Eleventh Hour Toms
Turkey hunters seem to have a love affair with being first – first to buy their license, first to try out the latest gee-whiz call or decoy, first one in the woods, and the biggest first of all – first crack at those “uneducated” gobblers each spring. I suppose there is a certain amount of personal interest in that last one. When the Wisconsin DNR opened up turkey hunting in my area of the state some 15+ years ago, I usually applied for the first available season in our 6 season lottery each spring. It just made sense – the most birds, the fewest previous encounters with other hunters – what’s not to love?
I did kill some early season birds in those first experiences, but that also included having to dust the snow off the decoys and deal with henned up gobblers that preferred the real thing to my futile impersonations. I also got aced out in the lottery a couple times. Sitting at home while everyone else has all the fun is, well, no fun. After reading the season summary reports for how many tags were open in each management unit and how many people had applied for each time period it became clear that the numbers were much more in my favor if I applied for the later hunts. It was a lesson I haven’t forgotten.
Nowadays the bird numbers have flourished, tags are much easier to come by, and there are even leftover tags available in my home state (always for the later seasons) that can be bought over the counter or on the internet. What all of that means is that I have more choices and opportunities to hunt than ever before. It also means I can go play in the late season with high expectations of seeing and working a gobbler.
Most people familiar with the turkey’s spring breeding ritual understand the basic stages they go through every spring, regardless of weather or latitude: The gobblers make a lot of racket prior to the hens being receptive. It’s a hormone thing, a pecking order thing, maybe even a howling-at-the-moon thing. It’s rare that there’s an open hunting season, so you just have to sit back and watch and listen. Eventually a few hens allow gobblers to tag along. That shuts the big boys up big time. They’ll happily gobble from the roost, but once they’re on the ground and in the presence of hens, there’s no need to be vocal anymore. Now it’s all about strutting and drumming. Hunters hate this period for 2 reasons – they’re competing with real hens in the calling contest, and with no reason to gobble on the ground, toms are hard to locate and keep track of. Finally, after a few weeks of relative midday silence in the turkey world, the hens have been bred and may be sitting on their nests. This is when the fun begins.
Gobblers have poor scheduling skills. They don’t understand why the hens aren’t hanging out with them. They only know that their hormones are still telling them to try to attract and breed hens. It’s economics 101 – supply and demand. There’s a shortage of interested hens so demand goes up. You, the hunter, can take advantage by filling that void.
Pattern gobbler’s preferred roost areas and stick close by. These last birds of the season may be call-wary because of their training by earlier hunters. Tone down your approach and tactics. Those long strings of lonely yelps are a thing of the past. Very often gobblers will sound off mid-morning and go “trolling” by gobbling every few minutes as they search for hens. Last week I followed one of the biggest gobblers I’ve ever seen on the hoof. He left the woods and walked halfway across a newly planted cornfield. I put my binocs on him and let out a modest sequence of yelps from 100 yards away. He took one quick look in my direction and proceeded to rubber neck his way to the opposite side of the field, disappearing into the tree line. A much more appropriate call would’ve been a simple cluck or two, maybe some scratching in the leaves to simulate a hen feeding.
I learned from that mistake and was prepared to do just that a couple days later when I stood at the base of the big guy’s preferred roosting ridge and listened to his pre-dawn gobbling. There was only one problem – the finger ridge that was my usual path to the top was blocked by 2 other gobblers that were sounding off nearby. With 2 tags in my pocket and only 2 days left of the WI turkey season this was no time to be a trophy hunting snob. I decided to ignore the big bird’s calling and concentrate on what was right in my lap.
I heard the flydown followed by several minutes of silence, but the 2 birds started gobbling again from a saddle on that finger ridge that I knew was a good strutting zone. I quietly snuck up the hill a short distance, using the late season foliage as cover, positioned myself at the base of a large oak, rested my feet on the Turkey Dave Footrest I always carry, and laid my gun across my knee. The entire calling sequence consisted of 4 clucks on an aluminum pot and peg call, followed by a few scratchings in the dry leaves. I wasn’t’ really trying to call the birds in, just make them aware of my presence. It was up to them to figure out the rest of the equation and I wasn’t disappointed. I could easily hear the low frequency drumming as they marched down that saddle and started up the hill to my little mesa. When they came around a tree at 25 yards I put my sight on the lead bird and pulled the trigger. I got lucky and ended up getting a clean kill on both birds with one shot (legal in WI). One of the birds even sported a huge double beard. I’m convinced that the subtle calling technique in late season is what did the trick. Keep it low key and simple next spring when you’re faced with lonely late season birds and you might have the same luck I did.
The Waves of Environmental Consciousness
With all the talk about conserving our natural resources and supporting conservation efforts around the globe, you may be sitting at home and wondering ‘well what can I do?’, thinking that one person or household could not possibly make a noticeable impact. Think again. Conservation efforts go far beyond reforestation and wildlife preserves. There are so many ways that we as individuals can make a dramatic impact (albeit over time) in the way we choose to live. Making the conscious effort to reduce, reuse and recycle has become a lifestyle for my family and while the thought may seem overwhelming at first, you can start out small and gradually build upon what you do, even getting younger members of the family involved.
