It's a breathtaking bluff-country landscape with deep valleys, meandering creeks and contour farming. It's equally rich with good folks and turkey-hunting tradition. It's southwest Wisconsin. It's where I find myself each spring in late April/early May, living in a tent camp and struggling to scratch out a stubborn longbeard.
The birds there are merciless. "Sure," you say, "They're like that everywhere." But, no: I'm telling you right now that the gobblers there are uniquely difficult and make for a level of frustration that is indescribable. Perhaps that's why I failed to fill my tag during my 4-day hunt last week—the hunt I intended as the last leg of my single-season Grand Slam Pursuit. Shame on me for trying to "plan" a successful turkey season. Laughable.
OK, so getting beyond the mystique of Crawford County turkeys, I'll get down to brass tacks. Most of the hens have been bred and were nesting. It's evidently "down time" for the gobblers right now, and we probably just hit a momentary lull in their hen-seeking desires. On top of that, add skittish birds that will sprint or flush from a human sighted 1,000 yards away, or roost-ridden gobblers that refuse to fly down without visual confirmation of a real, moving hen, and you've got a damned tough quarry.
On the final morning, an hour or so after flydown, I went after a gobbler on a hardwood ridge. I snuck into range, soft yelping along the way. He was hammering my calls, leaf scratchings and stick crackings, but decided to walk away rather than show his caruncles for a brief moment over the slight rise between us. Disgusted, I belly crawled to the crest of the hill, shouldered by gun and popped up. Nothing. He was gone—or so I thought. As I let my guard down in disbelief and took a few more steps, there he appeared 40 yards in front of me. His head-bobbing nervous stroll from left to right told me I had only seconds to shoot. Shoot I did; miss I did.
I grew up shooting double-bead open sights on a typical wingshooting shotgun. The ghost ring aperture sight system on my new Weatherby PA-459 is awesome for good ol' sit-and-wait scenarios, but the extra seconds it took me to acquire the tom during this run-and-gun situation were costly tick tocks on the turkey-hunting clock. The distinct memory of pulling my shot also looms as I try to cope with the punishing failure.
So, I could give up and call it a solid turkey season. Heck, I was extremely fortunate and totally blessed to tag three out of the four subspecies in my Grand Slam Pursuit. But, like many of you, I am infected: Turkey-hunter syndrome will not allow me to quit. It's on to Plan B to kill an Eastern gobbler before the spring season waves "goodbye." I'll keep you posted, and I beg of you to wish me luck.