I really get a good fix on the number of wild turkeys in an area in December and January when it gets cold. You often see 8 or 9-year-old mature toms running and roosting together in the dead of winter, right up through March. And several old hens may be seen together with young-of-the-year poults. Along the river at times, in open bottoms, I have seen flocks of 60 or 70 turkeys. When you see that, there well may be a mix of young turkeys, older hens and some long-bearded gobblers. And you can be fairly confident that every turkey within a half-mile radius is right there in that bunch.
Some hunters have just about given up October turkey hunting because there are still so many small poults out there, and vegetation is still fairly heavy and flocks aren’t all together yet as they are now and for the rest of the winter. And those poults hatched late in the summer that weighed seven or eight pounds in October have gotten much bigger by Christmas, especially with the amount of acorns we have had in the woods this year.
That gathering of turkeys from now until early spring is due to an instinct to survive that comes down mostly to one thing. I can call one or two turkeys close to me one heck of a lot easier than eight or 10. There is a great deal of difference in two or four eyes and 50 to 60 eyes. If you are a hunter or a bobcat or a coyote you learn that in a hurry.
It makes it really tough to sit amongst bare branches in a tree stand and hope to kill a turkey with an arrow. If you’ve ever tried, you know what I am talking about. A single turkey might get close enough, and might afford you a shot, but not a flock. Turkeys spend a lot of time looking up, because it is fact that bobcats and great horned owls, their greatest predator threats, come from above. I don’t know how many hunters have ever seen a bobcat flattened out on a big limb, but you can’t hardly see one, he blends in so well. You can sure as heck see a bow hunter in a tree stand much much easier.
The answer is: Hunting turkeys in the winter from the ground. With my bow, I have to get a 20-yard shot to be confident. Of course there was that time in December when it was about 20 degrees and the ground was frozen solid and I missed a young gobbler’s neck by only an inch or so. He was about 20 yards away! There was another one in the flock behind him, maybe 40 yards distant. The arrow glanced off the frozen ground and killed that one. I felt a little sorry for that turkey, knowing that he and I both had been hatched with similar luck! Being a writer I told my hunting buddies about nailing that wild turkey 40 yards away and left it at that.
It is difficult to sit flat on the ground, where you need to be when calling in a flock of turkeys, and draw a bow and get off a shot without having some of those high-headed birds see you. And if that one of a flock sees you, likely an older hen or gobbler, it emits that “put-put-put” noise which in turkey language means “danger-danger-danger.” And you will find out that there never has been, and never will be, a curious wild turkey.
But now things have changed. You don’t have to lift and draw a bow anymore, you just use a crossbow, about four or five times more accurate for me, and therefore deadly at a greater distance. There is little movement – you aim it like a rifle and use a little scope that tells you right where that short arrow will hit when you squeeze the trigger. I am absolutely sure I will kill a Christmas turkey with my crossbow this month, and I wouldn’t have bet a dime against a dollar I could get one with a regular bow. I love hunting with one, killed a nice buck three or four weeks back at 40 yards with the first shot I ever took with one in the woods. In a few weeks I am absolutely sure I will have a nice story about my experiences with that crossbow. All I have to do is call in a turkey while I am well hidden on the ground, get him within 40 yards and have him stand still! That ought to be easy.
I don’t know if you folks out there have read my book, “The Front Bench Regulars” but if you have you might remember Ol’ Joe Throgmorton from that chapter about hunting with him and his three-legged squirrel-dog back when I was 13. I was tempted to include in that book that time when he and I became market-hunters, game violators of the worst kind. But I didn’t, because of my fanatical fear of flagrantly flaunting forbidden Federal fall-flight statutes. Now that the statute of limitations may protect me, I can tell you about the time, one long ago December, when Joe sold a wild mallard in the pool hall to the local pharmacist.
Dad and I sometimes would kill seven or eight mallards in one weekend while hunting the Piney and I got excited about the prospect of selling some of my ducks and creating some spending money. That was when dad told me that it was against Federal law to sell a wild duck due to something like the “magnatory bird law.” It took me years to understand it.
But Ol’ Joe didn’t know about that law, and didn’t care. He was renting a little run down house that Mrs. Leadfort owned, and it had a pond behind it that was most generally full of ducks about Christmas time. Mr. McKnight, the local pharmacist, knew two doctors who loved baked ducks and he told Joe that he’d buy eight or 10 more if he could get ’em. Joe had a double-barreled shotgun, but it had only one hammer that worked. I had my Iver-Johnson single shot, 16-gauge duck gun that I used on the Piney, and I could be counted on to seldom miss a duck at less than 40 yards if he wasn’t swimming real fast.
Before Christmas that year, Mrs. Leadfort went to Arizona to visit her sister for the holidays. That was important to Joe and me because she absolutely hated hunters. If she thought either of us hunted a rabbit or duck on her land, she would have had us in jail for aggravated trespassing!
With her gone for a while, and a standing offer of a $1.50 for mallards not even picked or deentrailed, Joe and I collaborated once again. He came into the pool hall on a Friday evening and said there were thousands and thousands of big fat green-headed mallards on Mrs. Leadfort’s big pond behind his cabin. I could see the possibilities there – enough money for me to buy both my grandpa’s a pair of socks for Christmas. I usually could come up with enough to buy dad a pouchful of pipe tobacco and a half pint of perfume for mom. But there was never enough money left over to buy anybody else anything.
There were two other possibilities: The chance of being shot by Mrs. Leadfort should she come home early, and the chance of being caught in violation of the magnatory bird law and going to a federal prison. Thinking about being a cellmate of Ol’ Joe was a formidable thought. But I have always been sort of a ne’er do well, a devil-may-care rebel, prone to outlaw ways, cursed with a longing for pirate-gold and ill-gotten gains.
That Friday night years and years ago I threw caution to the wind.
I will have to tell you the rest of this exciting story next week in this column. Don’t miss that thrilling conclusion of “Mallards, Money and Meat Market Madness!”