Monday, November 19, 2007

Stalking the wild turkey

As expected, my planned “break” from hunting this weekend never happened. Leaves didn’t get raked, meals didn’t get cooked, bathrooms didn’t get cleaned – all because our friend Evan called and said it would be a great weekend for turkey hunting in the area where he grew up. My willpower evaporated instantly.

Evan hails from Amador County – part of historic gold country and an up-and-coming Northern California wine region. In fact, my boyfriend and I went wine tasting there Saturday with two of our colleagues (admittedly, another factor contributing to my domestic delinquency this weekend).

Taking me turkey hunting was a nice bit of turnabout for Evan. He was part of our crew on opening weekend at the Delevan National Wildlife Refuge, where we got to show him one of our favorite places to hunt. Now it was his turn to show where and how he grew up hunting: not planting himself in a marsh and waiting for game to come, but rather hiking the grassy, oak-studded hills in search of game.

Our primary mission Sunday was finding turkeys – more specifically, for Evan to find me a turkey, because he didn’t particularly feel like plucking one this weekend.

As we were driving to our first turkey location, we rounded a bend in the road and what did we see but a half dozen or so enormous jakes, crossing indolently in the bright morning sunlight.

Evan slammed on the brakes and an incredible torrent of profanity gushed out of him.

The problem, he said between curses, is that turkeys know you can’t shoot them on the road, or even from the road, so they don’t even try to run away. They just … taunt you. We could practically see them flipping us off.

If we didn’t mind shooting from the road (illegal), shooting onto property for which we didn’t have permission to hunt (illegal), or shooting next to a house (illegal), we could’ve bagged our legal limit of one apiece right there. So, yeah, we didn’t shoot.

Evan was convinced that we were cursed, that we would be the victims of bad juju, that those would be the only turkeys we’d see all day.

He was wrong.

We got to our hunting site, loaded our shotguns and headed down a steep hill to begin our search. Within minutes, a flock of mallards flew over us, booking toward a pond Evan knew about. We looked at each other, grinning like kids on Christmas morning, and headed back to the truck to reload with steel shot.

Loaded with the right ammunition for ducks, we headed down the hill again. Within minutes – again! – Evan stopped suddenly, pointing at some distant trees.

Turkeys! But they see us. They’re going to bolt.
And they did. We weren’t worried, though – we were headed to the pond, which was probably filthy with mallards by this time.

We got to within 200 yards of our destination and were chatting at a low whisper when we both froze. There under some trees to our left, maybe 75 yards away, was that same herd of turkeys he'd spotted on the way out.

Evan whispered to me:

I’ll go down here. You go back up there, where we came from.
Chances would be good one of us would get a shot.

I circled back on the path and was pondering my best location for a good shot when I saw movement just over the crest of a small hill in front of me, about 10 yards away.

The turkeys! They’d spooked, and they were on the move. All I could see over the hill was their heads. I lifted my gun.

I could take a shot … but where’s Evan? Am I going to hit him?
I couldn't answer those questions. So I lowered my gun, and watched as the turkeys fled. By the time they reached a spot where I could see everything behind them, they were way too far away for steel shot to penetrate their notoriously thick armor of feathers. Probably too far even for lead shot.

They disappeared over a hill, and that was that.

Those were the last turkeys we saw all day. Evan bagged a drake mallard at the pond, but I left that spot with nothing, though not for lack of trying. We moved onto another location and took a fantastic hike, crossing streams, squeezing through barbed-wire fences, saying hello to cows, spotting a coyote at one point and watching – riveted – as he came closer and closer without seeing us. We even heard some turkeys at one point, but we never did spot them.

Sometimes when hunters come back empty-handed and talk about how much they enjoyed the nature walk, it’s tempting to think they’re just rationalizing, embracing the consolation prize. But I absolutely loved our day.

Would I have preferred to get a turkey? Sure. Did I still have fun? Absolutely, because the outing reminded me of hundreds of days in my childhood when I spent hours wandering around alone in nature, observing what I could, trying not to be observed by anything else. Only now I was a grown-up with a gun, with the ability to transform a perfectly delightful hike into a delicious Thanksgiving meal.

Evan seemed concerned – he wanted me to be happy about the hunt. I told him not to worry, because I was happy as hell. And I continue to feel that way even as I write this, 24 hours after our hunt ended. I feel reconnected with the environment that I love. And as I do after every hunt, I feel that I have learned something – in this case, that I must always position myself quickly in a place where I can see everything in my potential line of fire.

At this stage of the game for me as a new huntress, I think that’s plenty to be happy about.

© Holly A. Heyser 2007


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good day. Of course, I think any day when you learn something is a good day.

But then, I'm kind of a geek.

Editor said...

a very good post!

Phillip said...

I'd say you had a good hunt!

I didn't make it out for fall turkey this year, but I've got plans for the spring...oh yes I do!

Keep growing, keep learning, and bear in mind that most folks would say turkeys run in flocks, not herds (heh heh... just picking on you).

As far as the unfinished domestic chores... that's what the off-season is for. Of course, in CA, there is no off-season.

Welcome to the hunting life!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, yeah, I know they're flocks, but when I saw them run, it reminded me in that scene in Jurassic Park where there's a herd of dinosaurs thundering through that meadow (or whatever it was), so I can't stop thinking of them in those terms. It's total herd behavior!

As for our seasons, we may not have the weather differences everyone else has, but Fish and Game still makes the guns go quiet every once in a while. That's when I go kayaking at the local lake to cast wan looks at the resident mallards.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

I'd love to hear more about turkey hunting with shot guns (they are so much fun). I once read about a gunsmith in California who makes three grades of extreme turkey choke, with the last one so tight the pellets almost have to form a que to exit the barrel.keep posting.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Bushwhacker, I'll get back to you when I actually bag one. Cross your fingers - I may get to try again on Sunday, the last day of our season.