December 31, 2015, found Vic and I coursing through a likely pheasant field. Wild pheasants in Wisconsin can be very hard to find especially on the last day of the season. Most pheasant hunting here is a put and take proposition. The DNR’s yearly stocking is usually done by the 2nd week of December. The last pheasants released are anemic and short lived due to predators getting easy meals before the onset of severe winter.
Turkey dog Vic has turned out to be an accomplished upland game dog. He can change tactics to match the requirements of hunting conditions. For a couple of afternoon hours, Vic coursed around me in his effort to force a pheasant or 2 to rise at my feet. One rooster nearly ran into my legs before flushing a few yards in front. Pheasant number 1 of the 2 daily limit.
Tired and wind burn we headed back to the truck. There was a brush line containing some bulldozed brush piles. Vic earnestly began working a scent trail that I thought was the most likely rabbit. He came to a rigid point at one of those piles. He had worked hard so I thought I’d humor him by kicking the pile to flush the bunny.
Well, these “bunnies” had multicolored iridescent feathers, long tails and all 6 of them cackled as they broke off heading to different points of the compass. So startled was I target panic set in as I fired three rapid shots to no effect. “I can’t miss all these pheasants of last season flush” raced to my mind. “dang it, pick a target you fool!” Luckily I did and the biggest and final rooster of the year crashed to the ground. With a limit of pheasants in the bag, single digit temperature, a brisk wind, and an hour & half of daylight left I pondered whether or not to try for a turkey at the buzzer, and this was the first year in decades it looked like we were not going to get a Wisconsin Slam.
The Wisconsin Slam sounds easy, just get a turkey each season of the year; spring, summer, fall and winter. Due to mrs. elk’s chronic health condition my time afield was more limited than normal. And mrs. elk prefers eating pheasants, so we spent more time out pheasant hunting than turkey hunting.
On the way to our super secret pheasant field, a small pod of gobblers had crossed the road onto private land just before the old creek bridge. First time I’d seen turkeys in that area so what the heck, time to investigate. It was only a 5-minute drive back there.
As I drove slowly across the bridge, I scanned the fields, no turkeys, when I looked into the creek valley black blobs were moving in the water. What the heck? I cursed myself for not having the binoculars in the truck. Stopped to study those blobs with squinted eyes. The blobs materialized into a flock of turkeys wading in the water. Not exactly where they’re expected to be.
Turned around to park the truck about a half mile at the public parking area. Vic and I dumped the orange to change into snow camo jackets, slipped on the turkey pack and headed towards the creek keeping Vic on a heel. A glance at my watch revealed about 45 minutes of 2015 season time left.
The turkeys were there, in the creek heads submerged much like feeding ducks. They do this in the spring to eat invertebrates, first time I’ve seen this behavior in the winter.
The 2015 turkey season continues ticking down as we stalk in closer. As Vic catches their scent as he becomes more eager by the second to do his job. On release, he tears down the ravine in a blur snow powder and yipping. The turkeys take to winged frenzy cackling and clucking as they go water drops are clearly visible dripping off their beards while others have icicles hanging causing a mirage of diamond spears protruding from their breasts.
This late in the day I feared the gobblers might just go to roost. However, in late season turkeys prefer roosting together and with toms on opposite sides of the creek, one group would most likely want to rejoin the other before roosting.
Picking a setup was tough, the wind was icy especially for Vic; he has very little hair, so something sheltered was a must. That put us below the field sitting against a tree on the slope towards the creek below. Visibility to see any incoming turkeys was more limited than I like.
After 5 minutes, of course, aggressive calling Vic started trembling. At first, I thought he was cold but no, he was on point, head laying across my lap staring intently to my right. Then I heard it- prrt putt, prrrrrt putt, if I can hear that sound the turkeys are close. Slowly I turn my head and came eyeball to eyeball with a frozen bearded gobbler. He backed away putting; his head darted behind a tree, and my body twists to get the gun on him just when another gobbler sticks his head up to see what all the putting was about- Boom!
Vic charges to our prize and flushes more previously unseen gobblers. It always surprises me when the gunshot does not scare them. About 15 minutes left of season 2015 so we reset to end the season with a nice gobbler in the bag, a leftover tag for tag soup and best of all memories of gobbling, yelping and roosting turkeys against the red sky sunset.