Some of us were cussing and discussing the recent weather last month. One guy was a duck hunter who depended on the rain for water holes to hunt on, and on prolonged freezing weather up Nawth to send ducks down here to light on the potholes so he could shoot at them. He wasn’t happy: “We ain’t had a duck season in four or five years!” he grouched. I thought it had been longer than that.
The next guy was a fisherman almost exclusively, but he declared that the fish weren’t biting even though the weather at the time was in the sixties and the water levels were about right in the oxbow lakes he frequented. “It ain’t hardly worth going these days,” though everyone knew he’d be fishing that next weekend.
Another guy was a deer hunter, and complained of mosquitoes driving him out of the woods the day before. “Heck, if I’da killed a deer yesterday, it’d have spoilt before I got it back to camp!” he observed.
This is an aside, but in spite of what some clubs require, I’ve always field dressed (“gutted”) my deer as soon as they hit the ground, and I’ve always had great tasting venison. Some folks will shoot a deer at 8:00 o’clock, drag it out to the road, wave down a jeep coming in for lunch, load the deer up and take it to camp, hang it on the skinning rack, eat lunch, take a nap, then field dress the deer in mid-afternoon. Then they say, “I give all my deer meat away, ‘cause it tastes gamey!” Lordee, the finest corn-fed steer in the world would taste gamey if you left the innards in it for six hours after you killed it!
Then the deer hunter stated, “I’m tempted to quit hunting deer and go to scouting for wild turkeys now, although I know it’s ‘way too early for the turkeys to be gobbling and working to a call.”
Not necessarily. Late one deer season it had turned cold again and I was on one of the River islands at daylight one morning, shivering up against a sweetgum tree on the side of a brushy draw. Somewhere south of me a hound bayed, and moments later, I saw the gleam of antlers coming up the draw. A buck broke clear of the brush and stopped as he topped the far ridge, about 50 yards away. He was east of me, and the sun was just rising beyond him. He posed, looking first over his shoulder, then toward me, then across the ridge he’d stopped on. He made a beautiful picture, his breath rising in frosty mist that shone like diamonds as the sun’s rays gleamed on his wide 8-point antlers. I had a mental picture that I’ll never forget as I pulled the trigger.
The 30/06 boomed, the buck collapsed neck-shot, and a wild turkey double-gobbled! Just like that: one, two, three!
My ears always ring after I fire a rifle, so I thought maybe they were playing tricks on me. “Was that a turkey?” I wondered, as I stooped to pick up my seat cushion and coffee thermos. Just to check, I called back: “Yawk, yawk, yawk!”
I started across the draw to field dress my trophy, and halfway across, durned if the gobbler didn’t answer me, with another double gobble. He was also east of me, toward the sun, so I slowed and peeked over the ridge before I topped it. Once more I yelped – I call with my mouth – and once more the turkey gobbled back. I chuckled, set my cushion and Thermos down, leaned my rifle against a persimmon sapling, took my coat off, and pulled out my scabbard knife. It only took a minute to perform the first couple of you-can’t-write-it-in-the-paper rituals involved in gutting a deer, then I rolled the buck over to slit him open from stem to stern. Steam rose from the cut as I knelt astraddle the deer to cut around the diaphragm, then I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.
That crazy gobbler strutted up to me out of the sun, as the steam from the opened-up buck mingled with the frost of my own breath. Had the gun been closer, I might have taken home double trophies. I stayed still and yelped softly at him, provoking another double-gobble in a full strut. He came within ten yards, then the hound bayed again back down in the draw and spooked the turkey.
It was a great morning – don’t ever try to predict what a wild turkey will do!