“What the heck was I thinking!?” Those were the words that echoed in my head as I sat shivering in the dark against a large oak tree positioned on the edge of a 100 acre field Just East of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The ground that had been so thick with corn just five or six months earlier now looked at least to my untrained eye, as desolate as the surface of the moon, and at 4:30 am on this chilly morning, felt about as cold as the pizza I had for breakfast. Looking through the trees and fallen branches to the east, I had hopes of seeing the first rays of sunlight peek over the horizon to warm my body, and slowly bring an end to the suffering I thought I would have to endure for the next few hours. While I sat fidgeting uncomfortably, much to the annoyance of my good friend who graciously offered to enlighten me as to the ways of the Wild Turkey, I could not help but recount the events that brought me 1500 miles from Miami, Florida and the warm colorful reefs that I call home.
How did this all start? Well, as with all epic tales of adventure, its best to rewind and start this story from the beginning. My trek was first set in motion with a phone call from my good friend David Roll of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Dave is a fine upstanding fellow in his late 40’s who is equally at home playing music in a jazz band or sinking deep into the woods as the cameraman for many popular Midwest outdoor shows. Its always been a mystery to me why every third person I meet in the northern states is named Dave, but then again I still wonder why we drive on parkways and park in driveways. In any event, Dave convinced me to apply for a spring turkey permit for the upcoming season, and in return I would teach him about big game fishing for sailfish, tuna and other species found in the warm waters off the coast of South Florida. Shortly after the permit draw I received a letter from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources informing me that I had been granted a permit for the second of 5 hunting periods in the zone in which I had applied.
So there it was, the die had been cast and there was no turning back now. After battling billfish off the coast of Panama and Costa Rica, and surviving numerous mountaineering expeditions and high altitude adventures, including a visit Mount Everest base camp, I was soon to match wits with the noble and elusive Eastern Wild Turkey.
All of a sudden I knew what it was like to be a girl… a big outing planned and not a thing to wear!!! How would I outfit myself for what is literally the near-polar opposite of my native climate? Up to this point, as I fished my way around the Gulf Stream, my biggest concern had been ‘do I wear socks today?’ and ‘what SPF factor should I take along?’ This was definitely destined to be unchartered territory for a guy from Miami.
After careful research on the Internet (its amazing how much useless information can be found on the World Wide Web including the factoid that Wild Turkey Hunting is four times safer than playing ping pong. Who comes up with this stuff!), I was able to gather enough information so that my American Express card and I could go to the local Bass Pro Shops and outfit properly (although I think I heard the AMEX card whimper as we left). My good friend and expert Turkey Hunter Dave Roll gave me enough information on the area and time of year so that I would be able to choose the right equipment. Since a key element in Turkey hunting is the art of concealment, I was able to choose several layers of clothing that would afford me a range of warmth, comfort and stealth as well as serve double-duty for any other future hunting exploits. Being left handed, my choices of shotgun were a bit more limited, but I decided on the Browning NWTF BPS as it has a bottom eject and safety located on top. I also purchased a red dot scope along with the Browning to aid my tired 50 year old eyes. Dave was to supply the Turkey ammo as he suggested we plan to pattern the shotgun after my arrival so he could go over various aspects of the hunt and shooting positions that I may encounter.
After a few weeks, the day had finally arrived. Supplied with enough equipment to outfit a small army for some time and I made my way to the Fort Lauderdale airport. As a result of the global war on terror, I was very nervous about checking a shotgun along with my checked baggage, but I found that the airlines are quite accustomed to this, and as long as I followed the airlines directions for gun case and ammunition, it was not really much different than any other trip I had taken. Having successfully negotiated my way through security and the carnage that occurs as people are jockeying for position in order to board the airplane, I settled into my seat and drifted off to sleep as the blue waters of the South Atlantic faded from view.
Two days later and after what seemed like about 15 minutes of uninterrupted sleep, we pulled out of the driveway for the 5 minute drive to a friend’s field where we had scouted the day before. Thirty minutes after that I was sitting against a tree with a small blind made up of brush surrounding me. This was a welcomed rest from the silent walk along the tree line to an area we had decided to set up at. Walking into the woods through the dark in complete stealth mode to avoid detection by Wild Turkeys that are roosting nearby, or by any other creatures that might sound the alarm that we were trespassing in their forest.
With decoys deployed about 15 yards out from our position, Dave and I settled in waiting for first light when we hoped the birds would fly down from their roost and stroll on over towards our decoys. For those that have never spent a pre-dawn morning in Wisconsin in early spring waiting for Eastern Turkeys to fly down, you might want to try sitting in a freezer at your local market in a tee shirt and shorts. In other words it is freaking cold! However, even in the cold and dark, when some sound or inducement causes a Gobbler to sound off, it takes quite a bit of edge of the cold. Keep in mind my first Turkey Hunt took place be enclosed factory hunting blinds became common place.
Well, the sun rose, it got a bit warmer, barely, and after an hour I had still not seen a single Turkey. My butt was starting to hurt and my feet were cramping so Dave and I whispered about trying a bit of the run and gun method. Just about that time I caught some motion in the tree line about 100 yards away. At about this same time I heard soft Dave’s voice telling me “raise your gun and don’t move!”
Well, at that time Wild Turkey hunting just became very real to me as one of the 3 big Gobblers that came out of the started making a beeline right for our decoy. He fanned out his tail feathers and strutted his way closer. This was absolutely one of the most amazing things I had ever seen! Gobbling and strutting all the while getting closer and closer. The other 2 Gobblers where also heading in our direction but at a much slower pace as if they knew something was a bit off. At about 50 yards, the big bird has slowed down to a crawl and at 30 yards my good friend Dave whispered “take him now or he’s gone.”
Buying a gun that accommodated 3 inch magnum shells, properly patterning the Turkey shot that I would be using along with the red dot scope, all of this came together in the blink of an eye as I squeezed the trigger. Through the initial shock of taking the shot and the through the early morning haze, I saw a wing flap one, then twice and then Dave and I sprinted out of our makeshift blind to make sure the bird was down for good.
A quick trip to the hunting check-in station, then dressing out the bird and finally a well-deserved nap took up the next several hours. That evening my good friend who introduced me into the wonderful world of hunting Wild Turkey, along with the lovely people who allowed me to hunt private land and I sat down to an amazing dinner of Turkey, Morel mushrooms and other assorted veggies. I treasure the memory of harvesting a big Gobbler, but the memories of the friends I made and the journey I took from knowing nothing about Turkey hunting, to taking my first bird and sharing it with those friends was the most meaningful part of the adventure. When I was hiking in the Himalayas, my Sherpa friends said something to me that I feel is as true then as it is now…”The journey is the destination!”