Safety, Snow, and Turkeys
The largest bull has now dropped his antlers.
Last week the small herd of elk held eight bulls, with one displaying antlers of mature proportions while the remainder were a mix of rag horns, and yearlings leaning heavily towards spikes.
They have become friends with my horses and the yearling bulls are enamored with my sons’ buckskin mare. When following the lead cow cautiously out of the timber, despite her wary example, they will abandon all inhibition on catching sight of the thick-hipped quarter horse and gallop bucking and kicking through the trees to sneak up and look longingly at her flowing main and rounded flanks.
They watch longingly from the shelter of the sandstone rocks and ponderosa pines but she pays them little attention. She is more than a decade older than the mob of spikes and unimpressed with their interest. There is too much green grass climbing up through the soil to get distracted by the amorous intentions of adolescent elk.
This moisture was so needed and the snow a typical harbinger of the opening of Spring Turkey season. I watched a mature gobbler fanned and strutting along this same tree line on Palm Sunday. I chose prayer instead of the hunt and left him to his important business while I chose to attend Mass. With nearly six weeks still ahead in the season, it is too early to offer myself up to the ticks and an itchy trigger finger.
I have a recipe for baked wild turkey breast that leans heavily on butter and lemon pepper. When the time is just right, I will slip over and attempt to call that gobbler in for dinner but this is not yet that time. I have reports and pictures coming in from the field from past clients and relatives that assure me that the birds are gobbling and coming to call with several pictures coming in from the prairie showing mature birds with heavy beards and happy hunters fanning their tails in the morning light.
A fanned gobbler is one of the first taxidermy mounts I ever saved up the money to hang in my home. With wings outstretched and tail erect, a mature gobbler is more than large enough to impressively cover much of a wall, more than large enough in fact to hide a crouched man. That fact and a recent online video have me returning once again to a safety concern associated with the hunting of turkeys in the spring.
To draw in and fool aggressive birds, hunters have turned the mounted fans and taxidermied heads of turkeys into hand-held hunting platforms. The man in the video was an expert caller and drew in an aggressive group of birds from far across a meadow. They raced to meet his challenge of battle while he drew a pistol and pointed its barrel through the outstretched feathers while he crouched behind and moved the decoy in a realistic impression of a dominant gobbler.
This hunt was on private land, but I don’t have to remember back too many years to recall the fatal shooting of a man here in South Dakota hidden in a goose decoy blind by a distant shooter with a rifle.
The Black Hills are a favorite destination for a growing number of road warriors who are seeking to hunt multiple states in a three-day weekend. I’ve hosted one such hunter who was also an outdoor columnist. He was on the last leg of his hunt after he had already spent long hours and sleepless nights in Wyoming and Nebraska.
By the third day, these hunters are goofy from exhaustion and poor decision makers at best. He was so exhausted that he left his $1200 shotgun leaning up against a tree in the forest and didn’t think of it again until we had returned to his hotel and his gun case felt unusually light.
Because we sit at the crossroads of four states that allow such extremists to push themselves to the limits, hunting from behind a taxidermy decoy while calling invites disaster. We are one of the only states in the nation that allows the hunting of turkeys with high caliber rifles. I lost a good friend in High School to just such a tragedy and will not give up on this safety verse in honor of his memory.
Exhausted hunters, high-powered rifles, and hand-held decoys invite disaster and one element of this recipe needs to be removed.