It starts in February, with being notified that you’ve been lucky enough to draw a spring turkey tag for our local, limited lottery. You know people who have put in for it for years and never gotten it. For two months, you persevere through exponentially accumulating snowfall, uncharacteristially optimistic that, by late April it will mostly be gone. You spend too much time pondering the merits of various decoys and turkey calls online. Your spouse walks in on you watching an instructional video of three good ‘ol boys sitting on a porch, demonstrating calling techniques. She lifts an eyebrow as if to sardonically say, “really?” and closes the door. You feel a bit sheepish, but quickly become engrossed again in the finer points of yelping and purring.
The opening date approaches, and you start scouting. Most of this involves futilely post-holing up to your waist, and you truly begin to question why you ever thought you’d find turkeys in our valley.
As the opening date approaches, on a walk with the dogs, it happens. Tracks. More than one bird, maybe half a dozen. Criss-crossing each other as they all travel in the same general direction up a snowy slope. You can’t believe it. It’s like coming across a canteen full of water while crossing the Mojave on foot. You follow them for half an hour up a trail, over a ridge, into the forest, and suddenly, you get that eerie feeling that you’re not alone. There they go – a flock of Merriam’s fleeing into dark cover. You stop and let them vanish, and suddenly, it occurs to you that you just might be able to pull this off.
The alarm comes too soon, and it’s still dark and you wolf down a Pop Tart and a thermos of coffee and meld into the woods, bow in hand. You see a young bull elk. You spook coyotes in the steel blue of an overcast dawn. Mule deer everywhere. Sandhills sound as you hope they always will – like visitors from another planet. You are grateful for being here, so early, mixing with your elusive neighbors.
As you reach the end of the first week of your two-week tag, you realize that you have already spent over twenty-four cumulative hours in a small, dark blind – alone, staring at decoys, making no sounds other than something similar to a horny hen. There are people who would question your behavior, and reluctantly, you admit that they probably have every right to.
The time left progresses, and you see turkeys here and there, typically after you’ve just spent 4 hours hunkered and calling and you decide to pack it up and head home. A few hundred yards down the road, they run in front of your vehicle.
One day over a pint, someone asks you what you’ve been up to lately, and you tell them, fully knowing that it must sound a bit odd,
particularly as snow blows sideways past the windows of the tavern.
“There are turkeys around here?” they ask incredulously.
As your mind races through the possible responses, you find your mouth (as usual) crossing the finish line first with a simple, “Nope.”