The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

March 31, 2013

Cross: Nothing rings in spring like Harleys and turkeys

— As has been the case throughout most of the Midwest, spring has been late in coming to the Winnebago Reservation in northeastern Nebraska.

Slivers of snow still cling to north-facing slopes and clog road ditches.

The wooded bluffs and ravines normally showing hints of greenery by now, remain cloaked in a palette of browns and blacks more suitable to November than late March.

When I slipped into the woods Friday morning in pursuit of wild turkeys, the temperature hovered in the not-so-spring-like mid-30s.

Not that I was grumbling too much.

After all, it was still good to be in the turkey woods, even in less than perfect weather.

And regardless of the weather, at this time of the year, turkeys are still inclined to carry on with their spring business where the guy turkeys seek out the girl turkeys and ...

Also, in spite of a chilly start, the forecast predicted calm winds and bright sunshine that would push the temperatures into the 60s by the afternoon, perfect conditions to get birds gobbling.

Unfortunately, except for one distant tom that uttered only a half-hearted gobble, the noisiest thing in the woods by noon Friday was my stomach.

I packed it in and traveled to another location along busy Highway 75 where trucks bound for Omaha and points south rumbled by.

I was sitting on the tailgate eating lunch, soaking up the unaccustomed warmth of 50 degree sunshine, when an eighteen-wheeler labored up the steep hill.

Above the roar of the diesel, I thought I might have heard a gobble on the other side of the highway,

I quickly gathered my gear and shotgun and at the edge of the woods, made a few cuts on the call. Several gobblers immediately hammered back.

For the next 45 minutes, I played a cat-and-mouse game with what sounded like a flock of birds that included several gobblers and unfortunately, a harem of hens.

The hens spelled trouble, since it can be tough to entice a Tom to leave hens they can see for one they cannot.

My best bet would be to try to call the hens. Each time they called, I would mimic them.

Slowly, surely, the flock edged closer — tantalizingly close but still out of sight over the ridge and moving to my left as they meandered through the timber.

It was decision time. I could attempt to sneak up to the ridge and risk a shot.

Or I could crawl a few yards to the edge of the woods and attempt get ahead of them to set up an ambush.

In the end, the hen that had slipped behind me unnoticed made the decision for me. At my first movement, she busted me and with several alarming putts, disappeared over the ridge.

I jumped to my feet and sprinted to the ridge where the hillside was alive with a dozen turkeys moving like ants through the timber, presenting no clear shot.

I  made one last desperate attempt to get ahead of the birds but an hour later, I was back at the truck, exhausted.

The consolation was that the temperature had climbed to a balmy 65 degrees.

As I soaked up the sunshine and sipped water, there was a growing rumble.

A few seconds later, a Harley Fat Boy and its rider roared by, short, loud (and probably illegal) straight pipes blasting a staccato note.

Thundering past me and down the hill, he backed off the throttle slightly, the exhaust snapping and popping.

Leaning hard into the curve, he tore into the throttle again, the exhaust note once again climbing.

At that, a turkey somewhere in the woods gobbled in response to the thunder that rolled by.

Loud Harleys and gobbling wild turkeys ...

Proof positive that spring indeed is in the air.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by email at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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