Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Turkey hunting: The great escape from prison

Seventy-one days.

That's how long it had been since I'd gone hunting when Hank and I joined our friend Evan to go turkey hunting Sunday in the emerald hills of Amador County.

Evan had warned Hank that turkey sightings had been minimal at the oak-studded cattle ranches where he had permission to hunt. "I don't care," I told Hank. "I just want to go for a walk with a gun in my hand and know that if I see legal game, I can shoot at it."

That sounds way more bloodthirsty than it was.

I've just been feeling really hemmed-in by my city life. I mean, I love my weekly hikes at the lake. If I stick to the deer trails, I can avoid humans for most of the trek, and as a result, I tend to see a lot of wildlife. Very good for the soul.

More importantly, I'm getting to know that place. I know exactly where the fat jack rabbit will bolt at my approach, and what cover he'll run to. I know where the small herd of deer lives, shrinking by the week as its members get smashed by cars on the nearby busy street and left to bloat in the sun. I know where the hawk will fly, screeching, low over the tree line as I cross a normally-dry creek bed, now swollen with water that oozes from the hillside, soaked by the incredible rainfall we've had this year. I know where I'll see turkeys, and why - a homeowner adjacent to the park dumps seed to attract wildlife.

But of course, I can't hunt there.

Evan seemed as frustrated by city life on Sunday as I've been. He was born and raised in Amador County, but now spends most of his waking hours stuck in an office an hour away at the Capitol. For the first time since I met him, I heard him speak with bitter envy about the people who've made their life back home in the hills: They can finish work for the day and spend all their free time scouting for game, and just get up and go hunting, practically right out their back door, when the weekend comes.

Evan's career success - he's really good at what he does - doesn't allow him the same luxury. It strikes me as a prison, of a sort.

My prison is a different one. My job affords me plenty of freedom - I have almost complete autonomy, I love my students, and I get summers off. My prison is a house in the city - normally an excellent investment, but now worth about $100,000 less than we owe on it. Good lord, how will we ever move out to the country? How will I ever live in a place where I can get to know the land intimately, and hunt on it?

The turkey hunting was wretched on Sunday. I think we saw a grand total of four turkeys, none of them in range, and the sightings - and soundings - stopped not long after sunrise. But we kept jumping from ranch to ranch anyway, stalking absolutely nothing under the watchful eye of hundreds of cows.

"Wanna try another place?" Evan would ask.

I'd think about what I could be doing if I were at home: cleaning the house, weed-whacking the yard, working on a project. Then I'd weigh that against what we were doing: soaking up the spring sunshine, walking all over creation, pursuing food without the comfortable guarantees of the supermarket. This is how we're supposed to live.

"Yeah, let's do it."

© Holly A. Heyser 2011


Phillip said...

Holly, I do know why the caged bird sings.

NorCal Cazadora said...

LOL, I knew that of all people, you would.

Hil said...

Four turkeys in sight in a single morning is far from wretched. I had exactly two in sight over the course of a three-day hunt — one hen and one huge tom I totally whiffed a shot at. Dang it.

I am totally with you on the "how will I ever live in a place...." thing. We aren't upside down on the house or anything but my gosh, with the cost of land these days, I just wonder how we'll ever afford it period!

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, this place is usually THICK with turkeys - you can hit a call and hear gobbling all over the place.

Bummer on your tom - were you using a full choke?

Swamp Thing said...

I dunno what to tell you - that's turkey hunting! Private land or not. Those buggers have pretty complicated wiring, given that their brain is the size of a cashew!

Hil said...

Well that's the problem. I brought my Maxus but forgot my choke tubes and only had my improved choke in! So I borrowed the only available gun around, a 10-gauge pump with a turkey choke. The thing weighed a dang ton and the turkey was standing behind me staring right at me before I knew he was there. By the time I got the cannon swung all the way around my body and shouldered, he was running off. Shouldn't have fired, probably, but I did. Oh well.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, OUCH!!!!!

Ian Nance said...

I would love to take a crack at those Western birds!!

Best of luck this season and congrats busting out of the clink!

Live to Hunt.... said...

Sounds so lovely! What a nice day to be out on the land- quarry or not. It is such a great time of year in NorCal!

SimplyOutdoors said...

Despite the slow hunting, Holly, it's still so good for the soul to get outside.

I'm a city dweller, too, and I bought my house about 5 years ago, right before the market tanked, so I feel your pain.

Hopefully, one day, we'll have our little slice in the country, but, until then, we'll just have to settle for the outdoor experiences we do get to enjoy - bird or no bird; deer or no deer.

Because man it feels so good to get outside! It definitely is good for the soul.

Peebs said...

Walked out back Sat AM jumped a Jake unfer my apple tree.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Peegs: Did you shoot him?

