A moral dilemma
Chilly temperatures and blustery winds greeted turkey hunters in southern Michigan Tuesday morning on opening day of the spring gobbler season.
The turkeys didn’t seem to mind.
Three toms boisterously announced the arrival of daybreak with a series of gobbles that brought instant excitement to this seasoned gobbler chaser. They carried on triumphantly for the first half hour of daylight, but once their feet hit the ground all you could hear was the whipping wind as it bellowed over the landscape.
Although calling was a little difficult in the high winds – tough for the birds to hear my calls and even tougher for me to hear their responses – turkey activity was high.
My hunting buddy Rob Wheatcroft called in six goblers off the roost and dropped the hammer on a beautiful 23-pounder with an 11-inch beard at about 7:15 a.m.
I saw 10 birds over the course of the day, but fate didn’t tempt me until later in the afternoon.
Seated comfortably at the base of a bare choke cherry tree, warm sunlight beating down on my camo-clad face, my thoughts wandered to past turkey hunts and the lessons I had learned. Suddenly, a roaring wind gust stirred me from my thoughts – OK it woke me up – and I quickly surveyed the surrounding area to see if there was a bird walking away. Whew, all was calm. But not for long.
Ten minutes later, through the heavy brush to my left I saw movement, a turkey, and it was headed my way.
“Dang,” I thought, “a hen.”
I watched closely as she waddled down the two-track and as she drew nearer I noticed something unusual – this lady was sporting a beard.
Bearded hens are rare in the wild. In the 25 years I’ve been turkey hunting I have only seen two, both taken by hunters. I had never seen a bearded hen in the wild.
Michigan’s spring turkey season is regulated so hunters only shoot male birds – toms or gobblers. Hens are protected in the spring because they are nesting and hatching eggs.
Michigan’s turkey digest states that hunters may shoot, “one bearded turkey per licensed hunter,” which rightfully focuses the harvest on males. But that also means a bearded hen – revered as a rare trophy by many – is a legal kill.
All these thoughts raced through my mind as the bearded lady approached my shooting window.
Would it really hurt the population in southern Michigan to kill one hen in the spring? There are tons of turkeys down here, I rationalized, and taking out one hen would not likely make a difference in the local turkey population.
She was now standing upright in my shooting window. She stooped to nip at the grass or a bug and when she did her beard swung in the afternoon sunlight, tempting my itchy trigger finger.
I centered the bead of my shotgun at the base of her neck and quietly eased off the safety.
Should I shoot, or let her walk? I was still arguing with myself.
Although I was well within the parameters of the law, there was just something I couldn’t get past about knowingly shooting a hen in the spring.
I eased the safety back on took my finger off the trigger and rested the barrel of my gun.
The bearded lady walked on.