Wild Turkey Daydreams

Yep. Most years, we’d have spent several moments over the past week discussing with fellow homeys our successes and failures at making turkey meat during the first days of the Washington State 2020 spring wild turkey season. In there, one or another of us would have admitted being in awe of the behavior of some old, wise, wily, and intelligent gobbler. Nope.

Our turkey season generally runs mid-April to mid-May, during the time that gobblers are busy trying to seduce hens into making more babies. By the second half of the season (the May portion) mating activity has generally settled way down, along with the harvest rate on gobblers. Given that our hunting is on hold until at least May 4, and may be extended, this will not be a stellar turkey season even if the season itself is extended.

Of course, fishing is also on hold until (as of Monday, at any rate). Interestingly, Washington is the only state which is not allowing hunting and fishing to continue (with some restrictions, all other states are open). You are aware of the protests around the state over the past week or so, asking that more outdoor activities be opened. For some reason, boating remains open and legal – just don’t be caught with a fishing rod in the boat.

You may also know that a large contingent of fishing and hunting leaders met last week (in a sizeable Zoom meeting, apparently) with Department of Fish and Wildlife folks about getting people outdoors again. The Mule Deer Foundation’s Rachel Voss was at the meeting, of course, and in her letter to our Governor, she suggested that he follow the lead of the governors of both Oregon and California in carefully opening hunting, fishing and the outdoors. Time will tell.

In the meantime, we sit with our camo and turkey calls and shotguns or bows and conjure some way we might actually embark on our first great hunting adventure of 2020. Conjure some way we outdoor homeys of Paradise might be in pursuit of the wily Meleagris gallopavo – the wild turkey. Many turkeys surround us; thanks to Covid 19, they are currently as free as birds.

Three different subspecies of wild turkeys – none are native here – live in Washington. Eastern wild turkeys (the pilgrims ate them) are on the west side of the mountains. Merriam’s turkeys (originally in the central U.S.) occupy Klickitat, Skamania, Pend Oreille, Ferry and Stevens Counties, and Kittitas and Yakima Counties. The Rio Grande birds (native to the Southwest U.S.) have pretty much filled in the rest of eastern Washington. Our local birds are Merriam’s.

Hundreds of troublemaking birds were trapped near Kettle Falls in Stevens County in 1999 and 2000. Most were dropped in the Ahtanum, Rattlesnake and Wenas. Turkey fans released four dozen birds into the Upper County part of Paradise in late January of 2000. Among us, as I recall, were Bob Dlouhy and Bob and Russ Belsaas of the Field & Stream Club, Terry Thayer, Steve and Joy Potter, Jim Henderson and Dan McKimmy of the Yakima Basin Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation, all under the supervision of Steve Rogers (prior to his retirement from Fish and Wildlife). The birds we dropped have been busily making more, ever since that day.

Be that as it may, here we sit, patiently waiting, daydreaming of hunting wild turkey gobblers.

Over the years, I have found turkey hunting to be exciting, relaxing, tense, stressful, joyful, satisfying and weird. Native American friends in Colorado call the wild turkey a “giveaway” animal, since it is such dependable sustenance. I’ve rarely found the bird to be so generous. Still, I love hunting turkeys – and savoring that first hunt.

Decades ago, buddy Max Tallent said it was time I hunted Colorado’s wild turkeys. “Why not?”  I thought. “Nothing else to hunt. Early spring’s like early fall in the woods… Family and friends would enjoy the feast.” Why not?

Using a mouth diaphragm call and mastering the call of the lonely, looking-for-love-in-the-woods hen sent vague thoughts of “This may be harder than you think…” wafting across my mind. I auditioned about a week before the season. “Not bad,” Max said. “You’ll love it. It’s like bugling up a bull elk… with wings. …And they may be smarter than elk.” Hmmm… Those thoughts…

Oh. We would hunt the gobblers with bows and arrows – no firearms. “It’s no challenge with guns,” Max said. I asked how many turkeys they had taken over the years. “None so far,” he said cheerfully, “but we always get into gobblers and get some good shots.” I suddenly had a vision of a table piled high with boiled hot dogs, surrounded by long-faced family and friends.

Still, I slept like the night before my first kid deer hunt. Finally, pre-dawn morning arrived. How wonderful it felt to be in the woods again tasting the crisp, fall-like edge of that spring air.

We called, moving carefully through the brush and trees. We clucked, we yelped, we gobbled. Silence. Nothing. Sanity? One more time, I made my sexiest call of a lovesick hen. “Gobble!” Gobblegobblegobble!” A big boss tom cut loose from, maybe, 50 yards away. My heart stopped! Then pounded! I once had a wild Kansas rooster explode from beneath my left foot. I had a huge bull elk growl back my challenge from 10 yards. I once felt the grunt of an old wild boar standing, suspicious, on the other side of a narrow thousand year-old moonlit stone wall in Spain. Nothing ever grabbed my gut like that gobble. I was hooked.

Hmmmm. Stand by.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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