At the Alpena Civic Theater the other day, my old pal young Jake Meyers was helping his mother Julie paint scenery the upcoming production of "Nobody's Perfect," which she is directing.
I strutted up to him.
"You busy, Jake?"
"Yeah. But my Mom said you wanted to talk about turkey hunting."
"So, what do you want to know about it?"
Ha! That was a good one. Here was this Jake fellow, 13 years old, with only a single spring season behind him, thinking he could school this wise ol' Tom who had started chasing turkey birds somewhere near Baldwin in 1976.
Why, I've chased turkeys on foot, by canoe, through swamps, driving from place to place; hiking miles in a day, in the morning, in the afternoon, in the early evening. I've had them answer my calls from uphill, downhill, across a river, from a woodlot, even from across an open field about 300 yards away. So many that I can't even begin to -
"How many have you gotten?" Jake asked.
I sucked in my gut, hiked up my pants, puffed out my chest, stroked my beard a couple of times and gave him the stink eye.
"Uh ... err ... How many I've taken doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I can tell you a thing or two about hunting them."
I began by advising Jake he needs to get used to the reality: it's pretty much impossible to harvest a turkey if you can only hunt on public land. They get called so much that you'd be lucky to get one to come in all season long.
"That's OK," Jake replied. "I hunted with my Dad at our 640-acre camp. My Dad did the calling for me. We had three birds come in on the first day."
"Well, just because they came in, that doesn't mean you'll be able to shoot them, you know."
"Yeah. That's what my Dad said. One bird was huge, and as it strutted its beard dragged on the ground. My Dad told me it was about 35 yards away. And that I shouldn't take a shot at that distance and risk wounding it."
The other two birds that came in had four-inch beards, and Jake could have shot one, but he said, "They went behind a tree."
"Yes, well you know you don't want to be shooting at them if they're behind trees," I instructed.
"That's what my Dad said," replied Jake. "Just when they were coming out from behind the trees, something spooked them and they ran off."
So, poor, old Jake got shut out on three birds his first day. How demoralizing. It's difficult to imagine him rebounding from those lost chances at the three birds.
"You know, Jake," I helpfully advised, "you're not going to get a bird every year. Sometimes you can hunt them for 32 years without getting one. It's not the end of the world."
"Oh, I know. It was only my first time. So, I'll have plenty of other times to get one."
"Oh, well then."
I continued to mentor young Jake in the ways of turkey hunting.
"And it's not all about getting a bird, you know. It's great just being out there. When you get bored from no action, you can walk around and try to identify wildflowers. Or animal tracks."
And, of course, there's another delicacy one can hunt up in spring.
"And don't forget, Jake, when the going gets real slow, you can always try to find some morels. I found one last year, enough to make half an omelet."
Jake, however, had his own ideas for dealing with the slow times. And his plans left little time for mushroom hunting or flower identification.
"I just look for more places where the birds might be hiding. My Dad and I went back to the same spot we hunted on opening day and sat in a pop-up, portable deer blind. Then we went to hunt in our oaks. The birds were in the area where we were hunting, but we want to go back and be farther up the hill.
"I learned lots of stuff about turkeys this year," he said.
"Really? What else?" I asked.
"Just because you hear lots of gobbling, that doesn't mean the birds are going to come close enough for you to shoot."
He also learned that the strategy for calling in toms does not include imitating toms but rather to draw them closer by making hen sounds in order to attract their attention.
"Anything else you can tell me, Jake?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah. When a turkey is displaying, you can tell when he's pretty close because you can hear him puffing."
As I finished jotting down Jake's lessons into my notebook, his mother approached and announced it was time to leave for home.
"I've got to go now," he said. "Any more questions?"
"Just one," I said. "In order to make this a complete article, of course, I really need some photos of you in action.
"Will you take me hunting with you? Please?"