By Mitch Howard
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
I don’t really know where we were. I had paid some attention on the two-hour drive, but that only told me how to get there, not where I was. It’s like when you look at the map in a mall. It says you are here and you still don’t know exactly how that relates to the Claire’s or the pretzel stand. We turned left at the bar and right at Mr. Fogle’s place and here we were.
Our goal was to finally get me a turkey. As desperate as this attempt has become there are places where the turkey are more plentiful and willing than the public land I hunt.
We would sleep in a camper on 400 acres of farmland. The camper included a moldy refrigerator and stale beds. The menu included hot dogs, chili, cheese, chips, and two boxes of Little Debbie cakes.
The only other residents of the farm were a stray dog and a stray man. The friendly beagle pup begged for any scraps we would offer. He entertained us by trying to lick chili out of the corners of a square foil pan.
The stray man lived in a run-down shack not far from the camper. The story is the shack had been constructed by itinerant Mexican farm hands, which moved on to another job before the house was completed. The outside walls were bare of siding and a portion of the roof remained open to the elements. He seemed a friendly enough neighbor. He stopped each time he saw us and ask about our hunt or how we were related to other hunters that had passed this way. Both stray dogs and men need some companionship.
We watched the classic Once Upon a Time in the West on a laptop computer. I fell asleep before the final showdown under a set of covers that probably had not been washed in years. But it was the restful sleep of someone that really had nothing on his mind other than high expectations.
Those expectations woke me at 6:08 a.m., about seven minutes before the alarm was scheduled. Apparently the sun wakes up sooner here. We scrambled to get our gear and guns and make it to the woods before turkeys’ alarms went off.
We had to stop sooner than we planned for fear they would see us in the already sharp morning light. Several minutes of calling brought a few responses, but no takers. One gobbler rambled within 75 yards, but would not cross the edge of the woods. We did not see him before he got a better offer and moved on.
A few more hours of trying different set ups brought nothing. The gobblers had not spoken after they flew down from the roost. We decided to take the four wheeler deep through the woods and set up near an alfalfa field. We made it about 50 yards straight down a hill when the four wheeler told us the gas gauge didn’t work. We left it where it stopped and started hiking. The steep hills with the added weight of a turkey vest full of gear and a .12 gauge shotgun made our legs burn. Our breath sounded like we were running. When we got to our spot, it felt good to rest against a tree and set the gun down.
We made a few calls with no response. There was no sign of turkeys, but several deer grazed in the field. They crept closer to us, so we pulled our camo facemasks down to see how close they would come. Less than 50 yards away something spooked them as they dashed off, flashing their bright white tails.
We still weren’t ready when a gobbler’s head popped over the ridge in easy shotgun range. Trees kept him from seeing our decoy. Instead his eyes locked right on us. Although we were well concealed, he knew something wasn’t right.
“If he turns around, grab your gun,” my buddy said in a whispered yell.
He didn’t turn around until he decided to leave. One futile call made him turn back as I grabbed the gun and sighted. The gun’s sling stuck to the sights blocking any attempt to aim. I swatted it off the barrel and fired just as he took flight. It was the closest I had come.
It would be easy to sulk over missing this bird. Let’s chalk it up instead as a valuable lesson. There are several days left in the season and I will be ready next time.