Scene Outdoors: Tough hunt has funny ending
KELLOGG — Sometimes, the only thing you can do is show up.
My turkey hunt last week was one disaster after another. Despite doctor's orders, two missed shots, getting turned around in the dark, a car problem and being too tired to want to even walk up another bluff, I did register a bird.
But even that had a comical twist.
I'll at least take some credit for locating birds and figuring out where they would be. But mostly, I was simply persistent and lucky. I stuck it out and was rewarded.
Day one didn't happen. A doctor nixed my hunting plans to allow cortisone in my shoulder to further kick in.
Day two started with me not getting permission to enter public land through private land. So, I began a 45-minute uphill walk to where I had seen birds when scouting. In the dark, in unfamiliar land, I took a few wrong turns before finally getting to where I wanted to be. By then, it was too late for the morning gobbling, which wasn't all that exuberant.
I went back down, ate lunch, brought along more food and decided to sit it out. Weather was gorgeous, sandhill cranes were raucous, bellwort was blooming, and I just sat there, waiting. I knew that the birds there get active in the evening. But if I got one, especially a big one, could I get it to the car and be in Rochester in time to register it at Gander Mountain, the only place I knew would be open that late?
I needn't have worried. Toward dusk, I stood up and spooked a bird that walked up without gobbling. Then I heard a bird clucking and yelping, heading my way. Could be a tom. I waited, and sure enough, red head, beard. I got my shotgun ready, but the shoulder began to twitch and I rushed the shot. The bird flew away.
Day three, I came in from a different direction, but still had a 45-minute walk. No birds, little gobbling. That evening, however, I spotted four birds, two of them strutting. I plopped down, called and two came toward me. One offered a clear shot at the outside range of my shotgun.
I missed. I flat-out missed.
Day four was gorgeous, but en route to my hunting spot, my car made a horrible screech. Rather than calling gobblers, I had to be towed back to Rochester. Fortunately, it was nothing — a piece of gravel in my brakes and I was in the field by 10:30 a.m.
Birds were really quiet, but around 5 p.m., five came into the field to feed. They had reddish heads and dark bodies but I couldn't see any beards. They left a half hour later. Then two more came from my left, again both jakes. When they were really close, stubble beards were visible.
I passed on them. Ten minutes later, there was the beating of wings and the fighting call of toms. Four birds, all with beards, came into the field, ignoring my decoys and every call I made.
I rested my shotgun on a log and decided to take the first bird in range. One was really big, the others smaller.
One wandered in close. Its beard was maybe 7 inches long. When it offered a shot, I took it.
I had my bird.
When I picked it up, though, I wondered — where's the other half of this gobbler? I've shot geese bigger than that. But the beard and spurs were there, so it had to be a little tom.
Or did it?
The final irony, this one comically humiliating, was several days later when Eric Atherton, P-B outdoors editor, looked at the photo of my bird. "That sure looks like a bearded hen to me," he said. "I've shot one myself, and that's what it looked like."
I still thought it was a gobbler, so the next day I retrieved one of the bird's feet and took it in to prove him wrong.
"See, that's a spur," I said.
Atherton then pointed out that in my delusional euphoria, I'd mistaken the rear claw for a spur.
I had shot a bearded hen. You see what you want to see, and I saw a spur.
But at least I can say I showed up, put in my time and ate some tasty turkey.
John Weiss, a.k.a. "Lady-Killer," is the Post-Bulletin's outdoors writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.