Streamers For Atlantic Salmon
By: Mark Forabosco
I’ve always taken a solidly singular approach when it came to turkey hunting; sort of a chess match mentality, I guess, that one-on-one competition of trying to outwit a savvy gobbler. Over the years I’ve won a few contests and lost more than I care to mention. But in hindsight, that was the part that I enjoyed the most, because when it comes to turkey hunting, the learning curve never really ends.
The previous season I got lucky and took my largest bird to date, a portly tom weighing in at 25 pounds. But in 2015 I had other goals in mind; I invited close friends Rob Cadeau and Felix Laporte, along with my eight-year-old son Rowan up to the cabin for a couple of days, each for their valued company and with a particular goal in mind.
Rob is one of the most gracious and unselfish sportsman I have ever known. This past fall he offered up his deer blind to a close buddy, who an hour later downed a 140-class, 10-point whitetail. He has that rare quality of always going the extra mile to help a friend and I was hoping that with some luck I could return the favour.
Over the years Robert has taken a number of toms with his bow, but never harvested that elusive bird over 20 pounds, and that’s why I invited him. I knew that there were some mature turkeys on my property and maybe one might cross his path. It was a depressing opening morning, cold and damp with scattered rain showers; I took the high road and wished Rob luck as I inserted another log into the woodstove before going back to bed. My friend laughed as he made a reference about me being too soft, hopped into his truck and headed to the far side of the woodlot.
The previous afternoon we set up a blind on some high ground. The edge of the property line was filled with water that bordered a clover field and this spot provided a perfect pinch point. The ringing of the phone at 6:40 a.m. rousted me out of a deep sleep. Rob’s excited voice confirmed my suspicions. Shortly after first light he heard a bird gobble in the distance, and after a few soft calls on his slate, the tom responded with a boisterous reply, weaving his way between the trees, stopping every now and again to posture and strut, putting on a heart-stopping display. Rob arrowed him at 10 paces, a stunning three-year-old bird with a near 10-inch beard that brought the scales down to a very respectable 21 pounds.
My second goal for this particular trip was to help Felix Laporte fill his tag. My friendship with Felix began 10 years ago when I first purchased my property. Our relationship has prospered over time and after our deer hunt last November I suggested to Felix to come up for a few days and try his luck. At the prime age of 76 with two past heart attacks, this cat isn’t going to be running many marathons. But instead of sitting at home all winter doing nothing, Felix bared down, went to a fitness center and walked as often as he could to stay in shape for his spring hunt. In his well-chosen words, “It’s what I live for.”
This isn’t only a testament to one man’s will, as I believe it also sets an excellent example that a hunter‘s heart never loses its passion for the sport. I had plans to take Felix out with me on Tuesday morning, but Rob stepped in, suggesting that Rowan and I head out and spend some father-son time and he would gladly try to get Felix on a bird. The interesting part of this story is that Rob and Felix met for the first time just 36 hours earlier. I suppose it was only natural that once these two moose hunters got together and shared a few stories, that a kinship was sure to blossom.
It’s a serious hike to the hill where the blind was set up, so Rob decided that he and Felix would take the ATV, arriving a little earlier than normal to let things settle down. Rowan and I made small talk, our breath hanging in the frosty air as we made our way through the darkness. I pointed out some of the constellations that seemed to be shinning more brightly than usual as we marched our way down the old dirt trail. The morning was made of a rare stillness, not even the hint of the slightest breeze could be felt. Every step on the dry leaves or the simple banging of the thermos against a pack seemed to echo forever. If the good Lord ever made a morning for turkey hunting, this was it.
The worn trail was chaperoned by ancient maple trees on each side, their limbs reaching across the path interwoven with one other. It was almost mystical in appearance; these trees where young saplings when this forest was once farmland and now it had been reverted back to its original wild state. This was my third goal, as Rowan is still too young to hunt at the tender age of eight, but I felt it important for him to have an early introduction to the hunt camp experience. Like many of us who hunt and fish, I indoctrinated my son to the outdoors soon after he could walk, and thankfully he has a healthy desire to fish, hunt and consume as much venison as possible. My father passed before my son’s birth and Felix seems to have filled that void for Rowan, so that also played a part in my bringing him along and letting him play hooky from school for a couple of days. Time is fleeting, and often the memories we have from those early life experiences help mould our personalities in the later years. In this case, my motive was to create warm memories that my son could recall as an adult with fond affection, for every one of us who has carried a gun into the woods or drifted a trout stream wants their child to follow in their footsteps. Just the thought of not having that special someone who would appreciate the passing on of a favourite shotgun or fly rod as an heirloom is enough to make ones blood run cold as a January morning.
We had reached the end of the trail when I peered up and in between the last remaining overhead branches I saw a shooting star.
“Did you see that, Rowan?”
My son’s perceptiveness surprised me.
“Did you see a shooting star, Dad? I nodded
“I bet you wished that you’d shoot a turkey today.”
“Well… one of us, anyhow.”
I didn’t tell my son but I was actually thinking of Felix when I made the wish. Usually I’m not one to take stock in such old wives tales as wishing upon a star, but thought that it couldn’t hurt.
