Lessons In Impatience
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.