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Hunting camp isn’t just for deer season

CHRIS KOLBERT

The soft glow of propane lamps illuminated the main room of the cabin as I thumbed through a pile of vintage hunting magazines that were stacked neatly in a corner. Duffle bags stuffed full of camouflage clothing and hunting gear lay scattered in the middle of the room.

I made a mental note to avoid that obstacle course in the morning, then took one last look at the numerous antler mounts hanging from the pine-covered walls. It was time to head for the loft—and a warm sleeping bag.

This was a hunting camp.

It wasn’t a November deer camp, with fat whitetails hanging from a meat pole and wet blaze-orange clothing suspended over the fireplace. Rather, the month was April, and my buddy Slick and I were staying in a borrowed Fillmore County hunting cabin during our annual spring turkey hunt.

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A turkey camp, so to speak.

Although it is hardly original, Slick is a fitting moniker for my hunting partner. He’s tough to pin down in an argument and disarming with the opposite sex. But when it comes to his hunting time, he prefers anonymity. "Don’t wanna show up in print; I’m just here to hunt" he once retorted when another writer visited our camp.

Fair enough.

Between us, he’s one of the best camp cooks I’ve known, and if I have to assign him a nickname, just to keep eating gourmet meals, I’m happy to do it.

But then, camp cooking is a topic for another day.

Turkey camps certainly aren’t a new idea. The mild temperatures of April and May are ideally suited for a combination trip, and time spent with good friends around an evening camp fire can make even an unsuccessful hunt memorable.

Indeed, Slick and I have shared many camps and have been fortunate enough to take our share of gobblers. But the time spent in camp, enhanced with meals of grilled duck, venison chops, and deep fried northern pike and panfish, has been as memorable as our time in the field.

Well before dawn the next morning, we grabbed our gear and a quick cup of coffee, then made our way into the woods. Slick chose a pastured, oak-laden hillside near a thick stand of white pine, while I hiked deep into a section with the intention of setting up along a wooded fenceline that acted as a natural turkey funnel.

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The first rays of light found me overlooking a chisel-plowed field, with a pair of turkey decoys placed 15 yards away.

But as I waited for the sun to rise, I suddenly got a strange, nagging sense that I was no longer alone. Sure enough, less than 50 yards down the field edge were the decoys of another hunter.

As luck would have it, this fellow had walked in from another direction and had no idea that I was nearby. Not wanting to make waves, I volunteered to move, and soon found another likely strutting area a safe distance away.

By that time, the sun had risen and the birds had left the roost. I quickly settled against a nearby oak tree, then pulled out my favorite slate call and began a series of hen yelps. Despite my earlier misfortune, it didn’t take long for an ambitious tom to investigate, his white head and bright red waddle bobbing through the trees as he approached.

Minutes later, I was on my way back to the cabin, with a spring in my step and sporting a full game bag.

Slick had not been as fortunate. After arriving in camp, he recited a tale of woe that those of us who have experienced turkey hunting defeat can truly understand.

It seems that a big gobbler came running across a field in response to his calls. But just as it came within range, it caught sight of him and then bolted for the next county before he could connect.

The experience was disappointing, but that’s also part of the hunt. We both knew that there was still plenty of time left in the season to ambush another bird.

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With that in mind, we made plans for an afternoon hunt and then turned our attention to another important matter — the dinner menu.

Chris Kolbert is a freelance writer from St. Charles.

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