Dennis Anderson: Alone and together: It can be done in turkey hunting

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MINNEAPOLIS — The idea was to fool a turkey, which on some days, like the bird itself, can be a no-brainer. A friend, John Weyrauch, would be in one blind, shotgun in hand, while I, alongside in another blind, would be armed with a camera and a bow.

Challenging as it can be at times to kill a turkey by archery, usually it’s more challenging to create a good photograph of a strutting tom, and more challenging still to snap a photo, then reach for a bow and fire off an arrow.

Our plan therefore, simplified, was to call a male wild turkey to within shotgun range of our blinds and for me to shoot a photo of it just before John discharged a load of chilled 4s in its direction.

“Don’t worry,” I told John, “I’ll do the calling.”

This was Wednesday morning, the first day of the state’s second turkey season, and dawn was still an hour or more distant.

Cockamamie as the idea was to sit side by side in separate blinds, as if gone overboard with this social distancing thing, I was confident John would kill a turkey. Both of us had done so in previous seasons in these very woods at this very spot, and there seemed no reason it wouldn’t happen again, our wacky strategy notwithstanding.

I fantasized, even, as night gave way to morning’s first blush, that two or more toms would be seduced by my sonorous crooning, and that in no time John and I would score a rare trifecta: a bird waylaid by firearm, another by stick and string and a third by digital imagery.

A Marine, John on these outings brandishes a thermos of coffee slung across his chest by a rope, bandolier-style. Caffeine-wise, the dude means business, and perhaps, I figured, if I pulled my weight yelping and clucking, purring and cutting, in homage to the victor I could cop myself a free refill.

As if on cue, just before dawn, a chorus of gobbles reverberated from nearby tall pines. I responded with a come-hither hen call, and in an instant my would-be suitors were right back at me, gobbling for my affections.

Sweetening the pot, I cranked the volume of my retort and for good measure tossed in a little vibrato, unheard of in the turkey-calling world, I know, but I was caught up in the moment and wanted anyway to show a little leg, as it were. Again, the gobbles rang out in response.

A piece of cake, I figured, and I nocked an arrow.

At 45 degrees north latitude in late April, morning is greeted by a cavalcade of sights and sounds. From a treetop overhead a male cardinal staked out his territory. Wood ducks courted on nearby ponds. Canada geese squabbled over nesting platforms. And paired mallards banked against the rising sun, wingtip to wingtip.

Also a few hundred yards from our blinds, a yearling whitetail stepped into an open field, its winter coat shedding to summer, and soon again disappeared in a stiff-legged jaunt, no wiser of our presence.

The gobbles were getting closer now, and John, who could see more clearly than I a wooded descension to his left, pointed in that direction and held up four fingers. Always a whiz in math, I took that to mean four turkeys were in sight, waddling, I was quite certain, to meet their fates, two of them anyway, pulled as if by a string in our direction by my calling.

Which is when, as if parroting life’s many other cruel ironies, unforeseen pandemics among them, also deflated 401(k)s, the surprising exasperations of too much family time and the near-universal Googling of what exactly “furlough” means, things went haywire.

Now John was signaling that the birds were walking not toward us but away, his fingers pantomiming their movements toward a never-never land far, far out of reach of gun, bow or camera.

“Let’s not do that again,” I said when we finally pulled up stakes. “Tomorrow let’s sit apart.”

So it was early Thursday morning while huddled in my blind drinking coffee and rejoicing in another peerless sunrise, I heard the telltale report of a distant 12 gauge.

This was at 6:12 a.m., and just like that, John’s turkey hunting season was over, a big strutter to his credit, its breasts and legs soon to be cleaned, brined, smoked and eaten.

I, meanwhile, finished hunting that morning and hunted again Friday morning, backing off a bit as I did on the volume of my calls and nixing altogether the vibrato as an idea whose time had not yet come.

With my bow ready, also an arrow, I was hoping for a shot.


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