Simply: I never thought we'd go this far under. It's a bummer. But we're grateful we can at least afford the mortgage (though we'd probably get some federal benefits if we missed a few payments).

LTH: Agreed! Though I heard the rain is coming back.

Ian: Thanks! I still have some options open. That will, as my dad used to say, keep me off the streets.

Marian Love Phillips said...

Glad you got out of prison and got back to nature for awhile...I know the feeling. Lost my hunting ground after 25 years last season because of higher fees but have the Christmas Place (Deer Camp Blog) to go to, thank goodness! Last year a good friend, Sharon and I turkey hunted together for a week and we had a blast. I called up two myself but too far away @70 yards...I was so excited! You can read about it on my blog when you get a chance. It was the first time I had gone turkey hunting in years and was great to get back to nature again. I hope one day you get a chance to get one! That would be awesome! Take care and have a Blessed day Holly! :)

Richard Mellott said...

I just came back from a week-long excursion into Arizona. I pulled into the driveway of the home in Scottsdale, where we were staying, and flushed about 5 quail and a few dove that were hanging out under the shrubs. Later, I looked up from the kitchen, and saw a quail peek over the gutter at me, upside down, and I went out and watched it walk over the rooftop. I talked to an older gentleman in Cabella's as we left town, as he and I were admiring some Turkey calls, and he told me that he'd drawn a bull elk tag this year. He also hunts javalina down near Tucson. I was quite envious of this fellow geezer. I bought a tule seat online, and have my eye on some coot and mallard decoys...and a GPS...
Going shopping with the wife at Cabella's was the ultimate gear ho's treat. Next weekend, I'm at the range with my new shotgun, and my 7mm rm, practicing for a May Pig hunt or two. Life is good! Cabin Fever is bad.
As for the buyer's remorse on the house, I feel for you. I resisted buying a house, and boy am I glad I did. It isn't easy getting out from under that kind of burden.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Marian, I'll stop by for sure! Glad to see you're doing well again. I can't imagine losing a place I'd hunted for 25 years, but I suppose it happens a lot, for a lot of reasons.

Richard: I wouldn't say I have buyer's remorse. All the renters of the nation are subsidizing my mortgage deduction, which, at that purchase price, is substantial. And we do have a garage where we can store gear and pluck ducks, and two storage sheds, and all the garden space we want. I'd definitely rather own than rent. I just wish I'd known seven years ago what I was getting into with hunting, because I wouldn't mind being "stuck" like this in a country house.

Mike at The Big Stick said...

I had been debating what to do with my Saturday this week. Our KY turkey season opens that morning but the private farm I am hunting this year doesn't open up until the 23rd (landowner likes to have it to himself for the first wekend). I considered staying at home rather than deal with all the hunters on the public land near me. I think though that I am going to have to hope for the best and head out. Better to deal with that than cut the grass.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Hunting turkeys on public land scares me - I hear so often about jacklegs who shoot at movement that turns out to be another hunter, not a turkey. So if you go out there, BE SAFE!!!!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I'm not in the country, exactly, but a whole lot closer to it than I used to be. And I miss the city something fierce. As much as I love what we're doing out here -- hunting, fishing, growing, gathering -- I miss the humanity, and the diversity, and the subway. And knowing there a five places in a two-block radius where I can get a pint of ice cream in the middle of the night.

NorCal Cazadora said...

Oh, Tamar, I'm bi - I love country and city. I've just reached a point in my life where I'd rather live in the country and visit the city. I've been living the other way around for 27 years now and I'm over it.

Erich said...

You get to go for a hike around a lake once a week? I’m envious! I’m lucky if I get out of the city (NYC in my case) once or twice a month. I very much share your desire to have (or have access to) land in a way that I can come to feel less like an interloper, watching it change through the seasons and learning the ways and wiles of the wildlife on it. I get out hunting as much as I can, but it’s rarely the case that I’ve had the time to do any real scouting beforehand. And that feels a bit like cheating. At its best, hunting isn’t about getting lucky, but about creating some luck because you have an idea of where you are and what else is there with you.

It is a great tension in (my) modern life between the inspiration and rejuvenation and pleasure I find in the wild, whether hunting or hiking or watching the rain fall on a pond, and the economic, social and cultural opportunities of urban habitation. I haven’t figured out how to resolve it for myself yet. Throw a (non-hunting) partner and a young child into the mix, and things get even more complicated…maybe once my daughter starts hunting…

But the topic is turkey. Our season opens May 1 and I’ve already booked vacation time for that week so I can spend a few days in a row getting up at 4:00 A.M. , sitting on a damp log in a light chilly drizzle swarmed by insects for 6 or 7 hours at a stretch. Now that’s living!

