Descending into the valley listening to snowshoe crampons scraping along the icy trail rain drops spattering on wool covered shoulders I thought at least the temperature is 30 some degrees above zero. That in itself is a welcome change. Vic and I have trudged up and down this steep trail almost daily all winter no matter the weather and oh has there been weather this winter. Now on this March day during the winter of 2014 it is finally mild of temp. For that we are grateful in spite of the light rain, at least rain should not need to be shoveled when we get back home. It is the same with so many winter weary Wisconsinites venturing out to find signs of spring, all of us appreciate the small improvements.
A turkey hunter seeks more signs of spring, they want to hear and see turkeys, especially those turkeys who gobble. At first this morning’s descent seemed like all others of the past frigid weeks and then sounds of birds begin to tickle the ears. Ah, the silence of winter punctuated with a long lost sound of past springs. That alone is enough to rustle the leaves of my heart.
Vic, up ahead has more prance in his step, being careful to stay on our well packed trail. For if he weaved off, the cold deep snow would grasp his body chilling him to bone.
Thin fog wisps are floating in leisurely circles as we turn to make our south circle. This trail has become like a graveyard this winter. Deer bones are strewn all along. Apparently as the deer became too weak to move through the deep snows as subzero temperatures robbed their bodies of its remaining life energy they came for final rest along these warmer southern slopes.
Usually by now, in years past the turkeys have been very vocal and active. Until this morning all places seemed devoid of turkeys. At first I thought the cluck was just the inner pop of a cold tree. But then there was another. Vic snapped to point up hill as 30 turkeys rose to flight. The turkeys looked to be in remarkably good health, though hard to tell for sure through all the winter feathers.
But the rush of turkeys lifted the hearts of these winter weary hunters. Vic tried vainly to bound up after them. He got a good cardio workout in snow over his head and returned to trail with a smile on his face. As we continued along more turkeys flushed, clucked, yelped and yes…Gobbled. Clearly they are back.
Over the years during hard winters or tough spots in winter I have thought perhaps turkeys migrate. But where to?
Last winter was tough too. While snowshoeing across a hilltop field a flock of 30 – 40 turkeys flew in loose formation over head looking like they were on their way somewhere not near here. They were a couple hundred yards in the air and until that moment I had never seen such a flock flying so high. My first thought was they were migrating. To my knowledge there has never been a study of turkey travel during a hard winter. Some studies have tracked fall broods as they join into winter flocks and other studies tracked spring hen dispersal. These studies found turkeys that moved 15-20 miles. Is it possible winter turkeys move much further? I think it is very likely. Which is why a “good” area can be devoid of turkeys for so long and then all of sudden the turkeys are there just as quickly as they had left.
Back the morning hike; we found at 200+ turkeys in area that no turkeys yesterday nor any of the weeks before.
A clear sign of a good spring hunt to come.