April 19, 2016
Well, two weeks into the NC turkey season, and I’ve determined that I haven’t been turkey hunting at all. I’ve just been bird watching.
It’s not that turkeys aren’t entertaining. I had a great show last Monday morning, as a big, dominant tom spent the better part of an hour keeping another nice-sized suitor away from his harem. The interloper did what he could to slip around the edges, and finally did manage to slip off across the property line with one hen in tow. Shortly afterward, the big tom apparently noticed the elopement, and took off out of sight to make it right… leaving the whole harem there in the field in front of me.
After he was gone, the whole group wandered right up in front of the blind and lingered (malingered) within easy bow range. Yes, I did a lot of bird watching that morning… and the following three mornings as well… including Wednesday, when I set up in ambush at the little hole where they’ve been entering my pasture.
It was a perfect set up. The birds had just flown down, and were congregating in the cow pasture next to my place. The air was redolent of gentle clucks and purrs. The tom shuffled around behind them, dragging his wing tips and nudging the group across the open field. They were slowly making their way toward me, so I snuggled in amongst the cat claws and poison ivy shoots. I eased the Barnett up onto the shooting stick and prepared to nock a bolt.
Except the bow quiver wasn’t attached to the bow.
I’d taken it apart the night before in order to tighten up a rattling bracket. I could see myself removing the handy little quiver, and leaning it up against the door frame (where I couldn’t possibly forget it). I saw myself fixing the loose bracket, and even remember thinking, “I should probably go ahead and re-attach this thing while I’m thinking about it,” but then something else crossed my mind (squirrel!) and… well… there I was, all dressed up and nowhere to go.
Finally, the next morning I was back, with the bolts, and set up. I hadn’t seen or heard the birds yet, so i settled in and waited. Without a sound, a brown head poked through the brush less than five feet from me. I tried to freeze, but I blinked. She didn’t run away, she flushed like a damned grouse and flew away into the pines. I never even got to see the rest of the flock.
There’s still plenty of time, of course, and I’ll be back at it soon. Cardinals, wrens, crows, Canada geese, and turkeys… it’s not quite the equivalent of some birders’ life lists, but it’s mine.
Meanwhile, my damned, bloodthirsty brother stuck an arrow into a nice one over the weekend.
April 11, 2016
Dogwoods and azaleas in bloom (or, sort of, since they peaked a week or two ago).
Sunny days and gentle temperatures… except when we get those sudden dips into the 20s, as we did this weekend.
But no matter how unpredictable the bloom and bust, it’s turkey season in North Carolina. The opening morning was Saturday, but as I had to get the pasture tilled up and ready for hay, I didn’t go out. So, of course, about 09:30 as I was making an initial turn, I spotted a red head bobbing over the sourgrass at the far side of the pasture. I slowed the tractor to get a better look, and sure enough, a big ol’ tom was pecking along the edge of the field, stopping from time to time to check me out. As I was no threat, perched on the big, orange tractor, he continued merrily about his business for the better part of a half hour. He would pop into the brush whenever I came close, and then come back out as soon as I was on the far side and out of reach.
Sunday morning found me too lazy to get out of bed, and when I did, I still had a few hours of work to do in the field. The turkeys got a pass for another day.
Finally, this morning, I woke up and decided to get out at first light. I had taken a few minutes to set up the ground blind Sunday evening, and I found all of my calls. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate the decoys… still packed since Texas. It turns out that those dummy birds could have made all the difference. I spent the morning watching a great show as two good toms sparred over a group of hens all morning, but never came closer than 100 yards to my blind.
The dominant bird and hens never paid a lick of attention to my calls. The other tom, however, seemed genuinely conflicted over coming to investigate the unseen bird in the corner, or staying close and holding out hope for a stray from the little harem right in front of him. It’s tough to beat out a live hen, especially when you don’t have a decoy out.
So, barring early arrival of tomorrow’s rain, Iggy and I will be back in the blind at first light tomorrow. The Barnett RAZR will be locked and loaded, and I hope to put a big ol’ bird in the bag before the work day begins.
Wish me luck!
April 3, 2015
The damned turkeys are gobbling their fool heads off outside my window right now. They’d disappeared for a while… most notably, they’d disappeared the past weekend when I could have been out there hunting.
