Quest for gobbler still leaves lasting memories

The spring wild turkey season is the central focus of my elusive outdoor quest. Just when I think I can reach that attainable goal of tagging a big bird, it slips through my fingers at the last minute due to some unforeseen circumstance or situation we couldn’t have planned for.

I should preface this all by saying that May is not a good time for me when it comes to chasing bearded gobblers. It’s the start of the Great Lakes fishing season in the form of numerous derbies and tournaments, and I am involved with many of them. It’s a time when some writer organizations I am associated with hold safaris or conferences. Throw in some special holidays, camping adventures, special events like graduations and birthdays and you can see my time is limited. However, I always try to make time for some turkey hunting.

Many of my adventures through the years pursuing strutting toms have been with some of the best turkey hunters I know. I’ve hunted with the likes of Ernie Calandrelli, Arnie Jonathan, Craig Robbins, the guides at Turkey Trot Acres, and many others through the years. Many times we’ve been extremely close to getting that big bird into shooting range. Every time, howeverm we’ve fallen short of being able to pull the trigger.

The experiences along the way have created lasting memories, too numerous to count. Every time I step into the woods it’s a different experience, a new adventure. This year, knowing my plight, good friend Dennis Morris of Youngstown stepped up to the plate (a good analogy since we used to play softball and hockey together) to see what he could do. We’ve been out twice so far this year and both times the birds didn’t respond like they should have.

Ahead of the first morning, Morris was able to put a big bird to bed after having him walk within 10 yards of his calling earlier in the day. He doesn’t even hunt anymore in the sense of shooting his turkey gun. He now shoots his camera. He prefers to take out family and friends, to relish in their successes. And, like with me, failures.

I hesitate to use that word failure, though. Reconnecting with close friends is a success in and of itself. Many times, we get caught up in the hustle and bustle that life throws us and friends get lost in the shuffle due to a perceived lack of time. We need to make the time, and a 4 a.m. rendezvous usually has few conflicts.

That night, we awakened to over an inch of rain. Our plan to access the target destination was through a farmer’s access road into the back of his property. High water on the road limited how far we could travel in our vehicles. When we finally made it to the small ditch to cross over, it was more of a raging river. We couldn’t do it. We had to double back and make a different entrance.

Access number two was also bogged down with excessive amounts of water. We had to bite the bullet and make our trek into the woods to pursue the bird. Water was everywhere and the woods became more of a swamp. We never heard a gobble all morning. We did hear a few hens make an alarm putt, but that wasn’t a good thing. Still, our day wasn’t a bust.

We saw opossums, raccoons and deer in their natural environments. The amount of bird life was amazing, topped off with a surprise visit of a mature bald eagle. Yes, we ended up with wet feet. If you’re looking for holes in your boots, walk through water that’s near the top of those boots. We both found plenty of holes. We did so much walking I ended up with a few blisters – more memories.

On the second hunt, Morris found a little spot he’s had to himself since he was a kid – more than 50 years ago. It’s not as big as it once was because of housing developments, but it still holds turkeys and deer. He put a gobbler to bed and called me. I couldn’t make it the next day, but I could the following day. He put that bird to bed again that second night and we arranged for the 4 a.m. rendezvous.

Upon arrival, we were dealing with more wet conditions. We kicked out a deer as we found our spot, giving us a snort/blow to alert anything in the area. We settled in and waited. At 5:19 a.m. the first gobble sounded off. Then a second from a different area. There were two birds! For the next half-hour, they made plenty of noise, letting the hens know that they were going to be on the prowl. Then it got quiet.

A short time later, the deer was back, a doe. She was sneaking her way back into the woods when she went on alert again. More alert snorts/blows to help identify our positions. Was there a fawn in the area that was putting her on high alert? She didn’t want to leave. And while she was making the commotion, the turkeys started to react to her snorts, gobbling away with each soundoff. Something wasn’t right and now everyone knew. It looked like it was going to be another day without a bird.

The season is winding down. Will I get that elusive bird? I could blame it on heredity or pass it off as a family trait. My father, Bill, Sr., didn’t connect on a gobbler until he hit 80 years old – a big 23-pounder from Allegany County. My brothers Rick and Dave have yet to score on a big tom. In the meantime, I will continue to rack up the memories and the outdoor adventures whenever I can and enjoy each step, wet or not.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, New York – Bill Hilts Jr, Turkey

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