It was a wildlife morning. The Montana spring turkey season opened on April 14, though I never got out until the first week of May, when I had one of those rare convergences of a day free of commitments and with nice weather.
I went to a walk-in area along a brushy river bottom, and above the river bottom, a grassy strip is next to an alfalfa field. Driving in to an access point I spotted several turkeys feeding in the alfalfa, though sneaking up on them didn’t seem possible.
I walked in, set out my hen decoy and did some calling and sat down to wait for some sort of response. I had responses, if not what I was hoping for.
A pair of sandhill cranes flew into the field and started feeding, frequently stopping to talk and dance in a sandhill crane ballet. It’s a good thing that sandhill cranes speak loudly, as the river bottom was a cacophony of sound. There was the murmur of the fast-moving river, and calls of ducks and geese, songbirds, the occasional raspy call of a pheasant announcing his desire for love and companionship, and numbers of crows calling each other names.
I was surprised to see a wild turkey fly from somewhere to perch in a tall cottonwood tree about 150 yards away. I tried to send mental telepathy messages to come on down and see me. The bird eventually flew down but went far away from my spot. I moved down the strip a short distance and spotted a rooster pheasant crossing the grass.
A coyote trotted across the grass and disappeared into the alfalfa, presumably in search of edible critters, most likely voles, though coyotes aren’t too fussy about such things.
The highlight of the morning was watching a cow moose walk up from the bottoms and cross the grass, then stepping over the barbed wire fence to go into the alfalfa. A moment later, a bull moose followed, and then a third moose, a yearling calf, joined the adults in the field.
The moose slowly worked their way through the field in my direction, getting to within about 50 yards of me, when the cow probably caught me moving a bit, and she stood still, giving me the evil eye. I took a photo of the lady, and the flash of my camera convinced Mama that I was up to no good and she left the field, followed by the calf, with the bull moose bringing up the rear. A few minutes later I heard them splashing through water, as they crossed the river.
As for the turkeys, they never responded to my call and presumably disappeared into the bottoms. It was approaching noon and I decided I was wasting time and I called it a morning.
As I drove out I looked down across the field. I spotted a turkey nosing around in the grass, just about where I was 30 minutes earlier.
Patience is a virtue in this game.
While frustrating, this was still one of the more rewarding mornings I’ve ever spent in the outdoors, and I was still bubbling when I came home and told my wife about my day.
A couple weeks later, just before season’s end, I had another free day with nice weather and returned to my spot.
This time, when nothing happened, I lay back in the grass and took a nap, enjoying warm sunshine and sounds of nature, and, happily, no ticks.
A different sound interrupted my nap. I opened my eyes and cautiously looked around, surprised to see a turkey acting amorously towards my decoy. I sat up, fired my gun, and my hunt was over, unexpectedly successful.
On my way home I reflected on some 32 years, off and on, of seemingly quixotic turkey hunts filled with failure and frustration. A partner on many of those outings was an old friend, the late Rev. Merv Olson, pastor at Gold Hill Lutheran Church in Butte during the 1990s.
This one’s for you, Merv.