Is it Heaven or Hell Chapter #3…Slam Dunk
The sky was empty as I looked for the ducks to start coming back to the corn after a big kick this morning. We had some wind, but the third straight day of clouds had them sitting a mile or so outside the club. By the sound of it, no one else was doing much either, no shooting and the text messages were blowing up my phone asking if we were seeing them. “No, no, no,” I answered. This was starting to get old already. I thought back over the season as I stared at the decoys bobbing gently in the dark hole they were set in. “Not a bad year,” I thought. I had a fantastic Muskie season putting over 101 fish in the boat this spring. The deer were slow at first, lots of small bucks and does, but the second part of the rut was amazing with me putting down a 150+ 8 pointer and a 160-inch 10 pointer. Both bucks were old and mature. I looked up once again from the pics on my phone and smiled just little. Beep, Beep. Another text message came in, not about the waterfowl but a reminder from my buddy, Jim, telling me I only had a few days left to get my permit sent into the first turkey lottery. A chill came over me as a small gust of wind blew up my backside. Brrrrr. I thought back over the last turkey season. I shook like a dog after a water retrieve not sure if it was from the cold or the thought of reliving another spring season in Cass County. Plop. A big fat Mallard hen dropped right into the hole. She stared at the motionless decoys and swam into the corn quacking all the way. “Yeah, that kind of sums up my turkey season,” I thought to myself. The next couple of hours of seeing no ducks had me looking at the Illinois DNR web page reading up on the 2019 season requirements for the lottery.
I headed home that afternoon with only one Mallard drake and a ring neck in the back of my truck. I cleaned the birds and headed to the house, grabbed a cup of tea and sat down at my laptop. While I was waiting for it to boot up, I struggled with the thought of another day in that hell hole. I had seen a few birds on my Peoria County farm this fall. The computer booted up and the DNR web page popped up. Without hesitation, I punched in my info and quickly set in for a second season Peoria permit. That was that quick and painless.
Fast forward to the third IDNR Turkey lottery, I had once again struggled with the thought of sending for another southern county permit. I knew the farm had a large population of turkeys, but the thought of dealing with all the stickers and prickers and an angry ghost had me still bouncing back and forth between a Peoria County 3rd season and that southern county 3rd season permit. I moved the mouse up and down the county column looking for a sign. Suddenly, my finger clicked on the Hell hole. Well, there isn’t no second guessing it now. I was headed back down south.
Fast forward again. The second season Peoria County tag was a bust. With the late spring, it had the couple of toms on the farm henned up with almost no gobbles. Hell, the only chance I had was broken up by a wanna’ be TV star, LOL. He walked right into the roost and busted the only gobbler on the farm. What a depressing season it was. Between the lack of birds and a bullseye tick bite that had to be treated, it was a complete mess. I looked down at the Peoria county tag and decided to eat it after only 3 days of hunting.
I sat at the table looking over the small map my buddy had drawn for me and tried to come up with a new and improved game plan to attack the southern county birds for my 3rd season tag. Red marks covered the map. It looked like one of my test scores from high school. I was looking for a new approach when the phone rang. It was my buddy calling in with some intel from the second season. I told him Peoria was a bust. He just laughed and said it was about the same there, everything henned up. He said he had a fair number of big toms on the farm, but they did not want to play. He reassured me the upcoming 3rd season would be a slam dunk as the birds were roosting right by the cabin along the road we drove in on. I fired back with discontent about all of the things that went wrong the last year I tried his farm. He just laughed once again and told me to suck it up Sally and go kill a bird.
3 am found me traveling back down the lonesome highway headed south. I pulled into the farm and shut off the lights. Creeping slowly past the spot he had told me held a fair number of roosted birds. I struggled to see the path in the so-called road in the darkness trying to remember where the right turn was. There it was. I crept another 200 yards to the parking area. I was in early. I opened the door and half expected to be overrun by the swarm of gnats like last year. Surprise, there were no bugs. My second step was to look up at the old house to see if my specter was watching my approach. No light. “Hmm, maybe this was not going to be so bad,” I thought to myself. I loaded my vest and checked everything, gun, decoys, oh, yes, head net and Thermacell. A quick swallow of coffee and I was off. I worked the edge of the timber in the darkness looking for the highest spot with a good bit of brush to sit in. I picked a little food plot we had planted last year. It had a nice little hump and a good view of the area. He had said the birds were roosting. I set the Bass Pro Redhead jake and hen out and sulked my way back to the timber line. I had set up my new BPS Turkey Lounger Seat set in a tangle of honeysuckle as it was the only thing that had already leafed out with the late spring. The forecast had called for rain around 8 am, so I was hoping I had gotten in close enough to the roost. I cut a few higher branches off the honeysuckle and wove them into my little Redhead leafy quick blind and settled back into the lounger. The morning was slow to wake. Not a sound could be heard. It was so quiet that I could hear each step a little doe was making as she crossed the little crp ground 100 yards away.