Being a single mom of two children, ages 5 and 8, our endeavor to be a bit more green began a few years ago when we spent much of our time living in Vermont. Having a large parcel of land allowed us to cultivate flower gardens, a vegetable and herb garden, and various berry bushes. Rather than spend all sorts of money on fertilizers, we got into the habit of composting anything and everything that didn’t have a shell. The only other precautions to take if you are going to compost on a ‘small’ scale is not to put any meat or anything with seeds into your compost bin; the seeds will sprout before you know it and the whole batch will have a longer break-down time, giving you plants where you probably didn’t intend them to grow. When composting, there isn’t even a need to spend a lot of money and buy one of those big heavy-duty barrels you crank to turn your batch over. We found it was just as effective to collect our compost in a bin on the counter and make a daily trip out to the barn where we kept a metal garbage can for all the scraps, using a shovel to turn the compost every week or so. As you go through this process, you’ll get satisfaction in seeing the rich, dark, nutrient-rich soil turn up from the bottom, ready to be spread in your flower beds and garden.
Although Earth Day has come and gone, there are still plenty of things you can do throughout the rest of this year to reduce the waste that is either dumped into our landfills or incinerated only to go into our atmosphere. Think of all the plastic containers your household discards over the course of just one week, let alone the countless amounts you will go through in an entire month or year. Instead of tossing these containers into the trash can, take the few extra moments to rinse them and set aside for recycling. If you live in an area where recycling is not picked up curbside, there are plenty of ways to reuse many of these items. For instance, haven’t we all, at some point, purchased plastic storage containers from the market or local box store? Not to say that Rubbermaid containers aren’t great, but when you are working to reduce the amount of non-biodegradables you toss in the trash, think about how you can refill your water bottles, return your soft drink cans for the deposit (don’t throw them away; it adds up!), save the yogurt containers for art projects with the kids or to use as snack cups for them (I put everything from trail mix to fruit in them; just the right size for small hands to carry around while keeping portion control in mind). In my house, we reuse everything from paper towel tubes (good for art projects or an easy storage solution for all those plastic shopping bags that accumulate; just shove them in the tube and you have your own ‘free’ dispenser for them!) If you are someone that already returns your bottles and cans in order to get your five cent deposit back, consider the additional value that sits right on top of those cans; did you know that by pulling the pop-top tab off the can and saving them, you can turn them into your local hospital or renal dialysis center for an important cause.
**because of the importance of issues such as what has been discussed in this blog post, we have decided to continue this article in installments so we can address the issues discussed more fully and because we realize the average blog reader’s attention span is limited! We will continue to post installments to this post frequently.
If you ever find yourself in upstate New York on a beautiful Spring day (or even a ‘not so beautiful’ one), looking for an outdoor adventure but at a loss for what to do, consider taking a leisurely drive to the Herkimer, NY area for a few hours of ‘diamond’ prospecting. While it sounds crazy to think that you could be feasibly digging for diamonds somewhere other than Antwerp, allow me to clarify the type of gem that is found in great abundance in a specific area of this rural community.
While you need not be an expert in geology, you will need a few tools to
make your work a bit easier. Two of the three mines we have frequented, do rent tools, but the items you need may very well already be sitting in your tool shed right now. One item that will serve you well is a decent sledge hammer; either a smaller hand held size or a traditional heavier weight model reminiscent of the chain gang. Other smaller tools that you may never even think of are very useful, such as a paintbrush (for dusting off your sparkly treasures as you diligently work to extract them intact), tweezers (for those small dazzlers you won’t want to miss), a chisel or two (a larger one for big rocks and a small one for tapping around the cavities in the rock), a pair of gloves; gardening gloves are suitable, just something to protect your hands. Bring a bucket and some heavy duty Ziplocs or Rubbermaid containers for your take homes. One item I had previously underestimated the power of but was so glad I tried using, was a Leatherman. The various tools were great for picking around the softer rock inside the little ‘caves’ or pockets, where you’ll find the crystals. Lastly, it goes without saying that you’ll want to be wearing your ‘play clothes’ with extra clothing at the ready. This is a dirty undertaking and depending on the mine you choose to work in, the terrain can vary between very wet and muddy, to dusty clay. Undoubtedly, as you work on cracking rocks you will eventually be covered in fine rock dust. Having an extra set of clothes in the car, or a towel to sit on as you drive home will save your car from diamond-hunting shrapnel. And a must have for this endeavor is a decent pair of safety glasses as small rock chips can fly at you from all directions.
So once you are all outfitted for your day of pounding rocks, the question of how to start looms overhead…
‘Herkimer diamonds’ were believed to have been formed over 500 million years ago and are embedded in hard rock ledge. Looking at the face of the ledge, small holes can be seen all along the face of the rock, indicating a good place to start your excavating. The glimmering, glistening glass-like gems you’ll see peeking through these holes are the treasure you seek; some will be mere flecks resembling no more than a shard of glass, while the ‘mother lode’ could mean a cluster of quartz-like stones joined together to form an awe-inspiring matrix. Other ‘ultimate finds’ have even been in the form of a single multi-faceted stone weighing anywhere from a few ounces to over twenty pounds! Naturally, a find like this will not come easy, so expect to get your hands dirty! ( I didn’t say prospecting was a neat, clean venture) It’s all really a matter of preference as far as what you’ll prefer to find. While I myself love the tiniest clusters of baguette shaped crystals still attached to the dark rock, I mine with friends that prefer to persevere until they find something of substantial size. Depending upon your desires, you may use small rock picks to hammers and wedges designed to move substantial amounts of rock in order to find the pockets holding crystals. But for the casual family outing, you can find more than enough crystals to make it enjoyable for all by picking through the piles of debris left by the hardcore diggers. Some stones emerge with a yellow or orange-like hue with black veins running through them, while others are literally crystal clear and nicely faceted. The important thing to remember is that this is a day out in nature, discovering one of our Earth’s wonders while simultaneously enjoying time with family and friends, young and old alike. Keep in mind it’s not always the destination, but the journey that makes things like this worthwhile.