But now, they’re back.
Laughing their turkey laughs.
Because I’ve got a series of meetings that start in about 30 minutes. And it would take me about 15 minutes to get down there and set up. Which means all I can do is listen to them gobble.
This evening, a cold front is supposed to roll in and, as much as I and everyone else here is thankful for rain, it’s going to put the kibosh on turkey hunting plans.
So the bow is still hanging in the mud room.
And the Marauder is still leaning in the corner.
And I’m sitting here.
Pouting a little bit.
Cursing the day job, and waving the single-finger salute to those damned turkeys.
March 30, 2015
I spoke to my neighbors and got permission to slip over to their place in hopes of ambushing one of the toms that’s been cruising up and down the dry creek bed, and gobbling their heads off every morning.
I dug out my box call and a slate, debated pulling out the gobbler and decided to leave it stowed for now.
I found Fertile Myrtle, the trusty decoy, and tried to straighten out the wrinkles in her foamy flanks.
Iggy and I cruised over and scouted the area thoroughly, identifying two ideal setups.
Saturday morning dawned, and I sat shivering in the chill morning air, waiting to hear the fly-down or the gobbling that typically answered my neighbor’s rooster.
It never came.
No gobbles. No yelps.
The morning passed and I had errands to run, so I set my sights on Sunday and went about my business.
Sunday dawned, and again I waited.
The damned birds have done it to me again.
March 24, 2015
Clean your minds.
Despite the possibly evocative and misleading title (and of course it’s on purpose), I have not shot a turkey yet this season… quickly or otherwise. Nor have I observed any conjugating turkeys… quickly or otherwise. In fact, I haven’t even hunted yet. The birds are just now making their seasonal move into the area, and Saturday was a complete washout. Honestly, I prefer the rain we got to shooting a turkey.
But I had to post this quick little blurb, because there’s just something about sitting here in my office with the window open, scratching out a few calls on the box to a couple of distant toms, and having them appear a half hour later, searching intently for that lonesome hen who had, so recently, been yelping her lusty hunger across the canyon. The larger of the pair stood in my gate for a full two minutes, gobbling his ass off and then scanning to the left and right and all points in between to hear the lovelorn response. If I’d been on the porch with the pellet gun or the bow, he’d have been a fairly easy shot.
They’re so stupid this time of year.
March 12, 2015
I haven’t seen a turkey on my place since I smacked that tom back in November (or December… I can’t remember). That’s pretty much normal… or at least it’s normal over the three years and change since I bought this place.
They show up around October, hang out until December or January, and then they disappear.
It always starts the same way. The sun comes out after a period of grey, cold, rainy days. The grass greens up. And way off in the distance, I’ll hear them, shock gobbling when my neighbor’s goats or peacocks sound off.
Every day or two, the gobbling gets a little closer.
Then, some morning right around the opener, I’ll hear cutts, yelps, and purrs.
I’ll race to the window, open now to enjoy the spring breezes, but I won’t hear it again until I give up and go back to what I was doing. Then I hear it again.
And, finally, maybe a day or so on either side of the opener, a big tom will be strutting in my barn pasture.
This will be my last turkey season at Hillside Manor. I plan to make it count.
April 21, 2014
Easter weekend wasn’t about hunting or the outdoors, so in lieu of new post content today, I’m just gonna share this video that Robb posted in the comments last week.
One of the side effects of the popularity of outdoors television has been a surge in the number of hunting and fishing songs. A few of them have come from bigger artists (Rhett Atkins, Blake Shelton, etc.), but there are a lot of new artists out there putting in their two cents’ worth. This is Tony Young from a couple of years back…
April 17, 2014
Turkey season is still well underway around here, and while the activity appears to have climaxed early, there are still a handful of hardy toms, gobbling away as if to say, “wait, I’ve got more!”
