Surprises make this hunt more than a long walk

Wildside column: Or was it just good luck?

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If not for pleasant surprises — some might say luck — last week’s upland game bird hunt would have been little more than a long walk.

Arthur Clark of Quasqueton and I, accompanied by Art’s bird dog Gunny, set out to fill our fall turkey tags along a wooded creek known to be inhabited by many turkeys and few, if any, pheasants.

The wooded section of the creek, buffered on both sides by native grasses, stretches for more than a mile between two road bridges, and the cover in some sections is at least 100 yards wide.

Our plan was to start at one bridge and walk toward the other until Gunny’s nose detected the turkeys and he pointed them out to us. Under the best-case scenario, that would happen sooner rather than later. Under the worst-case scenario, which of course prevailed, we would hunt bridge to bridge and back again.

At the outset, we faced a dilemma common to small parties hunting creeks with cover on both sides. We could stay together on one side, which would provide no chance to shoot a turkey escaping from the other. Or we could split up, at least nominally protecting our flanks but covering neither side thoroughly.

We opted to stay together, the decisive factor being that if we ended up walking the length of the creek without getting our turkeys, we would at least have unhunted cover during our return trip to the vehicle on the creek’s opposite side.

Consistent with the worst-case scenario, we walked the length of the creek without seeing or hearing a game bird, and Gunny, to judge from his body language, did so without smelling one.

Our first pleasant surprise greeted us seconds after we crossed the bridge and began our return trip on the opposite side of the creek. Just as we’d climbed out of the road ditch, with no warning from gunny that game was at hand, a pair of rooster pheasants clattered skyward, their flights ending in simultaneous puffs of feathers.

Moments later Gunny plunged into the riparian woods and chased a turkey out the opposite side, about where I’d have been waiting if we hadn’t opted to hunt together on the same side of the creek.

Of course, I then fought my way through the thickets to the other side, arriving too late to foil the next turkey’s exit.

From there it was a long turkey-free walk back to the bridge where we had started two hours earlier.

As the three of us walked the final 200 yards along a gravel road from the bridge to the pickup, Gunny, who had been trotting southward, suddenly swung west and froze into a solid point.

We followed his hypnotized stare to the bottom of the ditch where nothing as large as a turkey could possibly have hidden.

Then something moved, and we felt in our ears the concussion of mighty wing beats as a gobbler climbed vertically to clear the fence before swarms of six shot sent him crashing into soybean stubble.

Three days later, Arthur tagged his fall turkey after Gunny pointed it out in a brushy fence row between two picked cornfields.

From my vantage, a quarter mile away at the end of that fence row, I saw the big dark bird gaining altitude and then collapsing to the earth — a message that reached me, given the disparity in the speeds of light and sound, well before the report of the shotgun.

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