Spring turkey hunting much the same as it was pre-COVID
Though it was only 23 degrees and there were still patches of snow in the woods, turkey season opened much like it usually does here in the eastern Upper Peninsula.
The honks of Canada geese and calls of sandhill cranes staking out their territories sometimes drowned out the gobbles coming from roosted turkeys. Pairs and small flocks of ducks streaked in and out of nearby ponds. Migrating song birds flitted around us looking for breakfast. Ruffed grouse made their presence known from drumming logs. On our walk into the woods, a nearby woodcock was performing its mating flight and dance.
One difference this year was the absence of traffic noise from the highway a mile or so away. There were many fewer vehicles on the roads due to restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19, and that background din, not completely eliminated but greatly reduced, seemed to amplify the sounds of songbirds and red squirrels scurrying around in the underbrush and in the branches above us. In between the goose music, it was so quiet that we could faintly hear a lake freighter’s horn on the river nearly seven miles away.
Another big difference was in our wardrobe. My partner was wearing his heavier coat and I was wearing my duck coat, which usually stays in the closet from December to September. Joe’s tag was quite different from the usual, too.
Overwhelmed by online license requests, the Department of Natural Resources ended up sending him a tag through e-mail that he printed onto an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper.
Joe and I were seated about 10 feet away from each other, each of us leaning against a tree in row of pines planted years ago on an old homestead. Joe was carrying a shotgun and I was directly behind him, giving him about a 180-degree “strike zone,” should one of these roosted gobblers decide to pay us a visit. I was armed only with a turkey call and my camera. The idea was to try to get some photos and video of a turkey coming in, something other than my usual posed shots with dead game at the end of the hunt.
As usual, I started out with good intentions that were tossed aside during our effort to connect with a turkey. While several nearby birds were answering our calls all morning, they wouldn’t come over to get a closer look. At one point, I got up and moved about 75 yards away from Joe and then resumed calling to make it seem as if the hen I was trying to imitate was moving away from her potential love interests. It has worked in the past, but it didn’t work this time.
Finally, about 30 minutes later, it sounded as if the birds were moving. One gobbled from farther off, but two sounded much closer and I whispered, “Ok, here we go” to Joe.
Here we go, indeed. The two birds closed the distance quickly. They were approaching through some dense, young growth – something you might find a rabbit or grouse in, not a turkey –but even in that cover we caught glimpses of them displaying and their gobbling seemed incredibly loud compared to what we’d been listening to all morning.
My heart was racing as much as I’m sure Joe’s was, and even though I saw him moving his gun barrel slightly to try to pick an open spot in the brush, I jumped when he squeezed the trigger.
It was so thick that I didn’t see if the turkey was hit, but when Joe started to stand up, I knew that he’d connected even as the second bird flushed from the brush, making me doubt it for a second.
The hunt ended much like it always does, with smiles and gratitude, sunlight warming our faces and the wild things carrying on as if nothing had happened. The only thing missing in the congratulatory ritual was the usual high-five or handshake – just an elbow bump, this year.