Spring wild turkey hunting season is over, and I didn’t get a darn turkey.
Well, at least, not a wild turkey. My birthday lands in the middle of the hunting season — this year April 28-May 31 — and for the occasion, my dad and stepmom gifted me with an unusual wine bottle holder — a ceramic turkey; lying on its back, holding a wine bottle with its beak and feet. Real cute.
That’s the only turkey I got.
It wasn’t for lack of trying — I’ll tell you that. After the very first hunt with my dad on May 2, we went out several more times, and while turkeys gobbled back at our calls on several occasions, none of them came in shooting range. Sometimes, luck just isn’t with us.
After missing my shot at a jake on May 2, we decided to go out again on May 3. It was a beautiful sunny day, if not a bit foggy at first — and we didn’t see a thing. Actually, no, I take that back. We did see a nice group of turkeys … on someone’s lawn, under a bird feeder.
Once again, we rose at the crack of dawn on May 10 to hunt the elusive birds. We left the house under gloomy skies. It began sprinkling as we set up the decoys in the woods behind my dad’s house, a spot where he’d seen turkeys walk through to get to his fields. Sitting with our backs resting on a tree trunk, my dad used his box call to lure in two male turkeys. Their gobbles became louder as they approached through the woods.
My dad continued to produce hen calls, but to no avail. The rain turned into a downpour.
“They probably went to roost,” my dad said. Soaked to the bone, we returned to the house for a cup of coffee.
But that wasn’t the end of it. Oh no. Sarnackis don’t like to take no for an answer. As soon as the rain stopped, we were back at it, walking through fields and woods and blueberry fields in damp camouflage. But we didn’t hear turkeys again that day — only the pitter patter of rain on spring foliage. It poured on us a few more times before we called it quits.
So Dad cleaned my shotgun and polished it up for May 21, our next hunting date.
Later in the spring turkey hunting season, a few things start to work against you. Grass grows up in the fields, reducing visibility. And in general, turkeys are less active and responsive to calls; mating season dies down as more and more hens are laying on eggs.
We heard a turkey only once during the morning of May 21, as we sat at the edge of the forest by power lines, which turkeys often use as travel routes. And while the turkey gobbled back at us a few times, he didn’t come in. We waited and waited and waited. That’s what hunting is for much of the time — waiting.
We didn’t have time to go hunting again before the end of the season. I had some big stories to report and write, and my dad had to work the weekend shift at the paper mill. Life got in the way.
My dad bagged a turkey, though. He was able to go hunting a few times when I couldn’t, and during one of those outings, he shot a big tom. I went to his house that evening and we ate half of the bird for dinner. It was delicious.
I asked my dad to send me how he prepared the baked wild turkey in an email. He replied: “First, clean one half breast of wild turkey. Place this in a casserole dish that has a lid. Add about 1 and ½ cups to 2 cups of turkey broth, ½ teaspoon of garlic powder, ½ teaspoon of poultry seasoning, ½ teaspoon of sea salt, ¼ teaspoon of white pepper, ¼ teaspoon of onion powder, all sprinkled over the meat, then add three pieces of bacon over the top of the meat. Cover the dish and place it in a preheated oven at 325 degrees [Fahrenheit] for about 1 and ½ hours. Make sure to check the internal temperature of the meat with a meat thermometer to make sure that it is at a temperature ok for poultry (165 degrees Fahrenheit, according to foodsafety.gov).”
Later, he used the other half of the wild turkey breast to make a turkey pot pie.
The turkey wine holder wasn’t my real birthday gift. In anticipation for my next hunting season, my dad and stepmom purchased me a Field & Stream camouflage backpack and a cushion to sit on for next turkey season. In the pack, they placed a few books on how to dress and cook wild game, as well as a framed photo of my dad and I on the morning of our first hunt together.
As far as gifts go, that one meant a lot to me. It says something like, “It’s OK you weren’t successful during your first hunting season. There’s always next season.”
(Or maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe the gift really says, “You’re on your own next time … oh, and here’s some wine to drown your sorrows.” … Just kidding.)