By Jill J Easton
New territory. We were hunting the Black Hills National Forest near Sundance, Wyoming, scouted only by map. A mile beyond the gate where we left the truck, the road forked. Jim took the high road and I was on the low one.
I wandered down the trail, stopping to call every hundred steps or so. Turkeys answered, but they were far, far away. I’d just gone around a curve and had stopped to make hen noises with my Black Mystic box call, my 870 still slung on my shoulder. From nowhere, a hen materialized on the trail not 10 yards in front of me, with a gobbler in tow. The big bird was intensely focused on the hen and I was intensely focused on being a bush.
For at least five minutes the proud bird strutted mere feet away from me. His inch-plus spurs gleamed in the morning light and a Coke bottle beard swung in time with his courting dance. Meanwhile, “Jill the bush” kept her eyes lowered so the birds wouldn’t see a blink. I felt like a total voyeur watching turkey feet doing a GQ runway imitation, whirling around tail fanned, neck s-curved, quivering wings dragging the ground. It was like watching turkey pornography from the middle of the bed.
Eventually, the gobbler’s sex-addled brain decided to conduct the final act off the trail and the pair disappeared as mysteriously as they came.
Slowly, my thundering heart quietened, and I set up near the shelter belt of Ponderosa pines where they disappeared. Five minutes of my most enticing cutts and purrs didn’t bring a response. That boss bird was gone from my life forever, but there were those gobbles further down the trail.
I sent Jim a text, he responded immediately that he was having no luck and would come share my valley and see if we could double team any birds that were in the area.
Onward downhill. After half a mile the trail opened out into a big valley carpeted with wild sunflowers with a drop off on the left, a big hill dead ahead and thick woods to the right. I found a tree with dead branches for cover and hit the Mystic with my best cutts. From behind, I heard four distinct gobbles. I called again and their gobbles stepped all over each other. Gun up, I ooched around the tree to face the direction of the incoming birds.
Four big gobblers came roistering down the trail, trotting rapidly, jostling each other like athletes in a locker room. They stopped to gobble again at about 20 yards. Their four heads were so close together they looked like baby birds jammed in a too-small nest. I could shoot four turkeys, or I could hold the shot and hope for the flock to spread out. The four heads swiveled around looking for that enticing hen, but empty valley was all they spotted.
Still in a mob, they fast-trotted away still gobbling at every crow and branch blowing in the wind. I thought they were gone when they turned at the end of the drop-off. I could hear them to my left heading away for who knows where. Darn! Five gobblers in and out of my life in less than an hour and it wasn’t eight o’clock yet. Was the hunt over? I climbed the knob to see if they had tucked in behind the hill. It was marked private and someone was calling from a blind.
Meanwhile, I could hear Jim cutting uphill from where I had originally set up. The crazed gobbeleros were headed down into the cut but in Jim’s direction. Maybe Jim brought them back, or the memory of that invisible hen stuck in their walnut-sized brains and they were racing back to look for her. Excellent. My hunt wasn’t over.
I scrambled down the hill and got back behind my protective screen of branches.
The gobblers were still carousing around in the valley on my right. Then there was silence, dead, dream killing silence. I sat underneath my tree fuming at myself for all the mistakes I had made.
Leaves shuffled behind me. I turned and was almost beak to nose with the leader of the gobbleros. We both went AKKKKKK!! at the same time and the four birds sprinted over Jim’s way and into another hole. I heard him get up and follow their trailing gobbles, calling as he went. Soon the gobbleros were up to their merry pranks again, gobbling down in another hole. I sat and listened as the birds continued their boys’ choir, closing in on Jim’s hen noises. Since Jim was somewhere near the pack. I didn’t want to mess him up, so I stayed put and listened to the hunt.
He called, they gobbled, I sat and fumed. Then there was a single shot. Jim finally came puffing up the edge of one of those big holes, loaded down with one of the four. I know it’s unfair and irresponsible and there was no way I was going to get a third chance at the gobblers. But, I was pissed. I guess women are irrational that way? At least that’s what my husband says.
I refused to take his picture with the bird and also refused to help carry his stuff up the long uphill climb back to the gate and the truck. We usually help with each other’s guns and backpacks when the going is long and tough, but the rule is no carrying the other’s bird. This day, I didn’t help him with a speck of it.
The temperature had climbed into the 80s and he lugged the bird, gun, and backpack from one patch of shade to another with many, many stops. I offered verbal encouragement.
That’s what being a good wife and a bad turkey hunter is all about.