I found it very poignant how many people wrote here about how the real estate crash has impacted their lives. I’m sorry for all the hardship. Despite all the drawbacks of living in the densest urban environment in the country, I guess I can take some consolation in the fact that the market has so far stayed relatively stable here. Remind me, how does that help my hunting?

NorCal Cazadora said...

Erich, I just heard on the radio that one-fourth of all foreclosure notices that have gone out in some recent measurement period were in California. Sacramento in particular is bad - it was considered the most overvalued market in the country, oh, right about the time we bought. My mantra: "Tax deduction ... tax deduction ... tax deduction ... bourbon ..."

There was a time when I would've gladly lived in NYC, before I got really spoiled by what decent wages would get me elsewhere. (Funny thing is that what I paid for this house would be considered wildly extravagant by many readers here.)

I can't imagine hunting from NYC, particularly with the insane gun laws. But keep in mind that you do live in one of the greatest cities in the world, and there are enormous cultural benefits to that.

And I doubt you'd see any direct benefit to your hunting, but I see your direct benefit to hunting: We need people like you in cities like that so the non-hunters you encounter will see that we're not monsters. (I'm just taking it on faith here that you're not a monster ;-).

Anonymous said...

I go back and forth between city and country all the time, both literally and philosophically. I'm from Northern California, originally, but live in San Francisco and have for years. I think I could do either but not in between.

It's a drag to be to be upside down on a house but if you were renting you'd pay all that money for years and not get ANYTHING back. Not even part of it. And it wouldn't be yours.

It sounds like you do manage to hunt pretty close and Sacramento seems like it is an hour away from good hunting of all kinds in every direction. The blogging (which I really enjoy, by the way) probably opens up a lot of possibilities too. Regardless of where you are, I personally think that some of the best hunts are what Aldo Leupold would have described as "stolen hunts"; so close that others overlook them. A little ingenuity, research and willingness to talk to people can go a long way, and a lot of people would be surprised how close some hunting opportunities can be, even to some pretty densely populated areas.

Neil H

Anonymous said...

There's a bit of mental slip for you, I meant Aldo Leopold.


NorCal Cazadora said...



Seriously, you're way better off than Erich, living in the 7x7 city - there is so much awesome wild land close to that city.

Mine too, honestly.

I just want to live in it.

Erich said...

It's not easy to live in NYC and be a hunting and gun nut, but it's doable. For long guns, the local regulations aren't really that bad. Basically, you can only buy one gun every three months. Probably a good thing given my acquisitive penchant! Handgun regs are more of a pain, but also not a big deal. I belong to a gun club in downtown Brooklyn, a ten minute bike ride from my house, where I shoot my handguns. And the club owns 800 acres of hunting land about three hours north of the city, where I do my deer and turkey hunting. Within 1.5 hours of the city are several good clay ranges where I get my fix off-seasons. So I can’t feel too sorry for myself. And I think California has some pretty tight restrictions of its own, doesn’t it?

But believe me, I am considered quite an oddity among my lefty-liberal urban social world. I don’t hide my hunting and shooting, nor do I broadcast it. If someone is interested in learning more, I’m happy to talk about it, but I don’t proselytize. People’s reactions vary widely. I have one friend who is a theater actor who does a fair bit of serious Broadway work. I rent his country house in deer and turkey season. He’s never fired a gun in his life (except maybe on stage) and he and his wife get a huge kick out of the fact that I’m up at their place hunting. He keeps saying he wants to come out sometime, and I get the feeling that his wife is more interested than she acknowledges. If he one day they come out into the field, I’ll take that as an accomplishment for all hunters.

I have other friends (born and bred city people) with whom my wife and I were considering buying a country place together. Our five year old daughters are best friends, I see one or the other of the parents almost every morning as we are dropping our kids off at school, they come over for brunch once a month, in short, they know I’m not a monster (Holly, you’re going to have to believe me on this one!) They know that one reason I’m looking for a country property is because I’m an amateur astronomer, and want dark night skies. And that my wife and are avid mushroom hunters and that’s something we’d be doing in the country. So, you know, they know we are sane, sensible people. But they also know I hunt, and that that is one of the big reasons I want a country place. And in the end they just couldn’t deal with the gun thing. I couldn’t convince them that I wouldn’t accidentally shoot their daughter. And after a while I wasn’t interesting in trying any more. But I do hope our conversations about hunting have at least opened some part of their minds to difference and maybe shaken up some stereotypes. After all, isn’t that what cities are all about?

NorCal Cazadora said...

Funny what the imaginations of the uninformed will conjure up! Before I started hunting, I had all sorts of fears when Hank went out hunting, and while I know what the risks are now, there weren't what I imagined them to be.

That said, if I had children, I'm sure I would be way overprotective of them too. Like they wouldn't be allowed to hunt alone until they were 30, LOL.