“Are you having a good time?”
Rowan looked up and his smile said it all.
“Do you think we should all get together like this next year?”
My son nodded his head in approval.
“You know what, Dad; If you do this again next year, that means that we’d be starting a tradition!”
This time it was my turn to nod my head and smile.
Felix and Rob had settled into their blind, passing the time sharing hunting antidotes and jokes, Felix sitting to the left of Rob cradling the 12-guage Benelli in the crook of his arm while Rob called intermittently. Shortly before 9 a.m., with empty stomachs and a yearning for a hot coffee, they decided it was time to head in when Rob cast a look towards Felix.
“Did you hear that?”
“I didn’t hear anything,” replied Felix.
The reason Felix didn’t hear anything was because the battery in his hearing aid was dead. Rob quickly pulled out his slate and began to call. To their surprise there was a very loud reply. It didn’t take long before the replies grew louder and closer, then to the left of Felix a form emerged from the brush. Rob’s pop-up blind is made for archery hunting with numerous narrow slots. As the tom began to cross in front, winding its way between the trees, Felix had to follow, going from one window to another. By the time he moved to his forth window, the gobbler had closed the distance to less than 30 yards. What Felix didn’t know was that Rob was filming the entire hunt from over his shoulder. Rob whispered into Felix’s ear, “Just take your time; don’t rush…”
I looked at my watch; aside from a boisterous jake just beyond gun range trying to seduce a couple of uninterested hens, it had been a beautiful but uneventful morning. When from the other side of the woodlot we heard the boom.
“Do you think that was Felix, Dad?” asked Rowan.
“Not sure, son, I hope so!”
An hour later as we approached the cabin, there sat two very smug looking hunters.
“Did you guys get one?”
A smile a mile wide crossed Roberts face.
“Felix shot a dandy and I video recorded the whole thing.”
After a couple of hugs and the sharing of how things went down, we all looked over the bird. A perfect fan with a nine-inch beard and weighing in at an even 20 pounds, we were all on cloud nine. At this point I could have cared less if I took a bird or not.
We waved as Robert’s truck faded from view as he had to get back to work, and with Rowan back at school the next morning, Felix was going to sleep in before packing up, so I was on my own.
The third morning was a carbon copy of the second. I decided to hunt the same spot as the day before. As the dawn’s light slowly overtook the darkness, from across the small creek in the corner of my woodlot I heard a tom greet the new day. I worked the slate just enough to get him to respond with a loud gobbler; now he knew he had company waiting near the edge of the woods. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, three hens purred and clucked, walked over the small ridge and skipped across the creek travelling to the plowed field in front of me. Yet this tom was a no-show. A couple of times he’d sound off just behind the ridge no more than 40 yards out and then delve back deeper into the thick sanctuary of the woods. The only thing that made any sense to me was that he was possibly a satellite bird and was afraid of getting thumped by the dominate tom. Not long after I could hear one last hen calling out; again he rushed in, gobbled and then slipped back into the forest. It was then that I realized if I was to kill this bird, that hen would have to do it for me. Her calling got louder as she crested the ridge, she stopped and pleaded diligently for a few minutes, inviting the tom to join her and then finally had enough, slipped down the slope, crossed the creek and walked right past me into the field.
It was now or never. I was curled up around a maple like some over-the-hill contortionist, the edge of my mask half over my eye, but I dared not make a move. After a number of dead still minutes, I heard thump. I strained looking into the overhanging shadows of a large cedar tree and through a tangle of rotted saplings when I saw a tail fan extend full and then close. Well, at least I knew he was a tom, but no clear shot presented itself. Two minutes, then three passed and he still hadn’t moved; in that field waited four amorous hens and this bird refused to step out into the clearing. I had never seen this before and was starting to think that this turkey wasn’t quite right.
Finally I saw a big blue head periscope up from the shadows; he was no more than 30 yards out and from his odd behaviour I wasn’t sure if he would head over or simply slip back into the mosaic of the woods. I clicked off the safety and took the shot. Only after unloading and crossing the creek did I realize what kind of a unique bird this was. By the length of his spurs it was easy to tell that he was at least four years old and was just being overly cautious, which would explain his behaviour and why he lasted as long as he did.
Felix greeted me with open arms as I returned to the cabin. With a gleam in his eye and a smile on his face, he took one look at the bird and said, “What a monster!”
Of course, this was followed by a hearty handshake and a hug. Hunting success like this is rare by nature, but it goes without saying that the company was what made this trip so memorable. For the next couple of days we all called each other back and forth, repeating the same sentence – “I’ve never had a hunt like that in my life.”
I’ve often wondered if St. Hubert, the patron Saint of hunters, was looking down on us. Many thanks were given to the good Lord above for granting us those three wonderful days.
For anyone out there who has a father or relative that once hunted but no longer does because they’re getting older or has physical restraints, make the effort to bring them along and include them in the hunt. Where there is a will, there is a way, and though I’m no doctor, I believe it can add years to one’s life.
As for that savvy old bird, well, a heartfelt thanks goes out to renowned taxidermist Jim Jackson for bringing it back to life. I get to admire it every evening as it stands at attention in my den.