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Many times the measure of pleasure in a sport is derived from its frustration quotient. Ask any golfer how much "fun" it is to drive a ball deep into the woods, into the lake or into a slippery sand trap! Apparently, a high degree of failure is important to those who participate, in which case Maine’s wild turkey hunters must always be having a great time!
I get to hunt turkeys quite a bit and can attest to the fact that this is not a sport for high achievers. It’s amazing how much can go wrong and how often it does – you’d think a bird with a brain the size of a dried pea would be easy to outwit, but that’s not the case! Even when you’ve done everything right (gotten up at 3 a.m., dressed properly, forgot nothing and were in the woods well before daylight) things can go wrong. My most recent hunts are perfect examples.
On opening day, I was set up at the edge of an open field on a known turkey travel way. I had a decoy set out, the sun at my back and a gobbler coming in, slow but sure. I’d called to him with soft yelps and clucks since before sunrise, and now he was on the ground and coming in. All I had to do was wait for him to step into range . . .
Well, there was one little glitch. I had a 12-year-old with me who had yet to shoot his first turkey, so I planned to give him the first shot. The decoy was only 20 yards away and fully in view, and I told my partner to just hold his fire till the gobbler was standing next to the decoy. Well, after an hour of seductive calling the big tom turkey finally walked up to the edge of the field, spied the ?hen? standing there and worked his way over to her. At this point the turkey was directly in front of us, wide open, and the kid had his trusty 20-gauge aimed and ready. When I said, "Shoot!" the kid touched the trigger and the gun went off with a loud bang. I was watching the bird through binoculars and saw him flip over, spurs in the air, and then instantly pop upright again, neck outstretched, as he ran at full speed for the far edge of the field. Somehow, some way, the kid had missed the bird at 20 yards! We jumped up and looked for feathers, blood or some sign of a hit, and just then the turkey flapped away over the treetops 100 yards to our left, flying high and strong into the distance.
Hey, we all miss once in a while, and I told the young hunter so. We went home empty-handed that day, but planned to come back and try it again. Well, we set up in the same place, woke the same gobbler up at daylight and lured him into range again – what could possibly go wrong this time? Well, despite my best efforts to calm the kid’s fears about missing, he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger, and the bird just walked right past us without a care in the world! I had vowed not to shoot till the kid got his bird, so I just sat there shaking my head in dismay while a gobbler with a 10-inch beard just strolled out of sight!
Things just kept getting better! The next trip, I was all set up and had a gobbler and three hens working their way down the field toward me. I was all in place, camouflaged and ready to shoot – all I had to do was wait for them to walk into gun range. Well, I was feeling quite confident about it and didn’t even bother calling anymore. In fact, I was sitting there with my shotgun across my knees and my binoculars on the birds, just observing them as they fed their way to me.
When the birds were still about 100 yards out I caught a glimpse of something bouncing through the tall grass to the right of the birds. At first, I thought a deer was bounding through the field, but as I focused on the spot I realized it was a small coyote. The hungry canine was bouncing through the grass on its hind legs, headed straight for “my” turkeys! It was a young coyote and none too clever, because the turkeys saw him and ran long before he was able to pounce on them. Had I been lucky (too late for that already!) the birds might have chosen to run toward me, but they elected to run back the way they came and started flying left and right like so many quail. To add insult to injury, the coyote decided to run after them, and so I didn’t get a shot at a turkey or a coyote!
Perhaps the most amusing (if not frustrating) event of the season occurred when I met Kody in the same group of fields and we decided to split up and try to ambush some feeding birds. Kody is also trying to bag his first turkey (remember last year’s muzzleloader miss on opening day?). Well, this time he remembered to put a bullet in his gun (muzzleloaders are legal for turkeys where we hunt) and, what do you know, some turkeys actually showed up in his field, including one legal gobbler.
I didn’t see everything that happened, but I heard the loud “snap-bang” of the cap lock muzzleloader and heard some frenzied flapping of turkey wings, and fully expected to see Kody come strutting around the corner with his first turkey in hand. Great expectations, it seems . . .
Kody came over to my side of the field, but with yet another sad story. He’d knocked some feathers from the bird but didn’t kill it. In fact, the gobbler had fluttered into a tree and was sitting there on a dead limb in plain sight!
"So, why don’t you load up and shoot him again?" I asked.
"I only had one bullet!" Kody said.
This was no time for lecture on preparation (like bringing two bullets on a hunt!), so I abandoned my spot and went off with Kody to try to find his bird. Well, despite the handful of feathers in Kody’s turkey vest, the gobbler was apparently none the worse for wear because, as I approached with gun ready, the bird left his limb and flapped away into the distant woods looking perfectly healthy and whole despite his recent encounter with Mountain Man Kody.
As we left the field after yet another fruitless hunt, I started wondering if I should take up golf instead!
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