FAYETTE, Ohio — Wild turkey hunters know all about Les Misérables — the Miserable Ones of the classic 19th century French novel by Victor Hugo.
They know all about being miserable, or wretched. All you have to do to understand that is spend a cold, rainy, windy day afield, vainly if valiantly attempting to bag a wild turkey gobbler. Take Tuesday, for instance.
As turkey hunting veteran Kevin Renner and I trudged a muddy Williams County farm path through corn stubble toward a woodlot a half mile distant, in the dark, the chilly rain and east wind made it feel more like November.
It felt more as though we ought to be putting out duck decoys in a marshy pond instead of turkey decoys where corn stubble met winter wheat near the woods. You could see your breath, once it got light enough to see.
But we could not hear any male turkeys — toms or gobblers or longbeards if mature, jakes if newly minted “shortbeards.” And that may have been because the rain was noisily tapdancing on the top and sides of the blind in ceaseless, annoying proportions. Too many hours of that incessant irritant could drive you crazier than a turkey hunter.
At least we were dry, for a while, and out of the wind.
It was fun to watch four white-tailed deer emerge from the woods in the barely seeable gray. They hung out in the stubble for 20 minutes or more. Then one of them suddenly looked back over its shoulder at the woods — not at us in the blind — and they spooked.
Gone in seconds.
By 8:15 or so, Renner was getting anxious about the no-show birds. A turkey hunting enthusiast — his cellphone doesn’t ring, it gobbles — he has killed or called in for others plenty of birds over the years, many of them right on the woodlot where we were camped. Presently he announced it was time to “run and gun,” which is turkey hunting lingo for getting up and out, decoys under arm, and trying set-ups and calls at other strategic locations.
Renner called and called — he’s a master with slate, box, or diaphragm — but drew in no beards. He joked about his early calling and how a buddy early on “sounded like a seal.” Been there.
All we succeeded in doing by running and gunning was get soaked and chilled. As we made our soggy way back to the blind, I was shivering like a dog digesting razor blades. The little cold drips from the bill of my camo ball cap had turned into an icy rivulet down my neck.
Well, as we neared the blind, there, in all its glory, stood a big bird of the right kind, 100 yards out. Its sharp eyes quickly got the drop on us, though we froze at first visual contact. Birds like them do not grow up to become birds like them by waiting around or acting stupidly.
“Dang, I was too impatient!” Kevin declared, berating himself about deciding to run and gun. If we had just stayed put...
Hey, I replied, it was a judgment call. We could have run into a bird while running and gunning.
We ran and gunned the woods some more when the pattering rain quit. At one point we closed to probably 60 or 75 yards with an active gobbler — maybe the same one we saw earlier. But he was having none of us and never showed his red and blue head and long beard. We figured that by this time, 10:30 a.m., he was “henned up,” which is more turkey lingo for having found a hen or two with which to flirt for the day.
As we clomped to the truck, Renner and I agreed to play the game again before season’s end. Maybe we could turn Les Misérables into the Agony and the Ecstasy, especially the ecstasy part.
Speaking of which, fast-forward from Tuesday’s November-in-April escapade to Thursday morning in Seneca County, where I found myself in more turkey territory with locals Roger Murray and Chuck Wolf.
It was the first day of this turkey season, which began its month-long run Monday, that conditions weren’t windy, rainy, cold.
At 5 a.m. a waning three-quarter moon hung brightly among scudding, scattered clouds.
It was being led across the still-night sky by the red giant Antares, the rusty lead star of the constellation Scorpio. Dazzling, but it makes you feel small.
The three of us were well-positioned on stands, camouflaged head to toe, by 6 a.m. I found myself within 60 to 100 yards of a roost site after a careful, noiseless sneak through a muddy woods.
As the pre-dawn light grew incrementally, I started to spy the big black blobs of roosting birds. I counted nine. And that was just a start. It was something to watch them wake up, slowly rousing themselves, fluffing feathers, stretching wings for morning flydown.
At 6:50 a.m., just moments after sunrise, the first of them stretched out and lowered its head and neck and led itself off a branch, flapping and gliding to ground. In two minutes, 13 birds had flown down. Amazing. Even more so, another eight birds flew down from a nearby cluster of tall timber that was just at the edge of my vision.
You stay so quiet and still at such a time among these super-wary birds that you forget to breathe. You end up involuntarily sucking in some wind.
It all was quite a spectacle and, for me, turned out to be the highlight of my morning. The birds, though they did not know I was so close, all flew down away from my stand, dropping into the light southwest wind for lift. A gang of them headed right for Murray. One longbeard stopped for a quick look-around about 65 yards from me, too far for a surer shot.
But at 7:10 a.m., I heard a “bang!” from Murray’s direction at the edge of a grassy field. Murray’s day was over. It was over as well, permanently, for a big, mature gobbler — 25-plus pounds, 10-inch-plus beard, one-plus spurs.
Amazingly, five longbeards had converged on Murray’s two hen decoys. They proceeded to chastise and chase off several juvenile jakes, and herded up some incoming hens as well. The latter had come running from across the fields. In all Murray was surrounded by about 30 birds.
“I picked out the tallest one,” he said about the rare opportunity of gobbler plenty.
He and Wolf had had their own agonizing hunts earlier in the cold wet week. So it was time to celebrate a little gobbler ecstasy.
Contact Steve Pollick at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.