In the school that is the outdoors, there is no graduation day. Never before has this truth been so evident as it has become this spring, the year 2010.
Ill preface this by saying I used to consider myself an above average turkey hunter. In a state where success rates hover around 33%, I have never had to hunt more than 2 days to bag a gobbler, sans my first season. I took the hard lessons of that first year and turned them into consistent success through hard work, persistence, and an insatiable desire to learn everything I could about this maddening pursuit. I also had little trouble finding a receptive bird, which can make for an easy hunt. This led me to a confidence bordering on cockiness. I could not understand why so many hunters had such difficulty fooling a bird seemingly without a brain! To me, all it took was a little knowledge of the birds whereabouts, biology, terrain and boom! Thanksgiving dinner is served.
It was only a matter of time before my cockiness blindsided me with the force of a freight train, and that time was this spring. I have been taught a hard lesson on the unpredictable nature of well, Mother Nature, by a feathered fowl with a brain the size of a nickel and no ability to reason. Talk about being humbled! Every tactic I attempted during my first 8 days of hard hunting whether it be aggressive calling, decoys, subdued calling or spot and stalk, failed miserably. I once again felt like a turkey hunting novice, stumbling around the woods aimlessly and filled with doubt.
This trend showed no signs of slowing on my 9th and final day of absurdly early awakenings and long drives. I found myself in familiar territory, sitting in the predawn unseasonably cold darkness, drifting in and out of consciousness. As light welcomed me, so did silence. Not a gobbler was sounding off and once again I was flooded with doubt and frustration. Shortly before observed fly down time of days past, I was greeted with several gobbles a long distance off. I elected to stay put, as shooting light was rapidly approaching and I did not want another aggressive blunder to ruin my last opportunity to carry home a tom this spring. After the birds hit the ground, gobbling ceased as abruptly as it began. I tried several types of calls but received attention to none. Finally, 2 hours after dawn, a lonely jake silently came looking for the hen I pretended to be. I seriously considered filling my tag with him as I certainly enjoy the table fare of a wild turkey, but couldnt help but wonder where all the gobblers were my preseason scouting of the area had revealed. Losing interest, he moseyed off hopefully to sprout a paintbrush and daggers in coming seasons. Nearing 9 am, and without hearing any talk or sighting anymore birds, my patience expired. Silently I arose and began a painfully slow survey of the area, creeping along and glassing with binoculars. Low and behold, not 300 yards from where I had spent the morning existed 3 beautiful gobblers, which were ever so slowly working my direction. My first instinct was to call, but I quickly realized these boys were following a lady, and any calling could send the old gal and possibly my targets, out of my life for an entire year. Because of this I elected to stay silent. Although not advisable on public grounds, because I was on private land I began a slow stalk towards an intercept point on the birds anticipated route. I felt my confidence building, and the knowledge and decisiveness that had eluded me all season suddenly crept into my head. Completing my move, I knelt and positioned my gun against a tree, aiming in the direction the birds would hopefully appear. As luck would have it, the gobblers had read the script I too studied, and the shiny red head of a bearded bird appeared from behind a great oak.
With that, yet another spring turkey season in Michigan came to an end. As I knelt over my gobbler, thanking him and the Lord silently, I reminisced on the seasons events. Bumped gobblers, plentiful hens, 2 separate run-ins with coyotes, rain and wind, cold and heat, and a screaming alarm clock every morning before the hour of 4 had nearly driven me mad. I had became obsessed with success, but I realized success didnt necessarily mean putting a tag on a bird every year. Even though luck allowed me to tag a gobbler, I have been humbled, and have a renewed respect for the wariness of the turkey, and the unpredictability that is spring in the great state of Michigan.
22 lbs, 10 1/8″ beard, 1 1/16″ spurs