As I crossed my friends’ hay field in the dim morning light, a distant flash of lightning started my internal timer. “If only I could find a way to put thunder in a can”, I thought to myself, “I’d be a millionaire”. Sure, manufactured crow calls, owl calls, coyote howlers and the like all have their place in shocking a gobbler into giving up his location, but nothing beats a booming assist from Mother Nature. “Eighteen Mississippi, nineteen Mississippi…” At 20 seconds I finally heard the low rumble of thunder. Even before the simple calculation of 4 miles distance to the lightning came to mind, the gobbler sounded off. He was kitty corner across a county road, on private property I couldn’t hunt. I tried my best to ignore him, but a second lightning and thunder combo, this one a bit closer, generated anothe throaty gobble. It reminded me that I should probably not stray too far from my vehicle with a possible thunderstorm brewing. It also reminded me that late season gobblers that sound off with gusto can be some of the most fun and most reliable birds to hunt.
My home state of Wisconsin has a fairly brief but rich tradition of turkey hunting. Restocking of wild
birds beginning in the early 70’s has turned into a quantity and quality of harvest that game managers could only dream of. When hunting turkeys was first allowed there were quite conservative quotas and seasons put in place. Those restrictions have been gradually liberalized over the years, based on solid harvest data and research that followed the upward swing in bird numbers statewide. In the just-completed 2012 season the previous scheme of 6
individual turkey seasons consisting of 5 days on, 2 days off, was changed to allow hunting all 7 days. Those extra 2 days, Monday and Tuesday, make even more hunting opportunities for hunters still holding tags. Despite the extra opportunities, it’s still human nature to want the first crack at the birds each season and that’s why the first couple seasons are the most heavily subscribed in the lottery drawing. I’ve gotten those early tags enough times to
know that the birds are plentiful, gobbling activity is usually pretty good, and the loud-mouthed 2 year olds fill many a hunter’s game bag. I also know that the weather can be nasty, foliage cover for moving on the birds can be nonexistent, and competition from other hunters is at its peak.
Enter late season Turkey Hunting
Mid May takes on a whole new flavor from mid April. The leaves are fully out, especially after the recent mild winter. Hens are busy
with nesting duties, so the remaining gobblers still interested in some company are less likely to get it. This is the time of year when you might catch the nearly constant calling of a “troller” – a gobbler that does a lot of talking while also doing a lot of walking. Sometimes he’ll frustrate you to no end, answering all your calls but still not turning back to check out the “hen” that’s pursuing him. But there are other times when things work out in your favor. That’s what I was hoping as I quietly closed the tailgate of my truck and slipped off through the woods to try to intercept the thunder bird I’d heard 10 minutes earlier. With only 3 days left ’til the end of the season,
it was game on.
He was on the ground now, gobbling on his own without any prompting from the thunder, which had since vanished. By the time I got settled in and ready to call to him I realized he’d already crossed the county road and was now on my side. While that was good news for me, unfortunately he was still well to my south on unhuntable private land. As he continued east I called to him sparingly with my diaphragm. He answered, but each gobble was further and further away. He was paralleling me so I picked up the pace and jogged through the woods along the old barbed wire fence separating the properties. I knew from aerial photos that there was a large grass field on the neighbor’s land and that’s where the gobbling stabilized to a single location. Since I couldn’t see that far through the thick greenery, I could only imagine that bird strutting and gobbling out in that field, trying to coax me out of the woods from the north.
Calling in a Gobbler
I knew the woods well – setting up against a big oak just 50 yards downhill from a favorite tree stand that had yielded several deer in past years. My calling was very low-key, interspersed with a lot of scratching in the leaves to simulate a feeding hen. No need for the long strings of yelps from the earlier seasons. Single or double clucks kept him interested, and it was clear that his gobbling was getting closer and more insistent. Finally, I saw that black form slinking through the woods that all turkey hunters long to see. He set up shop in an opening between some mature oaks that gave him a sight line to his expected hen. Trouble was, he managed to put a wind fallen dead pine tree right between us. From under my facemask I was chirping clucks out the side of my mouth to try to get him moving to my right and away from the tree, but he liked his spot and let me know it by alternately fanning and gobbling, but without moving his feet.
Shooting a Wild Turkey
After a few tense minutes of enjoying what I like to call “The Greatest Show on Earth”, I straightened my back against the tree and gained just enough height to manage a shot between the branches of the downed pine. At 35 yards the Hevi-shot 6’s caused massive head and neck damage, anchoring the bird in place. I rushed over and steadied his wings so he wouldn’t break any feathers when he thrashed. The tom was my first 5 year old – with inch and a half spurs, an 11.5 inch beard, and weighing 22.6 lbs. As I stood over this beautiful bird and gave thanks, I thought about the friendly location, the 2 hours of elapsed time from when lightning-caused thunder gave way to shotgun-caused thunder, and the quarter mile this talkative old bird walked before turning to my calling. It all convinced me in an instant that he’d be mounted in full strut to preserve the memories of a very satisfying late season hunt.
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