I laid out my assortment of calls on the decoy bag arranging them for a quick switch. I poured some antiseptic on the mouth call and closed my eyes anticipating the first gobble. A half hour passed with not a sound coming from the treetops. There was no morning glow coming from the horizon, only a dark grey sky. Had I busted the roost when I drove in? Was this going to be another bust of a day? Another 10 minutes passed as I resisted the urge to send a yelp into the dark timber. Still not a sound.
Now, I was starting to worry. Just as I picked up the gobbler call, a thunderous gobble echoed through the treetops. Wow was that close. The first gobble set off a symphony of gobbles raging through the still morning. I had never heard anything like it. I had at least 8 mature toms in the treetops around me. There were so many I picked up my phone to record it. One by one, they fired off sending chills down my spine. I put in my mouth call and yelped ever so quietly back at them inviting them to the dance. This went on for a good 15 minutes. 3 times I moved my shooting sticks in anticipation of where they would enter the field. My veins surged with adrenalin as they kept bringing the thunder. This was nuts and well worth the price of admission. I closed my eyes with each gobble trying to locate in my mind where each bird was roosting and how far.
Suddenly, I could hear them coming off the roost. It sounded like a giant throwing wheelbarrows through the thick brush with their giant wingspans struggling to find the lift as they navigated through the treetops. Woof, woof, woof, woof, woof. It sounded amazing as two huge toms set their wings and glided into the little food plot, I was set up in. Both birds immediately went into full strut drumming their wings hard into the moist sand. The decoys were out 25 yards and the birds lit 25 out past them. I yelped. They gobbled. I moved my gun into position as I continued to try and persuade them to close the distance.
First, a yard or two then another yard. They swayed back and forth like a Christmas tree floating in the waves just before it sinks into new crappie cover. “I’ve got you now,” I thought to myself. My hands clutched the Benelli tightly. I was thinking I needed another 10 yards before I would shoot. About that time, I heard a squeaking hen yelp come from the timber 80 yards away and then another. The hens were in there thick raising all kinds of hell. They would yelp and I would answer blowing air over the diaphragm so hard it burned the roof of my mouth. The perfect hunt had turned into a street cat fight between me and the hens with two big toms caught in the middle. They would turn towards me and then back towards the timber. By now, I could hear the hens dropping out of the treetops. I judged the biggest tom at about 40 yards. He was in full strut and offered me not much of a target as his head was tucked up tightly against his chest. The second tom was another 10 yards out and had his back towards me. The closest bird made a slight turn towards the timber. “I have lost them,” I thought. The next couple of seconds went into slow motion as if I was in the matrix or something. I yelped and, just as he extended his head to gobble, I released a magnum load of #5 shot out of the Indian Creek choke. The hot load buried me back into my chair with the recoil sending a shock wave through my body. The shot pattern was true as the bird did a summersault and laid on his back trying to spur the clouds above him. Hens scattered back into the brush.
I unloaded the Benelli and started to get up when another tom lit into the field and then another followed by a few hens. Every piece of the field was moving with turkeys. Never in my life had I seen anything like it. The toms were in full strut and the jakes and hens were running around sending aggravated purrs back and forth between each other. It was a good half hour before they sulked back into the timber. I quickly ran out and grabbed the bird and decoys and darted back into the tree line trying not to be seen as my buddy was hunting tomorrow. I packed up my equipment, tagged the bird and headed towards the truck. I struggled with the decoys and the weight of the big tom. With one big heave, I tossed all of them on the tail gate.
Well, I’ll be damned. The giant tom was double bearded. I looked up just as another two toms spooked and ran across the front of the truck. I was parked out in the open, so I jumped in and pulled the Tundra into the timber lane 50 yards away. The storm was approaching and with every clap of thunder the colossal bunch of birds would answer. I watched as birds crossed the fields in front of me gobbling and running around like chickens with their heads cut off. What a morning. I had defeated the hell hole.
I hopped off the tailgate and looked for a good place to get a few pics and, low and behold, the fence line was full of yellow gold. Morels were busting through the fallen leaves all around me. I quickly filled my bags, took a few pics and made it back to the truck before the rain started to pelt my windshield. I called my buddy. He was eager to find out how I did. SLAM DUNK MY FRIEND. SLAM DUNK!!!
This is the third article on this amazing area, my buddy just informed me he is selling it and moving out of the state……Will the last person in Illinois please turn off the lights!
See Ya on The Water