For the first hundred yards I felt my eyes watering. For the second hundred yards I felt those tears turning to solid ice. So it goes when the temperature is in the low teens, and the wind gusts are in the high 20s and 30s, blowing across scores of miles of frozen, wide-open prairie.
I’d traveled to Gove County to tag along with some researchers studying lesser prairie chickens. A side benefit was to spend some time with my good friend Stacy Hoeme, pursuing wild turkeys Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday. We figured a few hours was all we’d need, since Stacy had seen about 60 birds in the limited habitat of trees and an alfalfa field. The plan was to do it with our bows.
In the conservation of time, let’s just say about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The ranch was down to just one or two lone toms by Tuesday afternoon. It’s my guess the coming cold had sent them back to their wintering spot by a feedlot several miles away, where the eating would be easy.
So, amid Tuesday afternoon’s brutal winds, that were sometimes pushing sleet like shot pellets from a fired shotgun, we put up a blind where we’d seen the one bird. It was also a place where Stacy said turkeys often crossed between two clumps of trees.
Because of a lack of birds, and abundance of cold and howling winds, we left our bows behind when we headed across the prairie with shotguns on Wednesday’s opening morning of any-weapon spring turkey season. Optimism wasn’t high. Heading out that morning I realized they were probably the toughest conditions I’d met in 34 spring turkey seasons, in which I’d called birds to gun in heavy snows, downpours, 90-plus degree heat, below freezing temps and gusting winds.
When we reached the river bottom I placed a hen and a jake decoy and hurried into the relative shelter of the blind . After waiting a few minutes I gave a few yelps on a slate call, followed by a few sharp cuts. Bingo! Gobbles from multiple birds came from not far away. Peaking out of the blind I saw one tom roosted almost straight over the decoys, riding a limb that was bucking in the wind like a rodeo bull.
A few minutes later I called again, and again the birds gobbled. I told Stacy our odds weren’t too good for a short hunt, as the birds would probably move away since they’d roosted so close to the blind. At best, I figured they’d move away from the area, and that maybe some excited calling an hour or two later might lure them back. But the hunt would be over within a few minutes.
I have no idea how they didn’t see us coming across the prairie and spook as we got to the blind, unless their eyes were blurred by water and ice, too, but they didn’t.
It wasn’t long until we had four toms marching our way, their nearly horizontal beards showing the high wind velocity.
Coming around the trees the sight of the decoys put the three forward birds into the best strut they could muster. The wind pushed their fans nearly flat, and they appeared to be leaning shoulders into the wind, like someone trying to force their way through a tight door.
Stacy shot one bird and I took another as it tried to figure out why his buddy was on the ground.
The toms were two-year-olds, with classic 8 1/2 to 9-inch beards, 3/4-inch spurs and probably weighed 17-18 pounds.
I think it’s the first time I’d called strutting turkeys to guns with a below zero windchill.
It was fun, and a pretty good accomplishment, but I’ll take a calm, 50 degree morning any time.