I never cease to be amazed at the many things in the natural world that the casual observer might overlook but for those that take the time to be observant, become every bit as awe inspiring as manmade marvels such as the Pyramids or Hoover Dam. There was a time when I measured the success of every hunting trip by the quantity or trophy status of game harvested; fishing trips weren’t considered successful until limits were landed. Through the years, I have learned to enjoy my time spent afield or on the water, regardless if the fish are biting or the ducks or doves plentiful.
A turkey hunt I enjoyed is a good case in point. I arrived at the lease of a good friend during mid afternoon and was given a quick tour of the place and directions to some of the better spots to attempt to locate a late season gobbler. The ranch had a live creek, a couple of small ponds and plenty of cover and open pasture: ideal conditions to sustain a healthy turkey population.
With a couple bottles of water in my hunting pack, hen decoy, calls and camera, I began a circular route along the edge of some big timber along a meandering creek. My destination later in the afternoon was a hillside to the northeast where the remains of an old homestead still stood. My friend advised me that turkeys used some of the bigger mesquites here as a roosting area.
Hopefully, I would be able to catch some of the birds coming in to roost. The cool shade along the creek bottom should be the perfect place for turkeys to loaf during mid afternoon. With a little luck, my plaintive hen yelps would lure a big boss gobbler out of the brush and within range.
A heavy rain earlier in the day make reading sign along the soft clay trail easy. As I walked, stopping occasionally to call along the creek in hopes of getting a big gobbler to respond, I watched for tracks on the bare spots along the trail. I noted where a snake had crossed near a muddy spot. Closer inspection disclosed the faint prints where a frog had been setting at water’s edge. This area looked as though someone had twisted a garden hose in the soil; the snake had obviously enjoyed a lunch of frog legs at this very spot. A bit farther along, I noticed a brightly shining round brown object along the trail that appeared a bit out of place, it’s a rabbit’s eye that often gives its location away. A cottontail was setting motionless within mere feet of the trail. He became aware of my passing too late and, in true rabbit fashion, decided his best defense was to remain still. As my boot scraped the ground with four feet of the critter, he had all he could stand and bounded for cover. It’s amazing what nature discloses for those that take the time to become an acute observer!
A hundred yards ahead, I watched a hen turkey move out of the field into the trail, obviously heading for the cover of the wood line to dust in the soft debris along the forest floor. I stopped, set up my hen decoy and called softly for twenty or thirty minutes. This was obviously a lone hen, probably taking a break from her chore of setting on a clutch of eggs to get a drink from the creek and dust her feathers.
About forty five minutes before sundown, I found myself at the point where the trial left the edge of the timber and headed through the meadow, ultimately winding up at the old home place on top of the distant hillside. I noted a track in the mud, a track much bigger than any canine or bob cat I had ever seen. This first set of tracks were not clearly indented in the mud, but rather half-prints. Upon close scrutiny, it became obvious these tracks were made by a cat, a BIG cat, and they were made within the past few hours after the heavy rainfall earlier in the day. A few yards farther down the trail, I came to a wet spot where the tracks were perfect. Here I noted a set of tracks about half the size of the larger imprints. I was standing where two mountain lions had trod only a few hours earlier. Where were these cats now? Would it really be smart to set a hen turkey decoy in plain sight, hide in the heavy cover and mimic the sounds of turkey? There is a great deal I do not know about these secretive big predators. They survive primarily on deer but surely they wouldn’t pass up an easy turkey dinner!
I was here to hunt turkeys and continued my efforts to lure a boss gobbler within range but it was becoming increasingly clear that the breeding season was a done deal in this section of the state. As I approached the top of the hill and a big Mesquite flat, I noted the remains of the old home place. The outline of the old home was marked with big rocks that served as a pier and beam foundation of sorts, fifty yards away, I saw three outbuildings made from rough hewed logs, notched and fitted together. I can only imagine the hard work that a pioneering family must have done here well over a hundred years ago. One of the little log structures had a built in opening near the ground. Was this their smokehouse and the opening where the fire was kept smoldering when they were curing fresh pork? The remains of an old wood burning stove was entwined in the branches of a locust tree. I wondered how many tasty breakfasts of homemade biscuits, ham and eggs had been cooked on the ancient appliance.
It was getting dark and I was getting hungry! Time to head back to camp. I was greeted by the same greeting hunters have been using for eons, “See anything? I didn’t hear you shoot.” My reply was something like, “Yes, I saw a LOT, but it will take me the remainder of the evening to tell you about it!”
We enjoyed a meal of wild turkey fajitas from the breast meat of a bird harvested earlier this season. Talk around the campfire covered the gamut from the price of gas to just why the gobblers were silent and not responding to our calls. The mountain lions had been sighted a couple times in the area. They were believed to have a den in a deep ravine on the place with lots of heavy cover nearby.
It’s amazing what one can observe in the outdoors when the time is taken to become a part of the landscape rather than merely a harvester of game! In retrospect, I can’t help but get goose bumps when I think of myself setting on the ground, mimicking the sounds of a hen turkey, with a turkey decoy nearby! I know cougars eat turkeys, not too sure about old outdoors writers but I certainly didn’t wish to find out!
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