Every fall, we gather at a remote deer camp, high up on a ridge in Pawlet. Two small streams, gurgling on each side of the camp, provide all of the non-drinking water we need.
The scene is out of a Vermont post card. Just outside the southern window, a huge, green field stretches way up to a big stand of hardwoods. After returning from the woods after a long day in search of wild turkeys, I make it a point to gather up the binoculars, hanging from the antlers of a big buck, and scan that field. We have spotted lots of deer, an occasional coyote and, sometimes, a flock of birds headed to their nightly roost.
Big woods, rising up, are found to the west, a little valley is off to the east, and the northern side of camp features two huge fields, separated by a narrow line of trees. It is in these fields that we have taken several very nice long beards in the spring hunt.
I vividly recall returning one afternoon during an October hunt when I stopped and took in the scene in one of those big fields. The scene was nothing short of spectacular, with all of autumn’s colors painting the big mountains off to the east, in colors of gold, red, orange and green. I offered up thanks to my supreme being for being in that place, on that day.
The camp is roomy, with a big living room, a well-stocked kitchen and an adjoining room that sleeps eight hunters. Since there are usually only three or four of us, we bed down in the living room, sleeping on two couches and cots, kept warm by the nearby wood stove.
And get this: There is a flush toilet inside the camp. Anyone who has hunted out of a deer camp with an outhouse knows what it is like to plant that part of your anatomy on a cold seat at 6 o’clock in the morning. Let’s just say there is no reading going on at that point in time. I’ll take those inside accommodations anytime.
Bob does most of the cooking, I tend to the wood stove and any other guests are expected to chip in, especially when it comes to cleaning up after dinner.
We haul in enough wood for three or four nights, bring in all the potable water that we need, put up groceries and, quite frankly, eat like kings.
Bob, my lifelong friend of more than 50 years, will be back this October, after having survived a terrible, life-threatening illness and missing camp last year. Now, he tells me, he is ready to go.
We’ll arrive one afternoon early in the week, set up camp, get to bed early, and rise well before dawn to set out on our first day of hunting. Of course, there is no way of knowing where the birds are, so we will have to bring strong legs and determination if we hope to bag any birds.
The fall season in these parts is Oct. 26-Nov. 10 and is being held much later than usual.
Before setting out, we pack a lunch and water, with a plan to hunt all day. I don’t care how old you are or how fit you are, by the end of the day, having walked up and down some very steep ridges, it will be get back to camp, cook dinner and be tucked in by 8:30 or 9 p.m.
We will almost certainly focus on big stands of red oak and in areas that hold big beechnut trees. These mast crops are two favorites of wild turkeys in the fall. We traditionally hunt in groups because, I believe, more eyes to locate a flock are better than a single pair.
Sometimes, especially after these old legs begin to tire, we’ll stop and settle back for a bit of calling, hoping to coax in a nearby flock. Surprisingly, this has worked on three or four occasions. But my favorite approach is to move about 100 yards at a time, keeping a ridge or two above us as concealment and then to call out, with a combination of soft, sweet yelps and the sound of the kee-kee-run. Then, we focus our attention, with ears, for long moments, hoping to hear that sweet answer — a flock of birds, noisily answering the calls, not too far in the distance.
This approach works even better because, if you know the birds are out there, you can settle back against a big old tree, pull on your head net and then call and wait. Believe it or not, I have seen birds actually running to our calls. It sounds crazy but, as I have mentioned before, I believe that flock out there hears another flock (our calls) and hastens in to see what the “other” flock is feeding on.
This is a place where there is no cell phone reception, no intrusions from the outside world. The thing is, turkey camp is far more than just a place to hunt turkeys. It is a place where friends and family get together to bond, to hunt, to play pranks on one another. Yes, there are times, on rare occasions, when we don’t have a single bird to show for our efforts.
But that, as any old turkey hunter will attest to, is beside the point.
Contact Dennis Jensen at email@example.com.