The three big toms came slowly in to my call. I turned on my RedDot scope and clicked my safety off. A few more yards and one of those beasts would be headed to my smoker.
Let’s back it up a bit. On Wednesday the 22nd I loaded up the jeep and headed back down to southern Illinois for my second turkey season. Scott Hootman was taking the train to Centralia and we’d meet Friday evening to finish our hunt.
As is always the case, it’s so exciting to head down there, anticipating that the hunt will be successful. I pulled into the cabin around 5:00 pm. Bruce, Bill jr, and Uncle Bill were there talking and waiting for me. It was good to reconnect even though it had only been a couple of weeks since the first season.
After unpacking and settling in, we moved down by the fire pit and enjoyed a great evening fire. 4:00 a.m. comes early, so by 8:30 we were already talking about heading in to our sleeping bags. Sleep came easy that night.
At 4:00 am that coffee pot started percolating – we use it as our alarm. The fresh coffee smells so good and gives us an initial reason to roll out of the sack. Of course that anticipation of the hunt does a good job of that as well. We loaded up our snack bags and coffee thermoses, dressed in total camo and headed out to the ATV’s.
As I headed to my ATV I could hear an ATV down in the Little Wabash River bottoms – not a good sign! While Bruce and I were the only people that had permission to hunt the land we were hunting, that didn’t mean that someone with less scruples wasn’t going to slip in to our area. So we took off – I headed to the river bottoms and Bruce headed to the upland area he was hunting.
It was still pitch black when I came around the corner of the bluff where my blind was located. Sure enough, someone’s ATV was sitting in the spot I typically use to park my ATV. My ground blind was located about 20 yards north of where I leave my ATV. Thankfully no one was in my ground blind – that would have been a problem – maybe even a Roy Mercer moment!
I heard several gobblers to the south of my blind. I called but couldn’t get birds in to my decoy. At the end of that day’s hunt, the “interloper” came to get his ATV. Turned out there were two guys riding one ATV. They did their best to duck and dodge my questions about permissions and where they hunted that morning. I shared with them that I was hunting this area and implied to them that I counted on hunting there ALONE the next few days. They clearly received my message and I didn’t see them the rest of the week.
Before heading back to the cabin I moved south of my blind and built another ground blind that was closer to the gobbling I had heard all morning. Then I rode back to the cabin to have a bite to eat, relax, have a cigar, and hear how Bruce had done that morning. Turned out Bruce didn’t score either.
During the afternoon I did a little mushroom hunting. It didn’t take me long to find a “mess”. I took them into West Salem and gave them to my mom – she loves mushrooms!
Once again we had a nice evening fire and then slipped back into our sleeping bags around 9:00 pm. Because you knew that darn coffee pot was going to begin percolating WAY too early in the morning.
We headed out around 4:30 a.m. As I headed down the lane towards the river bottoms I heard a nasty sound under my ATV and realized that my chain had come off! What a pain! It was still pitch black and I was probably a half mile or more from my blind. Well, nothing I could do at that moment so I pushed the ATV to the side of the lane, loaded up all my hunting gear and gun and hoofed it the last half mile. By the time I got to my blind I was sweating like a pig. But I had made it and it was still dark. I could settle in before the light started seeping in from the east.
Finally the east started to light up. The birds slowly began to sing and the owls really started hooting. In fact, the owls started really calling at each other with a lot of emotion. When they really get going they sound like monkeys….or something alien – really creepy but yet so entertaining to hear.
As the morning progressed I continued to call and soon saw eight hens move across an open field west to east. I then saw three mature toms heading across the same field in the same direction as the hens. I called and watched them strut and fan each time I called. At the same time, a hen came in from the south and answering my calls, seeming really excited to have another hen (my call/decoy) in the area.
The three big toms came slowly in to my call. I turned on my RedDot scope and clicked my safety off. A few more yards and one of those beasts would be headed to my smoker. The hen to the south of me now moved into the same field that the three toms were in. And then she moved through and past them and headed northwest. The toms turned and started following her! That can’t be! I had in my mind, already shot, plucked, and cleaned one of those big beautiful birds! This couldn’t be happening! But it was happening and they slowly moved away and out of my sight!
Shortly after, Bruce texted me with a great message that he had dropped a BIG bird – one with a 10 inch beard. I was thrilled for him. He’s a great hunter and was due to drop a big bird. I walked the half mile back to my ATV and spent some time getting the chain back on the machine – and then rode back to the cabin. I got to see Bruce’s bird up close and did he ever drop a big bird. Besides the great beard, it also weighed 26 pounds! The picture below is the bird on the ground:
Here he’s fanning the bird and posing for pictures – what a great picture of a happy turkey hunter.
It was great hearing how it all came down – each of us enjoying the story as though it was our own. That’s a great part of the enjoyment of hunting – both the camaraderie and sharing in each other’s success.
The bird continued to be center stage as the butchering began. Take a look at the length of that beard – what a great bird!
Friday evening we headed over to Panda for our regular outing to the Chinese buffet. It was good as usual. After dinner, Bruce and I headed to Centralia to pick up Scott Hootman. He was taking the Amtrak train from Chicago down to Centralia. It was about 10:30 when we got back to the cabin. Again, knowing how quickly that darn coffee pot would start percolating we all dove into our sleeping bags.
At 4:00 am it was raining. We decided that it made sense to wait out the rain and then slip out to hunt later in the morning. Since Bruce had filled his tag, he went with Scott and I and helped me call for birds. We were able to hunt a couple of hours but really didn’t get much quality time in the blind. No turkeys had come in to our calls by 12:30 and the hunting time ends at 1:00 p.m. We didn’t give up and continued to call. We started to hear a hen responding to our calls. She kept responding and eventually we were able to call her in to our decoys. It was fun to watch and to listen to her as she clucked, yelped, and purred in front of us. We hoped that a tom would be following her, but no luck. At 1:00 pm we loaded up the ATVs and headed back to the cabin.
Chris had joined us on Saturday morning. It was great to reconnect with him. When all of us are together it’s a great experience with a real feeling of camaraderie. Saturday afternoon was consumed with a great grilled pork steak lunch, visiting, and naps all around. Here’s the group sitting in the storage part of the cabin.
Saturday evening we watched the Blackhawks game and then crawled into our sleeping bags to await the dreaded sound of the percolating coffee. It came before we were prepared….again…..
We loaded up our gear and by 4:30 a.m. had headed out to the river bottoms. About mid-morning six nice jakes came in from the north. They were about 18 yards from my blind. I was holding out taking a shot hoping that the birds or at least some of the birds would continue south another 20 yards to give Scott a good shot. But it was not to be. They headed west and never knew that they had just escaped a trip to a smoker in Glen Ellyn!
At about 11:30 we decided enough was enough and headed back to the cabin. We packed up, had an end of the turkey season cigar, and headed north to Chicago.
It was another great turkey season. I learned a lot and enjoyed spending quality time with my uncle, my cousins, and Scott. I so appreciate my family’s hospitality, their sharing their cabin, and their providing me with an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors. I can’t wait till next year!