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Dennis Anderson: Hunting a tom tests tenacity in dawn's early light [Star Tribune (Minneapolis) :: BC-OTD-ANDERSON-COLUMN:MS]

Last Thursday morning the first sound I heard was a rooster pheasant crowing. This was a forlorn specimen eager to gather a hen or two or more. At the time, the world inside and outside my turkey blind was pitch black, or nearly so, and for a long while the pheasant and I were alone together on the edge of a dark woods.

I had rolled over in my mind since leaving my vehicle whether the blind was in the right place. Last year I had positioned it about 100 yards farther into the woods, where on successive days I suffered parades of jakes filing by stupidly. I couldn't buy a tom, various numbers of which instead hung out in the adjacent pasture. So this season I pulled a fast one and placed the blind on the pasture's edge.

The day before, while toting my decoys and stool to the blind, I had spotted four toms. Two had ground-dragging beards. This was in an entirely different area of the farm I was hunting, and through binoculars I saw something more: Two of the gobblers were breeding hens, an observation that, vis-a-vis blind placement, threw still another wrench into my thinking.

But here I was, alongside the pasture, and as daylight gathered on the cloudy morning, I scratched with a box call what I thought a hen turkey welcoming such a day would sound like. This was a basic yelp - by the book, more or less.

By now crows were flying and a tight squadron of mallards banked into a nearby pond. Transfixed by these, I forgot to call for a while. Then, when I resumed, to my surprise a gobbler answered. How far away this lovesick boy was I couldn't say. Maybe a few hundred yards, and for long minutes, back and forth we went like that, yelping and gobbling, the volume of his retorts growing louder as he approached.

Instead of a shotgun, I prefer a bow for hunting turkeys, and I was armed with a string, an arrow and a couple of pulleys mounted on opposing limbs, the bunch of it in combination capable of thrusting a broad head toward its target at 300 feet per second.

Nocking an arrow, I checked my watch: 6:45 a.m., three hours after I had crawled out of bed.

Simultaneous with the tom's appearance, flocks of Canada geese washed overhead in undulating waves. Three deer also emerged from a wooded patch that divided the pasture I overlooked into two broad sections. None of this bothered the gobbler, who by now was 50 yards out, and surely had laid his eyes on one and possibly both of my hen decoys.

When calling turkeys you have to know when to shut up, and I cased my call. In my mind's eye I envisioned the tom being within range in less than a minute.

Ideally this would be at 20 yards, though I would take a somewhat longer shot, circumstances depending. This wasn't one of the toms whose beard dragged on the ground. But he was a mature bird, advancing on my decoys while strutting and pirouetting as if equally in love with them and himself, his feathering festooned kaleidoscopically.

On high alert now, my release attached to my bowstring, I held my breath as the tom hung up about 35 yards out. What there wasn't to like about my setup I didn't know. But he didn't like something. Considering options, I could sluice the bird at 30 yards, but only if I had time to range-find it carefully, which, with turkeys, ever moving, can be a challenge

Time passed.

For 40 minutes, the turkey preened, gobbled and teased. Ever so briefly and only a couple of times he closed the distance to 30 yards. But mostly he kept about 40 yards between him and my blind before, finally, hiding himself to my right behind a stand of red pines.

Advancing on a turkey hoping to waylay it is a crapshoot in the manner of buying a lottery ticket. This is particularly true with a bow. But options were few, and I slipped out the back of the blind, using the woods' edge as cover as I tiptoed over wet ground toward the obscured turkey.

Nearby, a cardinal was perched high in a tree, singing its territorial song.

From its elevated vantage point the bird would have seen me draw back my bow as I approached the pines, and would have observed as well, perhaps with bemusement, the sight of me stepping out from the pines only to find that my friend, the strutting and pirouetting tom turkey, had vanished.

So went turkey hunting Thursday morning.

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