By Sarah Topp
I finally heard my first gobbles in the field this season. In previous years, I had only seen a hen or two in my hunts, no signs or sounds of gobblers. I first started chasing turkey four years ago as I was managing a wildlife habitat improvement program that piqued my interest in pursuing a new-to-me game species on public lands in Michigan. I have yet to harvest a turkey, but I have learned a lot through my experiences so far. This season, I’ve mostly learned that I have very little patience when it comes to sitting still for hours at a time and anticipating the unknown, but my lack of patience has led me to observe and learn about various other things in nature. While I heard gobbles on several of my morning hunts this season, the gobbles frustratingly got further away each time with no efficient way to chase or get ahead of them. It was still exciting enough to keep me in the field another hour, just in case they were silently coming in.
I choose to sit against the base of a tree or near a stump in a field of tall grasses to hunt. In this case, I have to be very still and stay as concealed as possible. I went undetected by several deer within 20 yards of me, a hen, a variety of birds including geese, a northern harrier, sandhill cranes, and other small birds that seemingly wanted to fly right into my face. The sandhill cranes were the most entertaining as they slowly crept their way towards me. One was doing a very goofy looking mating display, pecking grass followed by a clumsy looking twirl in the air with his wings stretched out. I was entertained until they started squawking and cackling very loudly so close to me for what felt like several minutes. They finally took off in flight and went on their way, which was cool to see such a large bird lift off the ground so effortlessly. Then, it was back to focusing on turkeys.
I’ve found a lot of validation in my hunts this year. I’m finding the right signs: tracks, scat, dusting bowls and I’ve even located roosting trees. I’ve had gobbles in response to my calls and even got to go into a cluck-off with a hen in an attempt to draw her in with her Toms in tow. No luck. These hunts often leave me wondering why I put so much time and effort in to come out of the field with nothing but many, many ticks and disappointment. My season has been progressing from being very serious and planning for long days in the field, to narrowing down when and where I’ll have good chances at setting up for turkeys on the move to or from food/water/roosting sites. This has allowed me to enjoy more of the scouting process and participate in the many other recreation activities that spring in Michigan has to offer.
As discouraging as this season has been, I would say the distractions of harvesting ramps, fiddleheads, casting a line for trout, and laughing with great friends in the field in pursuits of the “elusive lurkey” have provided a different type of success; type 2 success. The camaraderie of a turkey camp, stories shared, the stunning sunrises, the sounds of the forest waking up, the miles hiked, the anticipation of one turkey getting too curious, it’s all worth it time and time again. And so, tomorrow I will set my alarm clock for 3:45am, throw on my camouflage, lace up my boots and drive the 25 minutes out to the field to get another chance at calling a gobbler in the next morning; repeat.