Here at the Hillside Manor, turkey sightings have been on the wane since the early part of the season. There’s one old, grandmotherly hen who occasionally comes pecking around the pasture. I don’t really know turkey biology that well, but my assumption is that she’s past the age where mating season means much anymore. Even though there are at least three toms in this part of the canyon, I haven’t seen any of them on her trail. Either that, or maybe she’s just sworn off men. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The toms are staying off on the neighbors’ places for the most part, and I haven’t had the energy to try to coax them up the hill. I hear them most mornings, shock gobbling in response to the peacocks’ screams. I did find my gobble call the other day, and engaged in a little back and forth across the canyon with a scrappy bird. He moved a little closer, but he either had a little harem to defend, or he was more chicken than turkey. Either way, he wasn’t going to get any closer and I eventually got tired of the game.
But then, yesterday afternoon I caught movement across the road from the horse pasture. The movement became two turkeys, intent on crossing over my fence. I ran to the office and grabbed the binoculars for a better look. Both birds were toms, sporting eight or nine-inch beards. I watched for a couple of minutes as they searched for a way over or under the fence (turkeys can be pretty stupid sometimes), and then it clicked… this could be an opportunity (I’m not too bright sometimes either).
I grabbed the Benjamin Marauder from its dusty perch in the corner, donned a camo coat and hat, and took off at a trot. I figured if they came up like they used to, the birds would work across the pasture, following the little draw that cuts from the hills to my dry pond. The thicket of pinion pine and persimmon at the head of the draw would provide good cover for an ambush, as long as I could make it before they did.
Iggy the Wonder Dog, and bane of the successful sneak, saw the gun and went berserk. I struggled to keep him at heel as I half-jogged, half-ran the two hundred yards to the thicket. I was almost there when I saw the red head bobbing along, just at the top edge of the draw. They’d beaten me to the spot, but it looked like some miracle had kept them from noticing me. I crouched down in a little patch of scrub and popped out the bipod on the Benjamin.
The first bird popped out of the draw at about 4o yards, but was still partially obscured by brush. That would be a tricky shot for the air rifle. I needed them closer. Then the second bird came up at about 30 yards and froze, looking dead at me. I flipped the safety off and leveled the crosshairs at the place where the bird’s neck joined his body. At 6x magnification, the target looked huge. I took up the slack on the first stage of the trigger, and then squeezed through.
Instead of the sharp pop of the air rifle, the shot resulted in more of a “piffff”. I could actually see the .25 caliber pellet fly through the air and bounce off of the bird’s keel bone, about an inch below where I’d been aiming. I kept staring through the scope, not willing to believe what I’d just seen.
Of course the bird hopped up and flew a few yards before running into the brush. The second bird putted in panic, but didn’t appear to understand what was going on. I rammed another pellet into the chamber, all the while remembering that I’d failed to recharge the rifle’s air chamber after shooting jackrabbits a couple of weeks ago. In my rush to get into the field, I had failed to check the air gauge.
I stayed still for a moment, hoping the birds would settle down. Unfortunately, Iggy couldn’t contain himself at the shot. He bolted for the birds, and even though I was able to call him back fairly quickly, the damage was done. Both birds scurried up the hill and out of sight. I started back to the barn, but had to keep yelling at the damned dog to leave the birds. He’d walk with me a few steps and then turn and try to sprint back to the pasture.
By the time I got to the barn, I figured the two toms would be halfway down the canyon, but when I looked back I could see them milling around below a brush pile at the top of the pasture. Would I get another chance? I ran into the shop and grabbed the 12 gauge and a couple of #4 Bismuth. At the sight of the shotgun, Iggy’s antics went into overdrive. I could barely restrain him, and finally tied him to the hitching post with the horse’s lead rope.
I looped around the pasture, hoping to come up on the far side where I thought the birds might be headed. There’s a trail along the fenceline that the birds usually followed after feeding in the pasture, and since it was pretty well covered, I figured it would offer the kind of secure escape these two toms would be looking for. All I had to do was get there before they did, maybe call a little bit, then whack them as they tried to slip by.
I got into place and scratched out a gentle cluck on the slate call. Almost immediately, one of the birds gobbled from just above me. I tensed up, eased the double barrel into position, and waited. And waited. And waited. My eyes scanned the open ground at the base of the cedars for the movement of turkey feet or tail feathers, but nothing.
