Thursday, May 17, 2007

Catch and Release

It rained hard last night, with Hollywood thunder and lightning, then cleared to just clouds by the time I left the house.

That Maine longbeard from Tuesday beat me the same way again this morning, though the hen came to meet him about a half hour earlier today, and off they went. They roost apart, evidently--maybe she's started laying eggs, and hasn't completed the deal (I found a cracked one nearby the other day; likely a predator)--though they seem to spend at least the morning together . . .

I smiled at that, hung in there, and raised some gobbling birds on the other side of the woods. I got them fired up, for sure. In they came, skirting my setup, gobbling as they moved past, counter-clockwise through the woods at about sixty yards or so. I stopped calling, and waited them out (they'd been hammering at everything I threw their way). One gobble sounded like a work-in-progress (a yelp or two slipped out), while the other was the real deal. The latter bird was hanging further off . . .

I glimpsed movement, saw a turkey materialize at the edge of the open but leafed-out woods, noted the red, white, and blue head, saw his shortbeard (though he was good-sized for a juvenile), and realized the jake was working my way. I pinched my Remington 870's safety off, hoping the second bird was (1) not far behind, and (2) a longbeard. As the jake was handed one of my free live-to-gobbler-adulthood passes (I mentally noted three or four times I could have shot him as he weaved and eased through the woods, looking for me). Jakebird shock gobbled to a passing crow, and the other turkey also hammered in barking spasms. That bird was closing in . . . coming, coming . . . on appearing, he stopped--a longbeard, damn straight--then surveyed the woods where he expected to see a hen (me), didn't, and did that little turn that means he's about to look elsewhere (on the edge of my comfortable shooting range) . . .

For the next hour or so (maybe more?) both answered me, and I repositioned several times, always with the same result. They'd never come closer than around fifty yards or so through the woods--unseen; easily heard.

So I started pussyfooting away, clucking and yelping as I went . . . they fired back gobbles at that, gobbles that seemed to be following me. It was pretty clear they were closing in, in pursuit--but never into shotgun range as I set up here; then there.

Tough, pressured Pine Tree State mid-season longbeards on unposted private land open to hunting can only make one mistake that puts them in shotgun range for the final time. It sounded like these two turkeys were drifting toward a little greened-up pasture corner, so I slipped through the nearby bog to that spot . . . busted: they'd beaten me to the field, and spooked, jogging away through the grass to the far woods. My bad . . .

Leave? Hardly. I was in for the long haul until noon (Maine's spring closing time). I went right toward where they got swallowed up by greenery, and set up a deke (I don't often use them, but thought it might work on this deal). I let things settle. I called. They ripped back, now across the plowed cornfield. They were about 100 yards from me, and a football field apart from each other. This went on for some time, until I decided to lift the deke, and reposition closer by skirting the field to get to the far corner.

There, I staked the deke. Set up. Called. One turkey answered, swung in (sticks cracked in the near woods as he passed--the jake, evidenced by the cracked gobble), moved on. Reunited, the gobbling duo answered me, and in the next hour I called them back three times to the edge of the woods (my agitated cutting seemed to unhinge them), but they'd have no part of the field corner deke, which was even wavering a little in the breeze like a live bird. At one point they were just over the New England stone wall to my hard left, but I couldn't turn, even though the spitting and drumming was close, real close. Um, ten yards? Pinned. Down.

At one point they simply left, drifted away. I called several more times, then amazingly came back on my other side . . . one clucked to my right (offered to the mute plastic deke?), and was answered by one of my own, but they eased into the field, ignoring me, then away to the far woods where I first started with them.

Trout. Turkeys. Sometimes you let the smaller ones go, and the bigger ones just won't bite.

--Steve Hickoff

(NWTF photo)