The early bird got the…

I usually set up in the woods on opening day of turkey season, at the intersection of trails along the base of a ridge. But this year I put my camo tent next to some honeysuckle beneath a lone cedar at the edge of my small meadow. Most of my trees had leaves by the start of May. And it always seems to me that once the leaves are full, and the range of vision in the woods has dropped dramatically, turkeys get a lot quieter.
The strategy paid off. An hour after sunrise, a pair of birds heard my call and came wandering down the ridge. They kept silent, but I saw them pause at the edge of the meadow. They paced back and forth for a couple minutes, and appeared poised to turn around and head back up the hill. I gave one more plaintive hen call. Either the call or the sight of my seductive hen decoys was too much. Suddenly one of the birds made up his mind and started out into the clearing. The other followed.
I waited until they were next to the decoys before I pushed the side-by-side barrels of my great-grandfather’s old 20-gauge shotgun out through the window of my tent. It’s more of an upland game shotgun — grouse, quail and maybe pheasants. It doesn’t have the power and range of a more traditional turkey gun. But it has sentimental value. And I put my decoys only 15 yards out, well within the range of even a 20-guage.
The larger of the birds was only about 15 and a half pounds. The smaller was only 13 and a half. Neither had a beard much longer than four inches. They were jakes, not toms. Certainly not trophies by any means. But in 13 years of turkey hunting I’ve never had a chance at getting two birds on opening morning. Plus, a 15-pound bird tastes a whole lot better than a 24-pounder on the dinner table, even if it’s less fun to bring in to Vermont Field Sports to have it weighed. I picked the larger one and pulled the front trigger for the left barrel.
The bird dropped at once to a clean shot. The other one took flight, heading straight for the woods. It landed about 15 yards away, a few steps into the trees, hitting the ground running. Fortunately the skeet shooting I did in the fall, trying to work two clay pigeons per throw, paid off. I was able to swing the barrel up and over, switch my finger to the back trigger, and squeeze off the shot in the right barrel. Not much after 7 a.m. I was back home with two birds.
The disadvantage of getting two birds in the first 90 minutes of the season is that I couldn’t hunt the rest of May. But there are two advantages. One is that my youngest son was very motivated by my success and wanted to go hunting with me. Getting a teenage boy to wake up at 4:15 a.m. is no easy task. In fact, getting a 48-year-old man to wake up at 4:15 a.m. is not much easier. But twice in the next week there he was at the breakfast table, getting a swig of orange juice while pulling on his camo gear in case we decided to leave the tent. With one thermos of coffee and one of hot chocolate, we headed up to the meadow.
Both mornings proved enjoyable. On the first we called a bird in very close. Unfortunately, it got nervous and stayed just off the edge of the meadow where it paced back and forth for a good 40 minutes, gobbling at the decoys and trying to get them to come over. Lacking legs, however, my decoys were unable to respond. Eventually the bird wandered off in frustration. An hour later, the hunters did too. The next time out was even more promising. We heard three different toms reply to our calls. Two of them approached from opposite sides, but neither ventured into the meadow. And my son still had not taken a shot. Fortunately, we have a week left of the season.
The other advantage of having filled both of my turkey tags is that I was not conflicted about what to do for rest and recreation the remainder of the month. I have been able to appreciate trout fishing in what is often the best few weeks of the year. The last few days have been beautiful on the water. Although Otter Creek, with its thousands of acres of flood plain to drain, is still high and murky and essentially unfishable, the smaller rivers flowing off the mountains are in great shape. Mid-morning on Monday, the lower New Haven River pushed the reading of my stream thermometer just over 58 degrees. It probably reached 60 by early afternoon. That’s an ideal feeding temperature for browns and rainbows. It’s also already warm enough for wet wading. My waders may already be put away for the summer.
I haven’t seen any fish on the surface in the morning — though I have seen a few mayflies and small caddis hatching — so nymphing in the morning may be the best bet. Though I did tie on an imitation rainbow trout streamer in hopes of landing a big brown, and managed to catch a stocked rainbow even on that. But late afternoon there is a lot of surface activity, and fly-casters should be ready to tie on dry flies. Deep runs below gravel riffs and pools beneath the new piles of tree debris left by Irene have been my most productive spots.
I haven’t given up on getting my son a turkey. But on mornings he doesn’t want to get up at 4:15, getting out on the river is a pretty good option. Especially since I can wait until 8 a.m. to do it.

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