Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Gobbler, The Bass and The Mushrooms

--> He was much prettier an hour before this photo... but like this, he can be cleaned and eaten.         


 There were some big morels growing along a small creek bottom out of a gravel bar… but not enough of them.  Last year this gravel bar held 40 and this year only 8.


       He made the mistake of gobbling, an hour or so after sunrise, up on top of a wooded ridge.  Then he heard my little box call and slowly came down the hillside looking for companionship. Hidden most of the way, gobbling every couple of minutes, he made my heart beat a little faster as he broke into a spot of sunlight in the timber just above the creek.

       And there he was! My gosh I never saw anything so beautiful, as he broke into strutting posture and then straightened up again, looking for the hen turkey he thought was there in the creek bottom waiting for him.  He gobbled twice, and then began to strut more, crossing the creek above me, about 40 yards away.
       He didn’t appear to be about to come any closer, but he was within range, apparently about to climb up the other hillside, expecting the hen to see him and follow.

       He didn’t go any farther, but I found myself looking at him, thinking that in a way it is awful to see such a grand creature reduced to a bird in his death throes.   I had left the camera at my side to use my shotgun.
       In a way I wish I had taken the picture that he presented and let him go on his way.  But if you want to eat a turkey, you have to shoot the turkey, clean him, prepare him for the smoker or the fryer, and then you are glad you did it.
       I must tell you, wild turkey breast is delicious when sliced thin and fried, or when smoked whole.  And the dark meat of the legs, boiled off the bone and tendons, makes some of the best casserole or noodles that you will ever taste.  If you bag a wild turkey, do not throw away the legs!

       It was the kind of morning a turkey hunter dreams of… thick woods and a few mushrooms here and there, not a bawling cow within miles, no straining gears on a nearby highway and no other hunters.  It might have been exactly like this 200 years ago.  I would rather have those hours than a bank account that weighs more than that gobbler.

       I have a feeling that this may be a very low-harvest turkey season, and not because there aren’t enough turkeys.  At the very first of the season, and several days into it, I saw gobblers and hens in groups just like they are found in February and early March.

         Once I watched five gobblers, all strutting, with eight or nine hens around them.  Another time I found three gobblers with at least that many hens again.  That is very unusual for late April, when toms are usually separated, and mating hens on nests.

        You can call in a mature tom easily at times… when he has been abandoned by the hens and is all alone and feeling that mating instinct.  It is amazing how simple it can be, and how rewarding.  In fifty years of hunting them, the excitement I feel when I watch a woodland gobbler break into a strut only 30 or 40 yards away has not diminished in any way whatsoever.

       I cast a topwater lure next to a log that same afternoon, as evening shadows broke across the river.  Several fat white bass had engulfed it, and there was this perfect ambience as everything in nature seemed at peace and I was just a small part of it.
       What a day it had been.  Who could ask for more?  And then, a swirl in the surface, above a big rock out away from the log.  This one was a largemouth bass, three pounds or so, and mad about being stupid enough to think that little popper was a frog.
       You know what makes fishing so great? It is hearing and feeling the line being pulled out against the squeal of the drag on a spinning reel, while the rod is bent as far as you want to see it bent.  It is lifting up a fat fish by the lip and then watching him fan his tail at you as he lunges back into the depths.  It is hoping that someday you will catch him again when he weighs four pounds.

       But I can’t brag about how well I did finding mushrooms this year.  Instead of finding a sack-full in one spot like we did last year, I had to be content with one here and one there, thinking maybe tomorrow the moisture and the sun and the warmth of the soil will all come together and they will pop up like dandelion seed heads in a fresh-mowed lawn.  It didn’t happen!  I think I found a total of about 70 or 80 and I gave 30 of them away.  Still, they were big enough to make some really good meals, just a dozen at a time.
       My idea of having a mushroom hunting trip to some of my favorite wilderness spots on Truman Lake never came off like I hoped it would, as the mushroom numbers were about 20 percent of what we had last year.  Still, that last trip we took a week ago was one of the best ones we ever had.
       We looked here and there for mushrooms, finding a dozen or so, and then when we headed back to the boat for a midday fish fry and dinner, we stopped to look at a 300 year old cedar tree, and one of the hikers found a pair of nice sized morels at the trunk of a big tree.
       Looking around, we found several more and we fried a big platter of them for dinner, so that everyone got to eat mushrooms with the fish.  We got to watch the antics of an osprey, not far from its nest, and I found a shed antler from a nice buck, with a forked brow tine, something you seldom see.  All in all it was a very good final trip for this spring, and we will wait until October to have our next one. 

       Several of my readers who have received my new book are letting me know they have enjoyed it, and it is giving them some laughs and entertainment.  One said he was surprised how much hunting and fishing I had woven into it but you have to remember that School of the Ozarks sat on the bluff above Taneycomo Lake and Table Rock Lake was just a few hours away.

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