It was a cold start to the morning. Looked outside at the kitchen-window thermometer last week and, wow, a chilly 44 degrees. To put it into perspective, that is only 12 degrees above freezing.
The bad news is this: Winter is surely coming. The good news? Hunting season is near.
I had an appointment to make and was about to head out the door when I stepped into the upstairs bathroom for one final look. I make it a point to look out the back windows of the house, probably more than a dozen times each day for just beyond a short stretch of lawn, my wife planted a flower garden many years ago. Actually, it is more like a salad bar for deer.
Every once in a while deer show up, munching on the fine, green plants. On rare occasions, I might get to see a flock of wild turkeys passing by.
In any event, one morning last week while looking out that back window, I spotted three turkeys, all toms, as they pecked their way at the top and then downhill, picking up, I supposed, insects in the garden.
At the top of the hill now, only 15 yards away, their red heads told of their gender. One bird was on the steps I built three decades ago, on the way up to where a vegetable garden once grew. But I was perplexed. Is that a jake, a 1-year-old tom? No, wait. His beard (a protrusion of black hair that grows out of a male turkey’s thick chest) was a bit too long to qualify as a jake, yet was a bit too short to be a true mature tom.
Finally, as the other two birds rambled down the hill, it was clear that all three were still growing their beards and they were at the phase that falls between 1 and 2 years of age.
In any event, I hurried down the stairs and stepped into the grandchildren’s play room on the first floor and was now watching the toms at a distance of maybe 10 feet. They appeared large and very healthy.
As I marveled at the scene, what was most compelling was the wariness of the birds. They would peck-peck at the ground, then raise their heads high to take in their surroundings. It was yet another display of just how alert, in a near-constant fashion, the birds are of their surroundings.
We know of the many predators (hunters like me, for instance) that love to feast on wild turkey. As a turkey hunter for more than 35 years, I have come to respect how well-adapted these wild birds are and how fortunate we are to have them here in Vermont. Any veteran turkey hunter will attest to how difficult it is to approach wild turkeys in the wild.
People, well-meaning people, have all too often related to me about how “stupid” turkeys can behave. This is generally in places where the birds have repeatedly encountered non-threatening humans, like in their back yards or along a roadway and, they say, the birds are not at all concerned about the presence of a human. OK, I get that.
But get back in the woods and see just how alert and difficult it is to approach a wild turkey. Here in Vermont we have both a spring and a fall season, and every year I take part in each hunt. Vermont is blessed to have a good, healthy population of wild turkeys, and those of us who hunt the birds have an abiding respect for their uncanny ability to see movement, at great distances. Most of the time, a wild turkey will not hang around like, for instance, a deer, to see what it is, out in their line of sight. Wild turkeys usually flee at the first sight of something that just doesn’t look right.
As the saying goes, “A deer looks at a man and sees a stump; a turkey looks at a stump and sees a man.”
So those three young toms worked their way across the western and southern parts of the lawn, then checked into the pines and then, in all likelihood, crossed the road. It was an exhilarating thing to behold.
That is one of the great things about living in Vermont and in the country. You can never know what might cross, within eyesight, on your property. All of this has raised my interest in the fall turkey hunt a good notch. The day is not that far away. The season opens Oct. 26.
I will be ready. And if you want a challenge, take the shotgun out in late October and try to locate a flock of birds. The fall hunt allows a hunter to take a bird of either sex.
And if you want a real challenge, far more difficult than hunting in the fall, get a few turkey calls, bone up on how to hunt them, and hit the woods on May 1, the spring hunt, when only a bearded bird can be taken.
Whatever the season, wild turkeys are challenging and, if prepared correctly, delicious. Maybe we’ll see you in the turkey woods.
Dennis Jensen can be reached at email@example.com