Above: A couple that hunts together stays together. Jason Minnick, left, and Rebecca Gillespie, right, both took nice turkeys earlier this year. Not everyone has had such good luck, as Steve Linenfelser writes in his outdoors column below. Incidentally, Jason and Rebecca had plans to be married this month, but had to postpone their wedding due to COVID 19. “At the end of the day, we still have each other,” noted Rebecca. And, it seems, plenty of turkey in the freezer.
Hunting sometimes is ‘Close, but no cigar’
By Steve Linenfelser
During the early twentieth century, carnivals and county fairs were a popular attraction for folks throughout the United States. Back in those days many of the prizes were geared towards adults. One of the most popular games of chance was called the high striker. That’s where a puck was inserted on a long vertical pole, and the idea was to swing a sledge hammer or big mallet at the base that would shoot the puck upwards and if successful would strike a bell at the top of the pole. A passing young lad or man often traveling with his lady would be coaxed into showing off his strength where the carnival employee might yell “Step right up, show your strength and win a cigar!”
Unlike teddy bears and stuffed animals that we see today, they would often give out cigars to the men. There was a small fee, and the carnival employee would usually give you three tries. The customer would walk up with confidence, swing the hammer and often it would stop just short of the bell. The carnie would then say “Close, but no cigar!” This is a phrase many people use today when we just miss a particular goal.
Now, because it was so close this would entice the determined guy to try and try again because being so close made them want it even more. That same feeling is often felt in many attempted goals or prizes that we seek out today.
Take hunting, for example. One of my favorite things to do is sit around a warm pot-bellied stove, a glowing campfire or sit around a kitchen table with friends and swap hunting stories. Oh sure, the hunters talk about the successes, but often the ones that drive us crazy is the ones where we just missed harvesting the duck, deer, or turkey. The ‘ole “one that got away “ is a story told time after time and the heartfelt wish where we would say to ourselves “Man, I was SO CLOSE!”
You were so close you could almost taste it. I believe that is what drives us to keep going, even after we fail. And while doing this, we get to hunt some more! This expands our experiences and along with it, many fond memories.
It’s the journey, not the destination that we endear and remember most. The adventures along the way, if we were honest with ourselves, are many times the favorite part of a hunt.
Near miss #1
Turkey hunting season just opened and already there are stories of just misses. A guy I work with, Ryan, told me a story where he had just missed harvesting a big tom turkey right here in Jackson County. He described being in the woods, calling a tom turkey until suddenly one appeared about 30 yards away. His opening was narrow where he could get a shot off without hitting any trees, and the tom stopped dead center in this opening and finally stopped moving. He waited until the turkey looked away, then he slowly raised his shotgun, took off the safety, and was just about to shoot when all of a sudden, a deer walked right between him and the turkey! The deer just stopped and looked at the tom curiously as if to think “Oh, a turkey.” Frustration set in, but all Ryan could do was to wait for the deer to move out of the way. If the deer or turkey spotted him, the tom would take off into the woods. “Come on, MOVE,” Ryan said to himself. Well, the deer didn’t move right away but the tom did and just waltzed back into the woods where Ryan could no longer get a shot. But hey, that’s hunting.
Just like the guy that just missed the bell, Ryan was even more determined to go back out again.
Close, but no cigar.
Another near miss
I too, have had my share of just-missed opportunities. I have been out twice already, and after the first hunt I put my gun away in my truck and started driving away. I looked back into the woods and saw three big tom turkeys walking towards the area where I just came from! Man, if I only waited just a few more moments perhaps I would have bagged a big one.
For you novices out there, a “tom” or a “gobbler” is a mature male turkey two years old or older often characterized by a long “beard” that is usually several inches long. The tom’s beard is actually bristles of hair-like feathers known as mesofiloplumes.
A mature male also will have bigger spurs than younger turkeys which the tom uses to fight off other toms for territory or the right to mate. They also have this big, beautiful turkey tail that a tom will fan out to impress the females. A younger, one-year old smaller male turkey is called a jake.
One of the things I love about hunting is all of the interesting things I get to see. I decided I would build my blind that afternoon out of evergreen branches that surrounded a circle of trees. I would then sit in the middle with a comfortable portable chair hidden amongst the evergreen branches that I was able to look through to shoot. As I was walking in on a two-track I noticed this dead tree that was torn to pieces from top to bottom, with all the bark chewed and/or ripped off.
Jeremy Harrell, shown pictured in this courtesy photo, took this nice tom recently in the Irish Hills. If you have a hunting photo or story to share with readers, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with a brief explanation and contact information.
Up north, porcupines will often chew the bark off trees, then many other animals such as raccoons, woodpeckers and even bears will dig for insect larvae hidden within the tree. As I was walking towards the evergreen trees, I noticed one tree in particular that was smeared with turkey droppings. It looked like it was painted with the stuff. I knew I was in the right area because turkeys will roost at night in these trees and this tree was only 60 yards from where I would be sitting. Then something else caught my eye. It was a skull along with several other bones scattered along the ground underneath the trees. Upon further inspection I determined they were from a deer, probably preyed upon by coyotes. Yes, the woods tell many stories, which only adds to my adventures.
I finished my blind and went to bed early that night. The next morning, I got up about an hour before dawn and quietly walked back to my blind.
It was a perfect morning, with a cool breeze that was just enough to keep the mosquitoes away. I think it’s important to visualize your goals, and I started a tradition a few years ago inspired by the high striker event. I do not smoke, but when I harvest a deer or turkey, I will bring with me a celebratory cigar that I will smoke after I get my prize. I had my favorite cigar with me, ready to fire.
Just after daybreak, I started using my call box to call a tom turkey. I had just heard the distinctive sound of a turkey flying out of a tree, which sounds like a flag flapping in the wind. I called again and this time, I heard a “gobble-gobble” back from a tom! I started getting excited when it gobbled a second time but only closer this time. It was getting closer, and I could practically taste that cigar. I usually bring in a decoy, usually a tom decoy that I set up in a field about twenty yards from my blind. I got a new one this year called “Chicken on a Stick.” It’s made of plastic that looks like a tom turkey with life-like fanned out feathers that you insert the decoy in the ground by a plastic rod underneath the decoy.
It lasted about five minutes before the wind blew it down, so I sneaked over and re-inserted it into the ground, but the wind just kept blowing it down. I decide the heck with it and left it down, which I regretted later. I crawled back to my blind and called again, but I got no response or saw no turkey. Finally, after about three hours of sitting patiently, I heard a gobble and it was right behind me! That darn tom turkey sneaked up behind me and was looking for the source of my calls. I froze, as I heard the tom now cackling as he walked closer. He was about 10 yards behind, and I could see out of the corner of my eye he was looking towards the opened field. Not seeing a tom to fight, he slowly retrieved to the thick woods. I slowly turned to see this huge tom with a long beard, and raised my shotgun, but by this time he was in the thick woods and I couldn’t get a shot off. I tried to call him back, but never saw him again.
No, I didn’t get a turkey that weekend, I have stories to tell of my journey that I experienced along the way. Besides, there is plenty of turkey hunting days left as I have until May 31st to get my prize.
In fact, it only increased my resolve to get back out there, only this time I will bring out my decoy and be ready. Yep, you could say I was close, but no cigar. But like that swinging sledgehammer, I am determined to get ‘em next time.
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The joy of the Lord is your strength. Neh. 8:10