I waited some more. Across the canyon, a distant tom gobbled. The bird up hill from me gobbled again, in response. Was he still in the same spot? I clucked and purred on the call. Nothing happened. I craned my neck, trying to see through the thick branches. Impossible.
Last fall, I had cut a clearing in the cedar thicket about 50 yards uphill from where I was sitting. Maybe the birds were hung up there? I clucked again. The immediate gobble was still right where it had been before. There was a deer trail leading up from my spot, and I thought it might be big enough to slip myself up to the clearing. Or should I wait them out? This really wasn’t the kind of chase I’d been planning when I ran out the back door.
I clucked one more time on the call. No response. I eased up out of the brush, intent on sneaking up that deer trail. As I cleared the cover, a blur of wings and excited putts exploded ten yards away. All I could do was watch the bronze, feathered backs dart through the cedar branches and then take wing out of my pasture and across the road… to safety.
Patience kills turkeys.
March 17, 2014
Saturday morning dawned, and I was up to see it. But I was up because I’m neck deep in a pretty hot deadline in the day job with unprecedented pressure to perform. I know it was unprecedented, because I actually blew off hunting. That is something that hasn’t happened very often in my career.
It’s just as well, because Kat had an appointment and wouldn’t have been able to spend much time in the field. With the time change, it’s hard to remember that it’s still pretty dark at 07:00, and turkey time is relatively late in the morning.
So we blew it off.
I managed to get a lot of stuff done on Saturday, but there was a lot more to be done on Sunday. Two days into the season, and I haven’t even loaded the gun (or pulled down the bow)… that’s not good.
But the season is long, and so is my patience (well, my patience for the day job is running a little slim…). The turkeys are around, so it’s really a matter of making the time to get after them.
And I’ll do it soon, one way or the other.
March 14, 2014
Tomorrow morning’s dawn brings the opening day of turkey season out here in the Hill Country. Along with it, of course, will come a good chance of scattered thunderstorms. We can use the rain. But I don’t much care for sitting out in the pasture with lightning in the air. I have learned the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
I haven’t really had a chance to get out and pattern the shotgun like I should. It’s a good practice, by the way, for you other folks who might not be the procrastinators that I am. Hunters are often surprised by the performance of their scatterguns when the purpose shifts from slinging wide patterns into the air at flying fowl to making precision placement on a (semi) stationary target. Spending a few minutes and a few shells on a cardboard backstop can tell you a lot about what to expect. It may even reduce that surprise to a mild shock when, in spite of all your preparations you still manage to miss that turkey inside of 20 yards.
It’s happened to me. More than once. It sucked.
The point is… preparation. It’s really not the same as anticipation. Waiting eagerly for opening day isn’t the same as preparing for it. There’s a moral in there somewhere, probably, but the truth is I wasn’t going for sublime. Just making the point.
I’ve got some decoys out in the barn. Somewhere. I’ve been meaning to dig them out. The full-body foam decoys are probably smashed and crinkled, and packed underneath a bunch of other gear. They’re probably not going to want to stand up properly after being folded and crushed for over a year. They’re 10 years old. I probably should have replaced them by now.
The silhouette dekes should be in better shape. If I can find them. I saw the box they’re supposed to be in a few days ago, but there was nothing in it. I’ve got a bunch of lumber in the corner of the barn. I may have stacked it on top of the decoys. If not there, then they’re somewhere else.
My favorite box call and slate are in my bedside table. That probably seems a strange place for them. I guess it is. But at least they’ll be easy to find when morning comes.
The diaphragm calls were pretty much shot when I pulled them out last year, desiccated and torn from the abuse and poor storage. It’s just as well, I suppose, since I haven’t practiced mouth calling in ages. I wasn’t very good at it. I ought to throw them away. Maybe I will, the next time I see them.
My other calls are out in my turkey pack, hanging in a dark corner of the barn. There should be a few slate calls, extra strikers, some chalk for the box call, and stuff like that. There should also be some fat, shiny black spiders in the pack. Maybe scorpions. I should probably be careful when I reach in there tomorrow morning as I rush to beat the turkeys into the field.
It’s Friday and tomorrow morning is turkey season. Outside my office window I can hear the distant gobble as the birds are coming off the roost. I’m not prepared. But I’m ready.