Please Pass the Cranberry Sauce

Posted on May 26, 2015

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“There’s two reasons to kill – survival and meat. We need meat!”

                                                                                                       John Wayne, Big Jake

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Seasons come and seasons go. Each of us passes through different seasons of life as well as various stages as hunters. There are some seasons that are magical, exciting and more than one could ever hope to experience. Others become almost forgettable and tax even our best efforts with little to show for it. And then there are those seasons where circumstance and providence meld like chocolate and peanut butter and bring us unscripted results. I had just such a turkey season…anybody for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup?

It wasn’t planned, expected or anticipated, but my turkey season was all about Jake. Jakes, Jakes, everywhere there’s Jakes. Jakes are male turkeys that are in the first spring of their existence and according to the late, Kenny Morgan, “It’s a sin to shoot one of them.” Now that may have been all-well-and-good for old Kenny, but seeing as he was not Lord and Savior, and given the fact that I find no such transgression listed in the good book I’ll not repent nor apologize to anyone for the bounty provided before my gun. And if that makes me any less of a turkey hunter in somebody’s opinion, (and I may agree with that consensus if anyone’s taking a poll) who cares, I’m hunting for me, not them. And guess what, they eat just as well as Tommy. Of course, you don’t get to brag nearly as loud or long due to shorter beards and rounded spurs! And then there’s those tell-tale center feathers that rise above the main fan which becomes the dead give away that it is indeed a Jake.

 

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The first turkey I ever killed was a Jake. Shot him in Northern Vermont (couldn’t hunt my own State of Maine back then due to the lottery system and not being picked, EVER) as a result of turkey guru, Bob Humphrey’s realistic fighting purrs cadence. That was over a dozen years ago. Do you remember it Bob? I know I do, vividly, after all, you never forget your first. And it was once again as a result of Bob’s expert turkey lingo that I shot my first Maine bird, which was also, yup, you guessed it, a Jake.

So here I am in the throes of the current turkey season and every call I make has a Jake’s number attached. Not only do they answer, but they show up as if it’s a fraternity party in their honor. Am I hitting the wrong note, I ask myself. Could it be improper inflection in the tonality of the yelps, cuts and putts? Are the Jakes taking over the turkey world? What is going on, have all the long bearded gents left the building?

 

A Seat at the Table

 

They may not have left the building, but life at the top was certainly not what it was earlier in the spring. Jakes were now ganging up and tormenting the elder statesmen of the turkey world. After a fruitless morning of hunting in one area, I stopped to have lunch and then ventured over to another spot to check on birds. Upon my arrival I saw a long beard – being chased all over the field by Jakes.

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“Okay, let’s use the Jakes to my advantage,” I thought to myself. I entered the wood-line and began making my way down the field towards the turkey rodeo. At the half-way mark I took a peek, and to my disappointment, Tommy was high fanning it in the opposite direction while his tormentors had relinquished their chase and were now heading toward me. No time now to look for a suitable tree; I just sat down with my back up against a six-inch maple. Less than a minute later the parade began passing. With two tags and a whole lot of frustration experienced thus far in the season, I opted to use one of them and shot the last in line of the four birds. This was the 15th Jake before my gun thus far and it was the latest I’d ever killed a bird, 1:20 p.m. Sometimes all you need to do is take a seat at the table and dinner will be served.

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An Exceptional Morning

 

“Turkey hunting has always been a contemplative man’s sport,” writes Jim Casada, “filled with prolonged periods of watchful waiting and uncertain anticipation.” And for the most part, that is true. But on the morning that I’m about to describe, ole Archibald Rutledge’s words would be more descriptive, “Big things happen from little beginnings.”

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I spotted the bird before I heard him. It was 15-minutes into the new day when from more than 2oo yards across the field he appeared. It wasn’t long until he began to serenade the quietude with gobbles. In front of my position was assembled the finest array of dummies (decoys) in which to fool even the sharpest bird alive. I had three hens and a subordinate Jake all waiting to be infiltrated by the real McCoy.

