Is it Heaven or Hell
The photos just kept coming from my buddy. The new property he had just purchased last fall turned out to be a spring turkey factory. The cameras did not lie. There were a ton of birds using this piece of property along with the lease he had picked up next door. I had never seen so many birds in one picture frame. I actually blew up one photo just so I could count the birds. Fifty-six I sh.. you not. There were gobblers in some of the pics so old and big they must have been senior citizens. Well, I had no choice after getting off the phone with him. I sat down to try and draw a tag or tags to hunt a county I had no previous connection to. I still could not believe what I was about to do. I was about to put down my first choice of county to nowhere I had ever been before and leave my beloved county of Peoria, the county where I had shot my first bird as well as my last. I know. Never leave from a spot just to chase a ghost, but these bearded ghosts were as big as wheelbarrows with beards so long they dragged the ground. I did end up drawing 2 tags to this southern county.
The calendar seemed to be in slow motion as the days until 3rd season approached. My buddy assured me I did not need to take the hour and a half drive south to scout the birds as his timber draws were full of gobbling turkeys. He had sent me a text photo of the property and where my best set up spots would be located. My home ground usually holds only a few birds, so hearing the whole woods light up with turkey sounds was going to be a blast. He had even sent me a video of 6 strutters he had taken from his newly built hunting cabin. It was like looking into a dreamscape. The trail camera photos kept coming. I was worse than a kid waiting for Christmas morning ready to open a gift that I had peeked at and already knew I was getting. IT WAS KILLING ME!
The eve before the opening of 3rd season was upon me. I struggled to find a comfortable spot in my bed. 2:30am was going to’ come early, so I just got out of bed an hour early and sat drinking coffee before my departure time. 3am found my Tundra full of gas winging it south following a GPS point to which I have no clue where it was. I recognized a lot of the points I was passing, Havana where I had snow goose hunted, Anderson Lake, Emiquon Preserve, etc. Finally, I saw the little checkered flag on the screen of my GPS telling me the road to my buddy’s property was just a quarter mile away. My heart skipped a beat I was about to pull into the promise land.
He had warned me to lock my truck into 4-wheel drive before turning into his lane as the sandy road would surely stick a heavy truck into its bottomless pit. He was not mistaken. I kept the Tundra moving at a steady clip as I pulled the quarter mile to his barn. I had made good time and had about an hour before the birds should start waking up. I gathered my gear and did a once over of the little map he had sent me. The lane he had marked to start was right in my headlights when I pulled in. It felt weird walking down a lane of sand. I felt like I was sinking, and I was, but there was no mud, a weird feeling indeed for an old ridge runner.
The dim light of the moon was all I needed to navigate the lane until it broke open into a small field. He had instructed me to make a right turn and walk the edge. In about 50 yards, I would run into a little makeshift blind on the fence row facing the big timber. There it was a pile of fresh cut brush with a little cubby hole in the middle of it. I laid down my pack and proceeded to put out my new RedHead turkey decoys, a hen, half strut jake, and a jake decoy. I put my gun and pack into the cubby hole and stood there looking at the decoy set. The spot looked good. “This must be heaven,” I thought to myself. Well, that changed as I sat down in my spot. Something stabbed my hind side so bad I nearly let out a scream. I jumped up and looked as to what stabbed me. Maybe my buddy had lost his knife. I did not want to turn on a light as turkey time was just a half hour away, so I put my hand on the ground and slid it back and forth looking for the sharp object. Again, I felt a sharp pain as something jabbed into the palm of my hand. I pulled back my hand and took out a little pen light to do a visual search. OHHHH, hell no. That could not be. My first glance at a cactus with big thorns laid flat on the ground. I closed my eyes and did a double take. Yeah, that was a cactus, but what the heck was it doing in Illinois? Time was short, so I relocated a little to my right and put down the pad settling my tender butt into the pad much like a hen on an egg.
