a locked gate, but the damned ATVers have created their own off-road entrances, so it’s not like they don’t know this is private property – they just don’t care. That’s the part that really bunches my bloomers.

So, my first attempt at a solo turkey hunt without a mentor was a complete cluster. With all of that drama, I was both cranked-up and let-down all at the same time.  I just felt defeated. My season – that I had worked so hard for and so eagerly anticipated – was over.

I brooded over it for awhile, but I finally realized that I was looking at the situation all wrong. When viewed in a different light, although my game bag was empty, I was still a fair badass. 

I did months-worth of turkey learning, cam scouting, and property hiking on my own. Then with only one day of working with a mentor under my belt, and dealing with a post-op gimp hand, I was willing to at least TRY to venture out by myself. I got my own sorry butt out of bed at an ungodly hour and drove my own durn self two-plus hours to a different state. I humped my own gear to the hunt location, found a problem when I got there, addressed that problem, and still continued to try to hunt. I dealt with each new issue as it arose, and even handled not just one, not just two, but three trespassers all by my own self as a frumpy middle-aged woman alone. And to top it off, I had packed my own homemade lunch with homemade bread, homemade beef jerky and homemade fruit leather. If all that doesn’t earn me at least a self-sufficiency badge and a modicum of self-pride, I don’t know what would.

So, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I’m disappointed but I’ll get over it. I’ve got the whole summer now to camp-out and pattern deer (I already found a bunch of trails and caught a young buck in velvet on cam), and I hear there’s such a thing as Fall Turkey Season. Hmmm, I wonder what THAT’s like …