Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
Procuring the perfect Christmas goose is an annual priority of my winter agenda. This year’s honored entree arrived during a cold and blustery afternoon when nearly two dozen hog fat Canada geese decided to investigate my decoys. With the beautiful Christmas goose plucked and on ice; there only remained a single uncompleted item on my 2016 Outdoor Checklist. That pleasant task was to obtain the main ingredient of a proper New Year’s Day feast which, in this particular instance, meant wild turkey.
Bagging the Holiday turkey is a welcome chore and was the precise reason why I was currently sitting in a dark and snowy woodland a full hour before daylight. Anticipation was running high. Although I couldn’t see them, I knew wild turkeys were nearby; I had seen birds fly up into the trees sometime after sunset last night. Quietly hunkered inside my portable ground blind, there was nothing to do now but wait. The minutes slowly passed until, at long last, the first dim light on a new day began creeping through the timber. Before long, I could make out the rough details of nearby oaks. I heard a male cardinal followed by the single note of a distant jay. It was time for wild turkeys to begin their day.
Sailing down from the summit of its treetop roost, my New Year’s turkey dinner hit the ground right on schedule. Descending with a flat, stiff-winged glide; the heavy bird terminated its flight with a noisy running landing.
The turkey’s decent touched off a chain reaction as more birds abandoned the treetops. In less than two minutes the exodus was complete. The snow-covered ridgeline was now liberally sprinkled with the contrasting dark forms of wild turkeys. From where I sat, the flock appeared to be entirely comprised of hens. With most of the birds standing within 80 yards or less, the stage was set for a classic boom or bust scenario.
Luring large flocks of wintering turkeys into effective bow range can be a formidable task. The only thing a hunter really has to offer is the pretense of additional company which is, of course, something birds in a flock already have plenty of. Predictably unpredictable, the hunt can vary from extremely difficult to virtually impossible. In other cases, however, the hunt becomes surprising easy. On this winter’s morning, the outing would prove incredibly easy.
Once the birds started moving through the timber in my direction, they never wavered. And when the flock had approached to within 20 yards, the real show began. Upon suddenly spotting my decoy, the flock’s leader – the Alpha Female – immediately became agitated. When my life-like plastic intruder refused to back away from the hen’s verbal threatening, the hostility escalated. The familiar yelps of normal conversation quickly gave way to a chorus of belligerent fighting purrs. The excitement proved contagious and within another minute or so, and I had angry purring turkeys scattered all around.
Although some turkeys were now standing at a distance of just 7 or 8 feet, the brushy understory prevented a clean shot. For me to launch an arrow, a turkey would need to be in perfect position. With two or three birds already meeting that requirement, it was time to lay the camera aside. Slowly bringing the longbow to full draw, I released the string and sent the turkey-fletched missile on its way. The arrow found its mark; my grocery shopping was done. The 2016 Outdoor Checklist was complete.
But the turkey show was far from over. The longbow is a silent weapon and although the turkeys still standing at close quarters knew that something out of the ordinary had just gone down, they didn’t have a clue what. Following a few moments of anxious putting, the flock settled down again and began to divide its attention between beating up on my decoy and walking circles around the fallen bird. The close-up encounter lasted for another twenty minutes. Eventually growing bored, the flock moved on and was soon absorbed into the spectacular wintery backdrop of the Iowa woodland.