By Steve Johnson
Hunting in a turkey blind and hunting turkey as a blind person are really two different things, or are they really?
As a totally blind hunter, I get all kinds of questions and comments about my ability as a hunter to harvest game ranging from, “You can’t do that,” to “It’s awesome that you’re still doing what you love to do.” Being raised in a family with a long history of hunting and fishing, this was the one thing I refused to give up, but how would I do this now that I was totally blind? After sitting in deer hunting stands with my brother and other hunting partners for a number of years after my sight loss, my dream of being able to hunt “independently” again came true in the fall of 2003. Wisconsin passed a law that allowed legally blind hunters to use a laser sighting device to harvest game with the help of a sighted assistant. This was just another arrow in the proverbial quiver that I had to harvest game.
Being primarily a gun-deer and small game hunter, Wisconsin had something unique that I had never had an opportunity to try when I had sight. That was turkey hunting. When turkeys were introduced to Wisconsin in the early 1970’s, they quickly spread across the region and eventually the entire state to the point that seasons were opened to implement quality turkey management.
I had my first try at this elusively wary bird more than 12 years ago, and I have found it to be something I probably love more than any other type of hunting. First, being a blind hunter, we really depend on our hearing. The wild turkey offers an amazing auditory experience that will keep you coming back–even if you aren’t a hunter. It sends shivers down my spine to think about it, much less being in the woods to hear the actual gobble of a tom turkey on the roost, or more likely, a big adult tom in hot pursuit of a hen.
Spring is the mating season for turkeys, and from my experience, it is truly the best time to get outside and take in the many sounds and newly uncovered smells as Mother Nature opens her eyes, stretches her arms out, and wakes up from a long winter. Keep in mind that turkey hunting is not for the faint of heart, or the late riser, as one is generally up before the last coals in the fireplace die out from the night before, and well before you hear the first chirp of the birds as they start to awake from the cool night before. I have had many experiences of turkey hunting. Each one is unique and, yes, I have been successful in bagging a couple of nice birds.
One of my best memories of turkey hunting was at our family’s cabin in Clark County the last season in 2006. The last season is sometimes the hardest to hunt as the birds are wary after being shot at the five previous seasons. My partner and I had put together a camouflaged hunting blind off the corner of our cabin the day before, and then quietly snuck out of the cabin, crept over to the blind, and nestled in for the morning. We waited patiently as we heard the woods slowly wake up, which was amazingly well-before the first rays of sunlight slowly lightened up the eastern sky. I began to make light pics and purrs with my different hen turkey calls, and it was apparent that the gobblers were all around. I could hardly contain myself as they would respond wildly to the single hen! As the sun began to creep into the sky, we managed to have a couple of birds come within a nice range, but still too far to shoot. I was chiding myself because I had forgotten the decoys at home, but then I had a rather brilliant idea– I would make my own! The elusive fanning toms seemed to stay out about 70 yards and would not come in any closer, so I thought, “I’ll give you something you can’t refuse: a beautiful single hen turkey!”
My partner and I quickly went back into the cabin and scrambled to find any materials that I might be able to use. I found a paper grocery bag with handles, some black electrical tape and some old stain. I took out my pocket knife and began to cut the bag, still keeping it in one piece. The handles would eventually become the tail, and through a few magical cuts, the rest of the bag turned into a body, and then a rather realistic looking turkey head. I used the tape to fashion the beak, and even made big black eyes out of the tape. The stain along with some of the red print on the brown paper bag made for a perfect camouflaged body no tom could refuse. The final touch, a cup turned upside down under the turkey, completed the project in less than 15 minutes.
My partner and I quickly went outside, placed a stake in the ground, and carefully placed the cup over the stake so this beauty of a hen could gently move with the breeze that was now picking up as the sun rose a little higher. We waited patiently. I took out my tom turkey gobbler call with the hope of making one of those other toms jealous and I made a couple of hard gobbles.
Within seconds, a big adult tom turkey was running in to check out this rather attractive hen. He fanned and gave quite the display. Being only about 15 yards away and hopefully camouflaged well-enough, I slowly raised my shotgun. This was no susceptible, love-sick tom. His wariness got the best of me. He was gone as quickly as he came because he most likely saw a slight movement, and that was probably me, shaking like a leaf in the wind! The experience is one I will never forget. To this day, the makeshift turkey decoy named “Henrietta” proudly sits on an empty wine bottle in our cabin, ready and willing to be called upon when she is needed again.
Steven Johnson lives in La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Featured image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gall-dindi.jpg