It was his turf. The gobbler probably laid claim to it long ago. At face value it was just a hardwood cattle pasture positioned atop a brushy coulee, littered with deadfalls and cow pies. In his mind it was much more. It was a picture-perfect dance floor—a place for him to strut his stuff. For years, those who tried to cut in on him and his ladies faced rejection. Judging by his long, polished hooks and well-maintained beard, he was a true gentleman. His courtesy gobbles were a fair warning of his dominance, while for others his spit-drum beat the tune of their final defeat. Respectfully, I claimed the last dance.
Spring is much more than flowers, morel mushrooms and field preparation in southwest Wisconsin. It’s turkey season. At the same time, it’s relentlessly wind-ridden with unforgiving rain showers that often make it so cold you’d think each drop was begging to turn white. Foul weather has never prevented us die-hard longbeard lovers from embracing whatever season the state so carefully grants us. Each time we’re selected—despite the dates—you’d think we won the “real” lottery.
Learning the ropes of turkey hunting in coulee-country is an ongoing process. The minute you think you’ve figured it out, you get schooled by educated birds that know how to manipulate the land like a ball of clay.
Working For It
On the first evening my long-time hunting buddy, Joel, and I honed in on a gobbler that was so hot his roost could have burst into flames. He was hammering not only the real vocal hen that was in close company with us, but also every sound we could replicate with our arsenal of calls. I considered the deal signed—not sealed—for the following morning. Years of experience told me that putting birds to sleep makes waking up the following morning much easier, but doesn’t always translate into a free breakfast.
Sure enough, I awoke in the late night and slipped into position well before the crack of dawn. I thought I knew where the loudmouth was, and figured I’d simply tip-toe right into his bedroom to claim a fly-down trophy. The sun came to life, the songbirds pressed “play” and the gobblers started singing along. Unfortunately, I was nowhere near any of them.
We blanketed the hills, listening intently for the occasional gobble to pierce the heavy winds, setting up accordingly. Before we knew it, we were back at camp strategizing for a new day. Two more of our crew—including my friend/camera man, Jake—showed up just before bedtime. It’s always nice to see fresh faces, especially after two days of morale-crushing conditions. We didn’t have much to share with them, other than the forecast—fingers crossed—that the weather was supposed to settle down well before the next morning’s hunt. I knew exactly where I wanted to go.
May I Cut In?
We call it the “Majestic Field.” It’s a cornfield situated on top of three wooded ridges, which also double as cattle pastures. Joel and I first came across it one evening years ago. My first tag was filled and we were intently seeking new territory with active birds for Joel. We found it, alright, along with three hot-to-trot toms that strutted right into range. To his dismay, Joel didn’t have a clear shot and I did. It was the first time I missed a shot at a turkey—my load of No.6s was absorbed by an unruly sapling. Ever since that evening, I thirsted for redemption.
Flipping on the tent light, I awoke prepared to revisit the Majestic. Jake readied his camera gear and I gathered my turkey tools, including a ground blind for Jake to film from. It wasn’t just glory I was seeking as we headed to the majestic. Rationally, I thought it would be the perfect spot for the improved weather forecast—a large, open area for the birds to stretch their legs after days of hunkering down. We reached the first part of the ridge-top and the wind was blowing. As we ascended toward Majestic Field, it got worse.
There we were, standing on the edge of the wooded pasture where I had long imagined a high-five hunt. After ruminating about the undesirable conditions, I scrambled to set up before “prime time.” I was borrowing a ground blind from Joel, and fumbled with it in the dark. It was no use so I helped Jake get into position, but there was little cover for a decked-out camera man. My frustration mounted.
Several minutes passed and faint gobbles started echoing up from the bottoms. I battled internally. Should I stay here, blowing in the wind with little hope … or risk being busted to get to a better location? I scanned the area to make sure no targets were approaching, then rushed over to Jake. I informed him that we needed to move. He looked at me sheepishly, hesitantly agreed and grabbed the bare minimum for “Operation: Desperation Relocation.”
Redemption In The Majestic
I eyed the wooded pasture further down the slope, seemingly protected from the brunt of the wind. Stealthily, I maneuvered around every fallen branch and crunchy leaf. FLAP-FLAP-FLAP-FLAP-FLAP! Busted. A tom blew off the roost above me, flying off into the safety of the horizon. My head began shaking back and forth uncontrollably. I snuck to the edge of the eastern ridge and slowly peeked over it. At the bottom, there sat a black blob that was shaped like a turkey; movement confirmed my suspicion. I rushed over to Jake and told him we needed to set up quickly. I chose my tree and pointed to another one 50 yards behind mine for Jake to hide and roll film.
Facing the slope where I had spotted the turkey-like figure, I started in with some purrs, clucks and yelps. After a short series of calls, a gobbler sounded off to the north (my left). He cut my yelps off repeatedly, and it sounded like he was getting closer. I repositioned so I could get a decent shot to the east or the north, not knowing which bird might show up first. The gobbler suddenly went silent, ignoring my pleading hen calls. Once again, my hopes began to dwindle, thinking he’d lost interest or found a real hen.
I cut back on the aggressive calling and started periodically clucking, hoping a more subtle approach would coax the gobbler back into action. Suddenly, two bobbing heads appeared over the eastern slope—they were both hens. Knowing that it never hurts to have some blue-headed friends in the neighborhood, I continued to cluck in an effort to keep them around. They moseyed off behind several large trees and a deadfall, heading in the direction of the thundering tom. I fixed my eyes where I last spotted them and listened closely, but there was still a breeze in our semi-protected haunt, muffling soft animal sounds.
As my mental rollercoaster once again headed in a downward spiral, the heavens shined upon an unmistakable sight 45 yards to the north—a fanned out turkey tail. Instantly, my heart began racing and I lifted my gun onto my knee. For 20 minutes I watched as the most beautiful strutting session I had ever witnessed unraveled in front of me, with booming spit-drums cutting directly through the wind-shaken leaves. All the stress and anxiety from the tumultuous journey of the past few days suddenly left me. Grinning ear to ear under my camo face mask, I was overwhelmed with satisfaction. At that point he could have walked away, leaving me empty-handed, and it wouldn’t have mattered much. But he didn’t.
He strutted, then strutted some more. I clucked here and there, nearly each time causing him to raise his periscope and peer in my direction. I analyzed every potential shot window. I came to terms with the realization that there was only one, which he avoided with every intricate step, until …
I stood up quickly in disbelief, knowing the ink had finally spilled upon the Majestic success story. As I hovered over the mature old tom, I thanked him once again for sharing his last graceful waltz with a humble hunter and a cautious cameraman.