It’s Wednesday of Turkey hunting week, a few years back, and I remember I was feeling a bit irked. The year before I had two turkeys in my freezer by this time of the week, and up to this point in the week I’ve hardly even heard one gobble. This isn’t supposed to happen to an expert turkey hunter (I say that as a joke; I feel there is no such thing as an expert in turkey hunting, you’re always learning.)
The turkeys have been so quiet that I’ve had to change tactics in my calling. Usually, I let mating season work its magic as turkey are pretty motivated when it comes to either closing the deal or insuring that they have secured their mating territory. Either the call of an available hen or a young tom trying to make the connection is adequate to get the resident Tom to come running right for your decoys. But, as I mentioned, after two mornings of hunting all I have seen are curious or lonely hens, and they aren’t legal to harvest in Ohio in the spring. (One exception is to take a bearded hen, which are pretty rare and I already have such a trophy, so I let all bearded hens walk in the hopes that they’ll make more turkeys.) So, instead of playing the equivalent of a turkey Barry White record, I play dirty. I use a call that means “Help, I’m lost!” I use the call of a juvenile jake looking for his flock.
It’s interesting how effective a juvenile in distress call can be. In fact, it’s not uncommon to call in all sorts of different species who are just alarmed that there’s a lost youngster out there. Sometimes while using a fawn bleat call, I’ll hear the chatter of a momma squirrel out on a branch in the open. It makes no sense at all, squirrels and deer don’t interact at all and they have very little common ground, but it works with other species too. It’s then a little naive of me that I was surprised when a predator came in to the call of a lost jake as well.
I’d moved out from the edge of the field where I usually set up for turkey. The open field allows the birds to see the decoys from a long ways off while I can conceal myself from them in the brush of the woods, often leaning against a tree. Instead I was about half way down a ravine, in the shadows from the sun, with my decoy in a little clearing at the bottom. When I first saw movement on the opposite bank, I was excited. I’d finally raised a t-bird! The second I set down my call though, I could see what was fast closing on my fine foam formed friend; a thin young coyote.
I have to admit, he wasn’t hard to pick out from the brush. His coat was a reddish bright brown and for a second I considered that it might be a fox. Although fox are canine predators they are considered in a completely different way by the game laws that consider them a fur bearing game animal and their season is closed well before turkey season. Coyotes on the other hand are varmints, a nuisance animal to be eradicated whenever and however possible.
I wait a few seconds for the coyote to come closer, but this guy is hungry and he’s coming in like a rocket, not stealthy at all and jumping above the sprouting foliage rather than concealing himself and crawling through it. I hadn’t come here to hunt coyotes, and I prefer to do it with a high power rifle, but this twelve gauge shotgun with turkey loads should work fine at the range he’s presenting himself. I level the gun propped up on my knee and touch off two rounds in quick succession. He drops right there and after taking a quick look around to make sure there’s not another one coming in, I go down to survey the damage.
What I find is really saddening, as it’s evidence of a strained ecological relationship and a possible explanation for why the turkey hunting has been so slow. A single coyote can devastate a local turkey population devouring both eggs and chicks, occasionally even an adult bird. This “yote” is in bad shape, and I mean before I fired on him. The coat is badly consumed with mange and if you look past the various parasitic bugs crawling through the sores and scabs on his hide, you can count each rib on his side. He wasn’t just hungry, he was starving, and as is often the case hunger and disease go hand in hand. I’ve done him a favor in ending his suffering, and done the turkey population a favor in removing a predator.
Hunting isn’t always the perfect wildlife management tool, but it’s a lot kinder than Mother Nature.