Either this has been my best wild turkey hunting season, or it’s been a bust.
I went into the season on a note higher than a hot hen’s yelp. A landowner taunted me the first week of April by e-mailing photos of large flocks with strutting toms parading where I’d bagged a couple of gobblers in previous years.
“They’re baaack,” he said, extending another much-appreciated invitation.
I bought two tags, chalked my box call and prepped for the hunt near Mount Spokane.
When the season opened April 15, I was fully camouflaged in position well before sunrise. Gobblers were sounding off as they glided down from their roost, but the calls faded away toward the neighbor’s place like the horn of an outbound train.
Eventually my calls were answered, but instead of feathers, it was fur approaching. A coyote came trotting, then sneaking toward me as it zeroed in on my decoy.
The young song dog came broadside within three gun lengths of my Beretta’s muzzle before catching my scent and launching sideways as though it had stepped into boiling water. The coyote never saw me or even looked in my direction as it vanished into the brush.
The next hunt had a larger scale encounter in Pend Oreille County. As I hiked into the woods at first light I could see the dark outline of a moose standing where I had planned to set up. He looked at me with no sense of alarm or enthusiasm. He just looked at me.
I slipped by him and tried to work a pair of gobblers I could hear not far away. The turkeys didn’t respond, but the moose did.
The young bull, with two fist-size buds of black antler sprouting from his skull, followed me like a puppy for the next two hours. Every time I moved, he’d be 30 yards above me on the ridge or 50 yards off in the gully to the side, watching with that expressionless face and limp-boxing-glove nose.
The turkeys had nothing to do with us.
On the next hunt I was greeted at my first stand by a whitetail doe and her yearling offspring. Being upwind, they started feeding 15 yards away while a gobbler was working himself into frenzy 200 yards behind them.
The yearling fled, but the doe just stood and looked curiously at me as I slowly stood, slipped on my daypack and eased off the ridge to close in on the tom.
Then another obstacle: The heads of three elk came to attention in the dim predawn light just 30 yards away. They bolted, picked up two more elk and the herd stampeded directly toward the gobbler, which I never saw or heard again the rest of the morning.
On my most recent hunt, the stars aligned and I finally got a longbeard in my sights during an unforgettable endurance test.
He came off the roost lower on a ridge than I’d expected, but I had no trouble moving down and setting up just above the sound of his gobbles. I called. He gobbled, and gobbled again, and went silent.
Sitting back against a tree, I was ready, gun butt against my shoulder, forearm on my knee.
“Phfffup!” The tom had sneaked around to the side, surged to an opening and snapped into full strut 60 yards away. Too far to shoot. Two hens were milling around him pecking at the ground.
I was motionless, but his eyes seem riveted on the steamy clouds billowing out of my mouth as I breathed the cold morning air.
For about 90 minutes, the hens moved in and out of sight, coming occasionally within 20 yards, while the tom strutted back and forth in a small area. One of them was always in sight. I was pinned down.
Eventually, my right leg went numb. My back ached and I lost track of where my butt was attached.
I made a few soft calls. The gobbler fanned but never gobbled back.
He tried to mount one of the hens, but she apparently wasn’t ready.
When he flared into a huge strut and bolted a few steps forward, I thought another tom was moving in. But it was a whitetail doe.
She walked up until her nose was within 2 feet of the tom’s blood-red head. He stood his ground.
The doe seemed to be telling him she sensed danger. She twisted her head all around, eyes searching for clues to the alarming scent she couldn’t pinpoint. She walked slowly away, snorting high-pitched blasts of air.
As the hens finally disappeared around the ridge one by one, the gobbler folded his feathers tight and followed.
This was my chance. I got on my feet, crouched and began sneaking the 40 yards to a patch of brush where I could ambush the tom.
But I froze as a pickup idled around the bend on the logging road below. I hadn’t even noticed the road.
The tom gobbled for the first time since first light. The truck stopped. I flattened to the ground.
“I got lucky,” the hunter said, when I surprised him by walking into sight.
Contact Rich Landers at 459-5508 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org