I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an inexperienced turkey hunter, and you’d agree if you spent any time hunting with me. The 2019 Vermont turkey season got off to a soggy start, so I spent my time working instead. I sat out the Wednesday opener and likewise on Thursday. Turkey hunting is fun, but I’m not to the point where I enjoy it so much that the thought of sitting in a downpour gets me out of bed at 3:30 in the morning. Perhaps someday I will reach that level of turkey hunting addiction. That day has not yet arrived.
What I enjoy most about turkey season is that you can set your alarm for an ungodly hour, hunt for a couple of hours and still get to work at a reasonable hour. Turkey hunting has shown me that there are a lot of hours available for fun before the work day starts. Then, after you’re done hunting, you can go to work and fall asleep at your desk and drool on your keyboard.
One would think that the turkeys would recognize this effort and play along a little better, but they don’t. It could also be from a lack of skill on my part or a lack of scouting, but then I’d have to admit my lack of success is a direct result of my ineptitude as a turkey hunter. That’d be embarrassing. Describing myself as an undeveloped talent would be better.
Friday morning was my first hunt of the year and I decided to hunt some old foes. Having done no previous scouting, I took a gamble and hiked for an hour in the dark to an old familiar ridge. This hike only takes twenty minutes in the daylight, but I like to lengthen the process in the pre-dawn hours by walking into standing trees and tripping over fallen ones. It adds to the experience. Later this month, the experience will be even better once it warms up and the mosquitoes come out in full force. I can’t wait.
I took my position at the top of the hardwood ridge about 150 yards above where the turkeys typically like to roost. I called a few times on my ascent up the hill but had not received a gobble in return. Most likely because the birds were not to be fooled by the sound of a guy tripping over logs with the beam of his headlamp spiraling around in the treetops as he tried to regain his footing. Nevertheless, I pressed on to the top, convinced the birds were on the roost.
Then it happened. About fifteen minutes before legal light I hit my call and the sound of a gobble pierced the foggy silence in return. He was there and so was I. A hunter would be hard pressed to find a more thrilling sound than that of a gobbler on the roost in the spring.
I snuggled in with the ticks at the base of a big tree after setting up my decoy below me. I called as little as I could stand, hopefully only enough to pique his curiosity and encourage him to come this way once he landed. I have experience with the birds that roost in these trees. It’s impossible to know what they will do after leaving the roost. Sometimes they stay put and other times they come straight up the hill. I’ve also seen them feed to the left and feed down the ridge. It’s very irritating. Other than trying to get in position above them to give me some options once they fly down, the only other play is to get up super de duper early and sneak in directly below the trees they are roosted in and surprise them as soon as they land.
There are some advantages and disadvantages to that approach. Advantages include having the element of surprise and not having to worry about which way they go once they fly down because they’d already be in range. The disadvantages are many – almost too many to count on one hand. First, I’d have to get up even earlier than normal and sneak in without the aid of my headlamp. If it was a hundred yard walk through a field it’d be no big deal, but it’s three quarters of a mile uphill, through multiples streams, and over fallen trees. Plus, there are creatures of the night that freak me out. The journey is not a simple one. It reminds me of the trip Frodo Baggins had to make in The Lord of the Rings, except without the big volcano thing at the end. Second, if I were to get into position in the dark without first being attacked by Orcs or falling into the shadows, I’d have to sit perfectly still until fly down which could be quite a while. Sitting right under roosted birds leaves no room for error. No Movement allowed! My back would be killing me and what if I have to go to the bathroom? I consume a lot of coffee on super de duper early mornings. Third, and possibly the biggest potential disadvantage of all, what if the birds aren’t even there? Do I really want to chance getting up so early to sit in pain and discomfort for thirty minutes at the base of a tree only to discover it’s empty when dawn breaks over the hills?
It is especially irritating to think that these birds are willing to hang out under a bird feeder ten feet from a house without a care in the world, but if you so much as batt an eyelash from 300 yards away while hunting them they take flight for miles.
Once the bird flew down, he gobbled less and did not show any interest in coming for a visit. I figured he was with a hen and wouldn’t come any closer, so I gathered my stuff and closed the distance between us. I know the terrain well and used it to my advantage. From the sound of his gobbles, I could tell he was at the base of the hillside less than 100 yards below me. I crawled up behind a root ball from a fallen tree at the crest of a hill and peered through the dirty roots. A mere sixty yards away was my foe, and he was watching closely over his potential lover. I felt dirty knowing what was on his mind.
I tried calling him closer, but the most I could get him to do was gobble sporadically. He had no intentions of leaving her for me. Rejection stings. The best I could hope for was that she would feed in my direction, but it was not meant to be. I watched helplessly as they fed in the opposite direction. The openness of the woods and the remaining time I had before needing to leave for work did not allow for me to circle around on them. The gig was up.
I hiked back to the truck without fear of nighttime Orcs attacking me from behind while pondering a plan for the next time I’d have an opportunity to hunt the hillside birds. If I’m not going to sneak under them, the best plan is still to get above them to give myself options. Patience and persistence are the keys to success for these birds, both of which I am running low on. If I had more than two hours to hunt, I’d just sit up top and wait for them to eventually come up to me. But I don’t have more than two hours, so I think I’ll just do the same thing and hope for a different result. If that doesn’t fit the definition of insanity, then I don’t know what does. One thing I’ve learned as an undeveloped turkey hunter is that being a little bit insane is a necessary character trait to have if I desire to one day become a true turkey hunter.
At the very least, failing again will be irritating enough to inspire my next post after I finish wiping the drool off my keyboard.