May 29, 2009

Great White Hunter

New York's spring turkey season runs for the month of May. The regs are pretty simple: shotgun only, birdshot only, bearded birds only, and must be out of the woods by noon (so the turkeys have some uninterrupted time to make little turkeys).

Turkey hunting, is, in fact, what brought me into the world of hunting and guns in a big way. I'll take this tangent and then get back to the original point of the post.

I grew up in a relatively gun-free household. Dad didn't own guns, but claims to be a pretty good shot. He grew up in Scouting (Eagle), was Scoutmaster for the base's troop while posted in Alaska for the Army, and shot "expert" during basic. He's certainly not anti-gun, they just weren't part of life as I grew up. I earned my "riflery" merit badge at scout camp when I was 13 or so, and finally convinced my parents to get me a BB gun. It arrived that Christmas - a Crosman Classic 2100 air rifle. I set up a "range" in the back acreage with a couple of straw bales. Tin cans, here I come... That pellet rifle and I tromped a lot of miles through our back woods and fields, plinked a lot of random targets, and may have been responsible for some minor property damage here and there.

I went to college and the air rifle stayed home, falling into disuse and neglect. After being out of school for a bit, I finally decided to buy a rifle. A .22 seemed like a good bet... so I went to my local Kmart (hush, I didn't know better) and picked up a Remington 597. A friend at work offered the use of some undeveloped land he owned as a makeshift range, and again, I was death upon tin cans and paper... but mostly in a trigger-happy sort of way. Brick after brick of Thunderbolt .22 disappeared down the bore of that rifle.

A friend invited me to a shoot at some point, and I went (of course). I can't remember everything I tried at that shoot, but my world was suddenly expanded from .22s. (Short list of highlights: M1 Garand, Glock 9mm, .44Mag revolver.) ... but I didn't buy anything new, not having a place to shoot or many friends into the shooting sports.

Fast forward a couple years. I joined the local volunteer fire department and slowly got to know folks there. One of them, at some point, mentioned turkey hunting that weekend. I nabbed him a bit later and said, "Gee ... um ... I've never hunted before, but I've always wanted to. Could I go with you sometime?" He took me turkey hunting the next morning, and while we didn't take any birds that day, I was hooked. I picked up a Remington 870 that summer, took my hunter safety class in early fall, and killed my first deer on my birthday that year.

Since then, my collection of guns has grown considerably, my interests in the shooting sports have widened and deepened, and I still cherish every moment in the woods.

(Hiatus for dinner. Story TBC.)


Dinner was good. Met parents at greasy spoon.

On to the hunt!

I've been out in the woods less this turkey season than ever before - my work schedule has made the 4am alarm clock a near-impossibility if I expect to be functional at all for job. Still, I've been out a half-dozen times. Talked to my hunting buddy last night and confirmed for today. He says arrive at 4:45. OK. Got up, dressed, headed out the door with a pistol on my hip and a shotgun over my shoulder. Two miles short of his place, the skies opened. Half a mile from his place, my cell rings. "Where are ya?" "Pulling in your driveway in about thirty seconds." "Oh ... ok."

We discussed after I arrived, and decided to sit tight for fifteen minutes and see if the rain would let up. It did. Picked a spot, headed out. Set up decoys, called, heard and saw nothing for an hour. Decided to walk and call - which the DEC hunter safety class says isn't safe, but we do anyway because there shouldn't be anyone else in these woods. Nothing, after picking our way through brush and the Fire Swamp. Poked our heads into a field... and there, across the way, was a flock of eight turkeys. At least two in strut, a hen or two, and several jakes.

We quick sat down and started calling. I was out front as the "shooter" and could see the birds - and they weren't moving. Just puttering around in the grass, picking bugs and worms and strutting. After fifteen minutes of this, we decided to get aggressive. We backed out into the next field and scooted down the hedgerow between. I picked a promising spot and snuck through, and found I was still sixty yards too far up the hedge. Backed out, moved a bit further down, and crawled through again. Better spot. Set up my little seat and started calling - and realized quickly that these birds were fat and happy and henned up, and weren't going to go looking for what they already had in front of them... so I got more aggressive. There was a gopher mound fifty yards into the field, directly between me and the birds. I quietly shucked off my turkey vest, keys, phone, assorted pocket junk, calls, and pistol... and started belly-crawling towards the mound.

Now, keep in mind that this hayfield had been cut and baled in the past couple days... but it had just poured an hour ago. I was damp as soon as I laid down, and soaked to the skin within ten feet. I kept crawling and peeking up occasionally. I finally made it to this mound and started making gentle purrs. Pretty quick, a hen separated from the group and made a beeline for me. I was hoping the toms would follow ... but no such luck. This damn hen walked right up to the mound, within fifteen feet of my muzzle, walked back and forth a few times, and then went back to the flock saying, "purt purt purt"...

I waited. One of the jakes stuck his head up and started walking towards me, then made a u-turn and the group started moving towards the woods. Hell, it's now or never! I raised my barrel, placed the bead on the big tom, clicked off the safety ... squeeeeeeze the trigger... BOOM ... and they all ran off. Hell, it was a hail-mary long shot anyways, probably 55-60 yards, but today was my last day for turkey season.

I stood up, walked back to the hedge, collected my things, and went in for coffee.

In other news, after dinner, I decided to take time to swing through WallyWorld and check on .22. Ammo cabinet was looking as bare as usual ... but wait... what's that? In the shadows? There was no one around, so I walked behind the counter to look closer. Not one, not two or three ... but SIX BOXES of Winchester HV bulk!

I nearly began gibbering there and then. I found someone to open the cabinet, bought all six boxes, and celebrated in my success. He mentioned they'd gotten a case or two of the Federal, but it had already sold out. So be it. I'll take what I can get right now.

So it came home with me ... oh yes, it did...

And a box of CB Shorts, just to try out.

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