I’ve been here since it was darn near dark. Literally tiptoed into place, if you can believe it. Heard every bird chirp and swish of leaves. Adrenaline has been on a steady drip for hours now.
I haven’t been so tense for so long in my life.
Between the mosquitoes, humidity, lack of sleep, and absence of a back rest, most people I know would not consider this fun. But when I heard those turkeys fly up into their roost last night, I couldn’t wait to do this one more time.
Day 1: For the Money
This place, Blackhawk Lake Recreation Area in southwest Wisconsin, is kind of incredible. I’m glad I accepted the invitation from the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW) to come and see what this place has to offer.
Upon arrival here the first afternoon, I tossed my sleeping bag on a bunk and headed out to find the nearest gobbler. Pat Kalmerton of Wolf Pack Adventures steered me toward a grassy opening tucked back in the woods. He thought they might not be out in the open, but instead could be orbiting around there in the woods. It was exactly the kind of spot I hoped to find.
While kneeling down to stake in my decoy, a frantic flapping broke out behind me. I looked up to see a gobbler flying directly overhead. He landed a short distance off and just out of sight. It took most of an hour before it seemed safe to back off and relocate next to a bigger tree.
Just before sitting in front of that tree, I glanced up to see a turkey on a branch, looking extremely nervous. It was hard to tell against the broken background of leaves and sky, but there might have been a tiny beard on its chest. It flapped away before I could be certain.
There was no telling why turkeys were up in the trees so long before sunset, but one thing was sure: they were there.
Morning couldn’t come fast enough.
Day 2: Kinda Slow
Sunup brought distant gobbling and close yelping. I did my best to chime in with a new diaphragm call from Sweetwater Calls. Both nearby hens responded, which seemed like a sign that they were relaxed and acting normally. I hoped desperately there would be at least one bearded individual in the vicinity— and looking for love.
Once on the ground, one of those hens meandered eastward and seemed to enjoy the company of my decoy. She spent about two hours pecking around and loafing within sight. I always think a person can learn a thing or two from just watching wildlife at close range. That may be true, but it was an extreme test of my ability to keep still. By lunch, I needed a break.
After a quick nap, a fishing posse was assembled. The plan was to get out on Blackhawk and see what was biting. Pat Kalmerton knows the lake well and was confident that with a little searching we’d get into some respectable bluegills. While we we out, I had the opportunity to fish with a few different G. Loomis NRX+ rods.
Have you ever picked up a rod and noticed immediately that it was of high quality? Well, the NRX+ were like that— only better. They are decidedly out of my price range, but it was a pleasure to fish with them nonetheless. Read more of my impressions on my Blackhawk Trip Gear post.
By and by, we found where the active bluegills were. For about an hour they were turned on and would hit our baits within seconds of each cast. That is, if our aim was true. A little short, casts produced nothing. A little long, we found ourselves in hand-to-branch combat with the trees and bushes.
I don’t remember who left more bobbers decorating the treeline, but that detail doesn’t seem important. We don’t need to name names; I’m sure it wasn’t me.
Before the end of the evening, I reeled in one of my biggest bluegills ever. There was also an average walleye that came aboard under stranger-than-average circumstances: I pulled it in hand-over-hand, like it was on a tip-up line.
Again, details aren’t important…
Day 3: Get Ready
The next sunup found me back in the same spot, listening to dueling gobblers some distance off to the West. There was another over the hill. He was quite obviously on private land somewhere and not worth trying to pursue.
Beyond that, not much happened. I spent some time playing with a pair of binoculars made by German Precision Optics (GPO), which were great for watching the indigo buntings flitting around in that corner of the woods. Pretty sure I would have been able to count the feathers on any turkey’s neck with those binoculars, but never got the chance.
After another much-needed nap, I solicited the advice of one P. Kalmerton. It seemed an appropriate time to roll the dice and see if I couldn’t make something interesting happen. He told me how to approach a known roosting area on a nearby ridge.
Sounds like an obvious choice, right? You know, wait for those turkeys to stroll back to their bedroom, where I would give one of them a TSS Shot goodnight kiss. You might wonder why I wouldn’t already have done that; it seems almost too easy.
That’s because it is. I knew going in that it was anything but guaranteed. They’d be coming from private property and might not make it all the way onto public land. Connecting with a gobbler might be tantamount to a miracle. Still, I had to try.
The woods were steaming hot at that point and I was duly soggy upon arriving on the scene. To keep from making too much sweat and noise, I moved slowly and deliberately.
After surveying several possible roosting trees, I chose the spot where three or four stood close together and hid myself behind a gooseberry bush. The lush growth was almost higher than the head on my decoy, but I was hopeful.
Things were quiet for quite a while. Then, just before sunset, it happened.
I couldn’t be absolutely sure of the direction, but that flapping sound is pretty unmistakable. Minutes crept by while I listened for more clues.
Wingbeats broke through the rustlings of the wind. And then again.
Without having seen them, I was pretty sure where they were: in another tree about 80 yards to the east, which I’d seen but didn’t choose to sit by. The good news was that under cover of darkness I thought I could close the distance a little and get a look at them in the morning after flydown. I snuck out of there when it seemed safe.
That was the first time I think I’ve ever tiptoed through the woods.
Day 4: No Show?
A full half-hour before sunrise this morning there was a loud thud from the direction of the roost tree. Without audible wingbeats, it seemed unlikely to have been a turkey flying down— especially at that hour. All the same, it seemed better to stop swiveling my head and concentrate on listening.
A hideous squawking arose some distance off, which was quickly followed by a half-hearted gobble— behind me, out of bounds. That was unexpected. Suddenly all my estimations based on sound came into question.
Wingbeats and rustling could be heard back there intermittently. Each noise was just far enough away to sound close but remain out of sight. On the last reprise, I snapped my head around and finally caught a glimpse. That turkey flew upward from its branch, escaping to the south through a hole in the canopy.
The frequency of flapping combined with the trajectory of that last bird told me everything: that was probably the pack of gobblers I’d been hoping to intercept, and they were positively gone for the day.
I was off by only 100 yards or so.
But that’s okay. I was bound by the property line anyway, which is just a part of fair chase hunting.
And while the last few days weren’t a turkey-killing extravaganza, I can say with confidence I was doing the right things in the right places. The pursuit was hot, literally, and the possibility of a gobbler appearing at any moment was very real. It’s been a while since I felt like I was really hunting like this.
I have no regrets.
Still in the Game
Now my butt is numb and my lower back is rebelling. It’s a special kind of misery, though; it hardly matters. I came a long way to get here, and I came so close. That alone seems like a victory of sorts. And as long as I sit here, hope is alive.
Hope tends to dull the pain and whittle away the hours beyond what is reasonable. For now, I’m still hoping for that miracle. All I need is ten more minutes. And then ten more after that.
So, what time is it now?
Read all about the gear I tested on my trip to Blackhawk Lake.