So aloha. Hello this morning and goodbye until sometime after May 12 when we return from our trip to Hawaii and my first to the islands, with one week on the big one and another on Kauai. We are very fortunate to have been invited by good friends who own a couple of time shares there, but since they don’t also own an airline or restaurants, we will have to pay for our own transportation and food. It has been a long time, but I have a good memory, so I’ll remember to stay away from the poi and any palm trees constructed by 4th graders.
Considering that we will be island bound early Saturday morning, yesterday marked my last search for Moby Tom in the current season, and it was an eventful and wet day. When I arrived at the ranch, the postal flock of three hens and four gobblers was on duty at the mailbox where they threaten traffic and tantalize hunters driving down the road. The dew hung so heavily in the filaree and bronco grass and the birds were so soaked and bedraggled looking, that the wallflower tom looked no worse than the handsome dudes who shun him. I pulled up alongside of them, banged on the side of my truck door and all four gave me a gobble.
Driving east through “the big field,” I parked under a sycamore that sits at the edge of a seasonal creek, selected the gear I would take (shotgun and two shells along with some camo netting, a legless sling chair to keep my ass two inches off the wet ground, a hen decoy, an apple, two tangerines, a granola and chocolate energy bar and water. Following a a four strand barbwire cross fence and hopping a small creek, it was a mostly level walk of about ten minutes from my truck to the strutting ground where I had previously seen my Moby Tom. Once again, I placed the hen decoy in the middle of the wide grassy swath, but instead of setting up next to a sycamore on the downslope side, headed for the base of a large oak on the upslope side that had lost two large limbs under the weight of the last snow.
I liked this spot better because a limb that had gone down years earlier landed across the fence, creating a low spot still too high for the cattle, but favored as a game crossing. And, a week earlier I’d seen it used by a small parade of turkeys, each of which crossed the fence at that point and gave a gander at my decoy before continuing away from where I had set up. If there was a problem with this spot, it was a fairly large opening between limbs, which is why I brought the camo blind material to fully conceal my location. The temperature was in the high 50’s and rising, the sky was mostly cloudless and there was a mild breeze coming up the valley from the west. I’d made my “camp” comfortable, because I had commited to be patient and give the birds plenty of time to find me.
I gave a few yelps on my box call and drew gobbling answers from multiple birds on the slope behind me and a single tom on the slope across the creek. Within 30 minutes, a pair of toms drenched by the wet grass came in behind me and ready to cross the fence. The first of the two hopped up on the limb that caused the low spot and as it did, the breeze flapped the blind material, and both birds began picking their way back up the slope. A mistake, but of little concern since neither was my Moby Tom.
Within another 30 mnutes, a hen came down the slope across the creek and began dusting herself at the edge of a square cement water trough that was empty. Midway through a luxuirous dust bath that took over an hour, a big tom appeared behind her and pecked around for a while before heading back up the slope, oblivious to my attempts to draw him toward my decoy with some soft purrs and clucks. He would answer from time to time without advancing and eventually the hen concluded her dustbath and joined him as they walked walked upslope through the oaks.
A yearling mule deer passed by alone and from timet to time, I could hear a gobble in the distance. Then a closer gobble came from two low ridges away to the west. I put the binoculars on the bird and could see that it was a nice one, maybe even my Moby Tom. As he disappeared behind the ridge, I began a stalk that took me up the mountain and then west with the breeze in my face, but by the time I got to the second ridge, I spotted a hen 100 yards away, followed closely by the gobbler I’d seen on the ridge. I called, he gobbled, fanned his tail and turned a couple of 360’s before continuing to trail the hen. There was no way I could get ahead of them, let alone guess their route, and I was still flushed and winded from my earlier climb.
I returned to my set-up and checked the time. I’d been there for four hours and my mind was turning from turkeys to the bass in the stock pond down the creek. Not that they were particularly heavy for my return to the truck, but it seemed a good time to polish off the the apple, tangerines, energy bar and water before packing up and heading back. Thirty minutes later, I was hooked into the first of at least 40 bass, and like most of them this one was less than 12 inches. Obviously the pond is one of those where the bass have seen few lures or fishermen and will hit almost anything. In this case “anything” was a small antique Jitterbug fished on an ultralight spinning outfit and four pound test.