Settled in, I began to soak up the smells, sights, and sounds of mother nature waking up. There was a light cool breeze at my back. The songbirds were first to wake along with the dim pink glow that was just starting to creep over the horizon. I strained to hear what I thought was a gobble. It was a long way out and I’m not sure if it was even a gobble. The anticipation was getting the better of me. I was at the height of alertness. Every muscle was tense as I grabbed my slate call and placed it on my lap. Again, I looked at my cubby hole to make sure I had not knocked any of my arsenal of calls off the decoy bag where I had laid them. The light was getting stronger, and I could now make out the tree line where my quarry was supposed to have set up the night before. My eyes strained to try and pick out any dark forms that may be a bird roosting. No, that was a squirrel nest and there was another. The daylight was entering the wood line with full force now. I could make out the forms of the majestic white oaks with their branches looking much like the arms of a body builder who just got done with a set. Suddenly, it started. I heard a jake gobble about 100 yards away and then there was a louder, coarser gobble close by. The gobbles grew stronger and louder as, one by one, they chimed in. This went on for at least 15 minutes. One by one, they hollered at the sunrise hoping to get a hen to come their way when they hit the ground. By my count, there must have been at least 10 mature gobblers and an assortment of jakes in that patch of timber. The gobblers were starting to hit the ground. Still, no sounds from hens. Then, the live farm aid concert of hens started in. Oh my God, did they start in? They were yelping so load and there were so many that I never grabbed a call. “There must be 50 hens in there”, I thought to myself. The racket the birds were making was almost deafening in the morning silence, gobble yelp, gobble yelp, yelp, yelp, gobble. I had never heard anything so incredible in my life. It’s like the whole population of wild turkeys were fighting and yelling at each other right by my setup. This went on for at least a half an hour. I even joined in screaming at them with every breath I had with my loudest mouth call. I was getting excited as I could tell at any minute a whole heard of turkeys would be in my lap. I picked up the range finder and ranged the timber at 55 yards just in case they worked the tree line. Slowly to my amazement, the birds were working farther back into the timber. No, I pleaded with my aluminum slat. Come here, I begged. The sound just faded off until there was only silence. I yelped every couple of minutes with no answer from male or female. Had my buddy set me up? Was he just inside the tree line with an electronic recording just to get my goat? There is no way not one of those birds came out to investigate my set. I slumped over in my little cubby hole with the dumbest look on my face. “How in the hell”, I thought to myself. I have hunted turkeys a long time, but I never heard anything like that. Was there a thing as too many birds? Just wow. Just then, I caught movement out of the left corner of my eye. It was one lonely young hen. She came in quiet, walking around my jake decoy never making a sound, just the occasional look up to see if he was interested. Then, as quietly as she slipped in, she was gone. I stood up and stretched, gathered my equipment and packed up. I had to be to work in 2 hours, so there was to be no hot pursuit today. Tomorrow was a different day. My head tilted down as I walked to the truck in defeat. I was amazed at all the sandburs, cactus, poison ivy, and other assorted nasties that littered the road back to the truck. This place was not heaven or hell. It was purgatory, hundreds of birds and hundreds of nasties. I was going to have to rethink this one. This place was a whole different world. A place where the best and the worst collide to make a wonderful, but miserable, place.
Day 2 had me walking the same road as the day before, but another hour before daybreak with no decoys, only calls and a bottle of water. Oh, yes and a thick pad to keep stuff from sticking me in my booty. That was the first thing I gathered from my observations. Keep your butt on the pad….LOL I planned on getting in close. I had marked a fire trail going into the heart of the timber the day before I left. I could see the orange ribbon swaying in the light spring breeze. I walked ever so gently into the timber, heel to toe as to feel the pressure of a dead branch before my weight broke it. I was in stealth mode all the way down to the ghillie suit I was wearing. Yes, Mr. Turkey, that’s just a bush swaying in the breeze. I worked about a hundred yards into the roost and sat down with my back against a tree. I still had awhile before the woods were to wake up, so I just kind of dozed off. I was awakened by a soft tree yelp that sounded like it was in my lap. I looked up and, to my amazement, there were 12 turkeys roosting in the tree I had chosen as my ambush point. There were birds all around me. My eyes strained to try and pick out a gobbler still on roost. I could see none. The yelps had gotten louder, but still no gobbles. Then, like a spring thunderstorm, hens started crashing down from the canopy. Hell, one almost took off my head as she parachuted straight down, almost on top of me. I scanned from left to right looking for a tom that surely had to be in this mix of 20 or so hens. The hens were chasing each other around with loud angry purrs. The woods looked like a war zone of movement. I kept looking for a tom, but there were only fleeting glimpses of hens raising all kinds of hell. Again, this went on for about a half an hour before the area I was in fell silent yet again. I had never heard one gobble. Wow! This was not purgatory. It was turkey hunting hell. I spent the rest of the morning chasing ghosts that never made a sound. I creeped through the underbrush slowly, actually walking up on several hens that never knew I was there. I did, however, walk up on a bearded hen that I was pretty hard pressed to shoot, but I had another later season tag and just could not get myself to pull the trigger. I yelled in pain as I broke into the open field and tried to pull the ghillie suit from my body. It had picked up every sandbur and cactus in the county, so many, in fact, that it saw its last stalk on me and now resides in a trash can at the McDonalds headed out of town!
I never brought the Benelli to my shoulder either day. I had a worse 5th season, but that’s a totally different story. I talked to my buddy on the way home on my blue tooth set for about an hour trying to make some sense of the days spent on his ground. His couple of days had met with much the same results, or so he says. My friends, I’m not sure how he set me up. I was headed home humbled, bloody, and beaten. All I can say about my time in that Southern County is it had to be a conspiracy against me. I’m not sure how he did it or if God or the Devil had a hand in it, but it will forever be to me Is it Heaven or Hell?? Next month’s article will be continued with additional information from the Later season on the same property with additional evidence towards my conspiracy theory.
SEE YA ON THE WATER OR IN THE WOODS!