I began to yelp softly to get the birds attention, and once I struck a note that seemed to entice him, I continued to subtly play that tune until I had him reeled all the way in. Peewee (name I gave this Jake) came in gobbling like he owned the world, or at least this piece of real estate. He looked like he was probably the runt of last years hatch. But, let me tell you, where he lacked in stature he sure made up for in strut and noise. The only problem with that is as John Wayne once proclaimed, Jakes are, “short on ears and long on mouth.” and emphasized, “A big mouth don’t make a big man.” And this was especially true for this Jake.

After announcing to the world that the man had arrived, he moved directly to my middle hen decoy, which happened to be Montana Decoy’s, Miss Purr-Fect. He then began to romance the dummy, circling her several times and then did the unthinkable; he jumped on her back. Without becoming overly graphic here, lets leave it that Peewee completed the entire breeding sequence with a collapsible dummy. Having personally photographed several of these events with a real male and female turkey, it was rather hilarious watching this performance.

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Once he was finished Miss Purr-Fect didn’t look so perfect; she was slumped over and appeared disheveled. Peewee looked rather surprised as if he was thinking, “My first romantic act and I’ve killed her.” He pecked at her head a few times, looked her over again and then just walked away a few feet and began preening himself. In the next 1 ½ hours, and yes, you read that right, Peewee remained in front of me and amongst his new found dummy friends. I guess because this was probably his first conquest he was reluctant to leave a sure thing.

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It’s now 7:30 and Peewee begins to gobble again for no apparent reason other than to reaffirm that he is indeed king of the turkey world. While standing there demonstrating his royalty, four more, much larger Jakes appeared silently from an adjacent field. Once they looked the situation over, the four of them began chasing poor little Peewee. And although they chased him back and forth, in and out of the dummies, Peewee wasn’t leaving. It was then that more bad news for Peewee appeared on the horizon; six more Jakes were heading this way following three hens. This was now shaping up to be quite a party.

Although the trio of hens split off and went up the field to my left, the half dozen Jakes came down to join in what had now become a Jake-a-thon. Around and around they all went in circles, everyone seemingly chasing little Peewee. And then, for no apparent reason all action stopped. Three of the Jakes, including Peewee layed down, four others began grooming themselves while the remaining four continued jockeying for hierarchical supremacy all within 15-yards of my now very cramped body. Out of these 11 foot-soldiers one stood out as being much larger than the rest of the group, almost like a Goliath, and he was one of the four still running about.

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Of course, I had a lot of time to think about my next move, and trust me, by this time I really wanted to move as I reflected on the words of Archibald, “Every old hunter knows that a great chance comes just when apparently all chances are over and gone.” I had one tag left, 11 gifts assembled 15-yards in front of me, with one of them being rather large for his age class. What was I going to do?

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My thoughts were of my wife, who would be happy if I ended the season today as her sleep would no longer be interrupted. I have the biggest wedding of my life (with the exception of my own) happening in three weeks (my little girl is getting married) and there is still lots to do. Do I just dismiss all this and hold out for a long beard or do I take the sure thing? Okay, here is my Gideon fleece: if the Goliath Jake provides a clear target without even a hint of hitting any of the other birds, then I will take him.

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Shotgun raised, safety off, target acquired and he comes front and center as if volunteering for the execution. I squeezed, the gun bucked, the bird fell as if struck by David’s sling shot stone, and all got quiet once again. The remaining 10 never did run off, rather they just sort of reluctantly wandered away as if the party ended prematurely.

 

Conclusion

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Fred Bear once wrote, “A hunt based only on trophies taken falls far short of what the ultimate goal should be.” I can tell you this, I’ve shot some big gobblers, some old gobblers and a lot in between, but never have I had an experience like the one just described; nor do I ever expect it to be duplicated, it was indeed a gift. And now if you will excuse me, I have another unique experience to fulfill, one for which I have waited 30 years: I am about to walk my little girl down the isle…this one might be tougher than choosing to end my season with a Jake! Cranberry sauce with your turkey anyone?

 

 

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Posted in: Turkey