The Jitterbug by the Fred Arbogast lure company of Akron, Ohio had been one of the most famous lures from the Golden Age of bass fishing, but was not a model I’d had much success with in the past. As a youngster I much preferred and landed my first surface lure caught laregemouth on a Hula Popper, which in my view was Fred’s best product. It then occurred to me how foolish it was to use an antique lure that had the greatly added value of its original packagins sitting at home on my bookshelf. I even remembered the the claim on the side of the box, “Noisy Action Kills Bass” when I launched one last cast, before returning to the truck for a more modern and much more effective Rapala floating minnow. Unfortunately, that last cast sailed a bit and plopped into a pocket surrounded by vegetation, and as it landed, was engulfed by a much larger than expected bass that quickly wrapped the light line around the base of some cattails.
Now thinking a lot more about the value of the old lure and its packaging, not to mention how foolish it was to be using it, I hopped into a small dinghy that was pulled up onshore and paddled out to rescue the Jitterbug. It was now two feet below the surface and hooked into the stalk of a cattail with the big bass, long gone. I ran my hand carefully down the line, dislodged the lure and immediately replaced it with the Rapala. The Jitterbug would be returned to its box on the shelf and never to again leave it, as soon as I got home.
Figuring that the turkey hunting was over for the day, I became rather passionate about catching bass. Every other cast seemed to result in a strike, often from bass little larger than the Rapala and every strike or two resulted in a bass. By the time I was done, I figure I caught five bass on the now retired Jitterbug and maybe 35 on the black and silver Rapala. They included fish of four, three and a pair at two pounds with the rest much, much smaller.
It was now 3 p.m., and despite missing out on the turkeys, I’d had a great day. It was time to head back to the ranch house for a visit and a cold beer. As I drove up the road that leads away from the pond and along the top of a draw, I began to wonder why I no longer see turkeys in that area.
Wonder changed to amazement when I saw two big strutting gobblers in the bottom of the draw, and then two hens. They looked at the truck and paid little attention. I drove to a point where their view of the road was obscured by a huge oak, grabbed my shotgun and walked cautiously down the hill. I figured the birds were either working their way up the draw or down it. If they went down, I was out of luck, but I had a 50/50 chnce they would come up the draw. Seeing movement through and at the left edge of the tree, I settled my not so lanky 5 foot 8 inch frame into a large, but bcamoflauged 215 pound ball, my butt less than a yard from a red ant colony that remained remarkably docile. Admittedly, I’ve lost an inch since high school and have have gained a few pounds over the years, but I’m still hoping for a growth spurt that will result in a more appropriate height to weight ratio.
As I waited, first one hen, the another and another came into view at the edge of the tree and a distance of 35 yards. They crossed under a barbwire fence, behind a small blackberry thicket and were followed closely by a jake. Then into view, but five yards higher and on a more level spot up the hill came one big gobbler and then another, their heads and necks a stunning and unintentionally patriotic red, white and blue. Instead of following, it seemed they liked the more level spot and resumed their strutting dance competition, turning slowly with their tails fully fanned and wings strumming the ground.
Oblivious to me, I raised my shotgun when they were in the midst of a turn away from me. They were at what I considered maximum range, and their heads and necks were tucked. I considered giving a yelp in the hope they would expose their heads and necks for a better shot, but thought better of doing anything that my change my sudden good fortunte. The birds were very nearly identical, so I selected the one with most intense color in its engorged head and was slightly closer and fired. Both flapped into the air. The target bird landed clumsily and appeared to tumble behind the tree into the bottom of the draw. The other gobbler ran up a hill, followed closely by the others.
Believing that the bird that was hit would head downslope and possibly into cover, I went under the fence and downhill as fast as I could manage. About 50 yards down and with no sign of the big bird, I began working my way back up the draw and checking each downfall and patch of brush for the bird or at the very least a sign. Nothing. When I got to where the birds had been when I shot, I found five feathers and no blood. Looking around in disbelief, I heard thrashing from the other side of the big oak and managed to see the bird land at a distance of 30 yards away and quickly run away and out of sight in seconds. Jumping across the the tiny creek and watercress at the bottom of the draw, sliding under the fence and lumbering back up the hill, there was no sign of the bird. I continued for another 200 yards hoping for a sign, but there was none to find.
With its head and neck firmly tucked, there was no sign my shot had struck those vital areas and with no blood and only a few cut feathers, there was likely little if any penetration through the gobbler’s heavy coat of feathers.
Like most hunters, I would rather miss entirely than injure an animal, and I suspect that this big old bird will be fine, but with a lesson learned. Same for me too.