Monday, March 31, 2014

Friends Helping Friends

There is a unique element of uncertainty in my upcoming trip to British Columbia, and while it has not been causing me stress, it has been on my mind.

That uncertainty is that, in some ways at least, my friend Chris and I have no idea what we’re doing.

I can’t speak for myself, but I know my man Chris is a capable woodsman, and that I can rely on his knowledge of the area and his geographic prowess in that regard to be a strong guide.  But Chris, whose skills in the Kootenay forests are attested to by his success on whitetails and his adventures in mountain stream fishing, has never hunted, scouted or targeted wild turkeys.  He gets the easy part.  He just has to drag me up and down hills and I’ll soldier along unquestioningly.  He also gets the fun bit, which is discovering turkey hunting with no prior conceits and with his childlike wonder unspoiled.  He gets the joy of buying a stack of new equipment, and the whimsical anticipation of hearing that first resonating gobble as it floats through the hill country.

For me, things are slightly harder.  I, for one, have a bunch of turkey seasons under my belt and a handful of birds that I’ve brought to their demise.  I’ve also missed birds, bumped birds, set up too close to birds, missed birds again, and generally had turkeys whip me thoroughly on several occasions.  This has made me love the sport even more, but also left me respectfully bitter to the tricks that wild turkeys unwittingly pull on us who hunt them.  And yet somehow, for the first time ever, I’m the old hand in this partnership.  Chris has managed, and I imagine will continue, to look to me for answers, anecdotes, and advice as we lead up to the hunt.  This makes me uneasy.  I haven’t figured out Eastern turkeys thoroughly, and now I’m trying to get into the walnut-sized brain of a Merriam’s.

I guess in a lot of respects turkeys are turkeys wherever you go.  They’ll roost in trees and they will look for strut zones, food, and water.  If I yelp, they will gobble.  And if I screw up they’ll flog me in much the same way that they have for the last seven springs since I caught the turkey-hunting disease.  But they live in a different environment than the rolling pastures and mixed forests of Central Ontario, and to discount that as a factor in their behaviour would be a grave error on our part.  So I’m reading, and I’m learning, and I’m trying to get what I can from whatever turkey hunting videos I’ve already watched hundreds of times.

In Chris’s defense, not all the pressure is off him.  I’ve known him for thirty-two years, and I know he wants to give a good account of himself and his little part of the Canadian wilderness by putting me on birds.  We’ve even discussed his initial reluctance to carry a gun. I’ve told him that his being unarmed isn’t an option; if I can’t get a crack at a bird and he can, he had better hammer down and fill his tag because sometimes you don’t get many opportunities in a season.  For his part he seemed amenable to this arrangement, and he’s deep into the gear acquisition phase of being a developing turkey hunter.  He’s got some calls on order, and he’s even ordered a book for his reference and education.  He knows as well as I do that a large portion of his education is going to come in the unpredictable lessons of the field, but we all have to start somewhere so a reputable handbook certainly won’t hurt.  He’s done yeoman’s work in getting me all the licensing information, travel advice, and in sending me several Google Earth coordinates in an effort to familiarize me with the terrain and country that we’ll be traipsing about in for those four days.

Hopefully my advice to him on turkey hunting has not been ‘disinformation’ so far; his independent research will either corroborate or refute my expertise to date.

But I guess, that’s also the beauty of what this trip is going to be.  Chris’s local knowledge combined with my lessons learned from several years of hunting hard gobblers on public land in Ontario serves to make us one experienced Western turkey hunter.  Provided neither of us gets in each other’s way, the sum of our parts will make us more than we could be individually.

Will this assure of success, fun, and a delicious wild turkey dinner?  If we want to score on all three, the answer is probably no; even in my wildest dreams I’m expecting this to be hard hunting with a moderate to low expectation of success, but I think we can bank on the ‘having fun’ part.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Gaining Momentum

I’m just over a month from opening day, and pretty much every weekend of the season is now booked.  That opening weekend is earmarked for sitting under a tree and trying to lure an early season tom into range is pretty much a given.  I’ll be guiding around a friend who missed last season via the birth of his first child on the weekend after that.  Then I’m off to BC for a much anticipated hunt (more on that to come below), and then we get a three day weekend here in Ontario, which only means three days of turkey hunting and barbecuing in the evening.  If I haven’t tagged out by then, and odds are I won’t have done so, I still get one more full weekend and a bonus day the week after that since this year the Ontario spring season closes on a Saturday.  By then the mosquitoes are usually so horrendous that I almost hope for rainy mornings and windy days, just to keep most of my hard-earned blood inside my veins.  This year, a Thermacell is on my wish list.

So from the above, I guess I am by definition a weekend hunter.  I have no other choice, since I’m not smart enough to be a billionaire and not handsome enough to be a trophy husband.  But that’s okay, since I’ve never used the words ‘weekend hunter’ as a pejorative term.  One of the lies I tell myself is that if I had the means and resources to hunt every day, I may find it boring or somewhat like a chore.

Of course, we all know that isn’t true.

I’m always thinking of hunting, using my hyperactive imagination to run through hundreds of ‘what if’ scenarios and set-ups.  I’m also constantly on the lookout for new gear, and aside from the Thermacell that I keep procrastinating on, this year I will require a durable, airline-capable hard gun case.  I fly often in my line of work and I’ve seen the abuse that the baggage handlers of every airline subject baggage to.  I don’t exactly “baby” my Remington 870, but the thought of it being flung and bounced around by anonymous airline staff makes me cringe.  My analytic nature (combined with an unhealthy addiction to online hunting stores) has led me down several paths in researching the purchase of a gun case, some of which are hopelessly too expensive others which are obviously too flimsy for effective.  I’m down to three options, so now I have to actually go to a store and inspect them myself.

I’m down to Pelican, SKB, and Plano cases.  All have their benefits.  Pelican cases are essentially bomb-proof, but will cost a portion of a mortgage payment.  They also suffer from the notable handicap of not being available at any nearby dealers, so I have to factor the shipping of some seriously oversized equipment into the price.  Plano cases cost the least, but all the reviews I’ve read indicate they are a bit on the flimsy side.  I own a cheap Plano case already, but it was never intended to fly, it was more of car-case.  SKB seems to have the case that fits the logical niche between the two, but like the Pelican case, seems to only be available as a shipped item (in from the USA so far as I can tell) so again this will add to the ultimate cost factor.

Decisions, decisions.

On another turkey gear note, my accomplice for the upcoming Merriam’s turkey hunt is well on his way, having purchased a box call, some mouth calls, and a crow call.  Some heavy duty turkey loads and a facemask are all he needs now (unless he’s outfitted himself with those too, in which case he’s golden).  I, of course, have much more in the way of turkey vest-cluttering debris that I have to attempt to pack out there, but who knows, maybe this trip will make me a more lithe and sensibly outfitted turkey hunter.

But not likely.