Photography courtesy of Lowell Washburn, all rights reserved.
I was beginning to feel the pressure. With the Thanksgiving holiday less than a week away, my turkey dinner was still running wild and free somewhere in the big woods.
Perhaps I should backtrack a bit and begin by saying that Thanksgiving is one of my all-time favorite holidays. Roast turkey, homemade dressing, cranberries, pumpkin pie – I can never get enough. I love Thanksgiving so much that we celebrate it twice. The first celebration takes place on the official Thursday holiday – a huge family event where the head count generally exceeds 40. The second round is much smaller and is the dinner where I’m responsible for supplying an acorn fattened, fresh-from-the-woods wild turkey. But wild turkeys rarely come easy. Sometimes I pull it off. Sometimes I don’t. In the case of the latter, we make do with a store-bought Butterball.
So far this fall, I’ve spent most of my free time pursuing ducks, geese, and deer. And although I had two valid turkey tags, I had yet to attempt bagging the traditional Thanksgiving entree. With the clock about to run out, it was now or never. It was time to grab the bow, call and decoys and head for the timber.
A spur of the moment hunt, it was mid-afternoon when I finally pulled up to the oak timber. A late start to be sure, but worth a try. A short turkey hunt is better than no hunt at all. Upon entering the woods, I soon found evidence that there were at least some birds using the area – an encouraging start. Much of the woodland contained thick understory and visibility was restricted. But near the edge of an iced over wetland, I discovered a small opening that allowed a clear view for at least twenty yards. After setting my portable blind near the edge of the ice, I placed two decoys – one hen and one jake – out front. Once situated, I lost no time in alerting anyone who might be listening that I had arrived. I announced my presence by scratching out five loud yelps on a Steve Griebel box call. With that accomplished, I settled back to see what would develop.
For the next hour, I entertained myself by watching a variety of songbirds while continuing to fire off a loud series of calls every few minutes. While trying to identify a movement inside the thick brush to my left, I suddenly realized that the object was the head of a turkey. Detecting additional movements, I quickly realized that a flock of wild turkeys was making its way in my direction. Emerging into the clearing, the flock contained more than dozen hens as well as some young-of-the-year males which are commonly referred to as jakes. I was there to hunt, of course, but with the birds in plain view, I couldn’t resist taking a few photos. Now that they had arrived on the scene, two of the larger jakes seemed especially eager to show my counterfeit jake exactly who was in charge. When the closest bird turned broadside, I decided to take the shot.
I was using a sixty-pound, Osage orange longbow handcrafted by retired Lake Mills police chief, Dave Thomas. Backed with rattlesnake hide and natural sinew, the bow spits an arrow with deadly accuracy. Today proved to be no exception. When the arrow hit home, the jake did a giant back flip and that was it. This year’s turkey dinner was in the bag. But the show wasn’t over. Upon witnessing the unusual behavior of their slain comrade, the flock went absolutely nuts. Uttering a bizarre combination of yelps, cutts and cackles, the birds rushed to the decoys with wings flailing. Trading bow for camera, I continued taking photos as the agitated birds continued their performance.
It eventually occurred to me that maybe I should try for a second bird. Wild turkeys are, after all, as extremely delicious as they are entertaining. When the flock first emerged from the brush, I had noticed a bearded hen. I decided to try for her. Relocating the bird within the milling flock, I took careful aim and put a second bird in the bag.
I couldn’t believe it. The first turkey hunt of the season, a little over one hour in the woods, and I had collected two prime birds for the table. Things like that don’t happen every day in the turkey woods. It had been a remarkable adventure.
As I made my way back to the truck, I suddenly had an idea. Maybe this would be a good year to enjoy three Thanksgiving dinners. When it comes to roast turkey, I can never get enough.