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TMCNet:  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Paul Smith column

[November 25, 2010]

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Paul Smith column

GENESEE, Nov 25, 2010 (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Tom Solo stood at the center of the clearing and took an inventory of its surroundings.

In typical turkey fashion, it was no mere look -- it was an inquisition.

Biologists say the birds have just two eyes. But I think that amounts to a conservative estimate.

Surely there is something more at work: If the Transportation Safety Administration is searching for a better technology for body scans, they ought to interview a 4-year-old wild turkey.

Any gobbler that lives to such an age has successfully detected hundreds of concealed threats.

I hunkered in a ground blind 25 yards from T.S. and tried my best to not even blink.

I'd been on the track of this bird, remarkable for its large body and solitary habits, for most of the autumn. But I'd never been as close.

The sun had crested the horizon and flooded the nearby oak hillside with golden light.

The big bird's red head stood like a periscope above the tan grasses. From previous hunts, I knew T.S. liked to breakfast here on green clover.

My pocket held a turkey tag for Unit 2, which covers the eastern flank of the state, including this part of Waukesha County.

My culinary objective included placing a wild turkey on the Thanksgiving table. My hunting preference required use of a bow and arrow.

And after weeks of hunting this property this fall, my sights were set only on one bird.

It started with the first day of hunting the property. I'd been told of a big, lone gobbler that worked a mowed opening near a pond.

Sure enough, the bird showed up but stayed uncannily out of range -- coming no closer than 45 yards.

On my next hunt I shifted to another clearing where I'd seen turkey sign. But after setting up my tent blind well before dawn, I decided a slightly better shooting position was required.

As I got out to move the blind, I was greeted by a "putt, putt" and flap of wings. T.S. flew off from one of the only roost trees within 200 yards.

And so it went, over a dozen hunting days in October and November, often seeing the lone gobbler, never getting a shot. Some days I called. Others I sat silently. Twice I still hunted through the woods and fields.

I had seen T.S. enough to tell it apart from other longbeards on the property -- it had a wide, tall body the envy of any Butterball; a 10-inch beard that looked like a horse tail; and, what my binoculars spied from 45 yards -- a pair of long, curved spurs, well over an inch long.
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Of course it also had a preference for solo travel and a proclivity for staying out of bow range.

This morning, though, with T.S. less than three first downs away, might be different.

The bird's head turned for a second. I picked up my bow and clipped my release to the string.

When T.S. looked back toward the ground blind, I was at full draw.

I looked at the bird through my peep sight, the 25-yard pin obscuring a spot on its neck. The bird's black, girthy body was hidden behind a grassy swale.

The gobbler stared back.

I held. T.S. scrutinized. A minute passed.

I needed the bird to take a few steps so I could take an ethical shot at its body.

My arm quivered. The bird squinted.

I pleaded with the potential holiday meal to walk into the open.

T.S. would have no part of it. Perhaps that's the key to its longevity -- trust nothing.

The big bird slowly stepped back and away, my arm shaking more with each passing second.

After another minute, I let down the draw. My last image of T.S. is of a mass of iridescent feathers slinking into the far woodlot.

There will be no wild turkey on the Smith table this November. But with venison and walleye in the freezer, there is no hardship.

And as my family toasts the many things for which we have to be thankful, I'll include thoughts of the wily gobbler that shared so many hunts and taught me so many lessons this season.

Sometimes we harvest only memories, a privilege made more tolerable by the riches of the Wisconsin outdoors.

Here's hoping your hearts and tables are full this Thanksgiving.

Early deer registrations up: Hunters registered 106,404 deer over the opening weekend of the 2010 Wisconsin gun deer hunt, according to a preliminary tally from the Department of Natural Resources. The 2010 total represents a 6% increase over the first two days of the 2009 season.

Good to very good hunting conditions on opening day gave way to misty-rainy weather on day two of the 2010 Wisconsin gun deer hunt, according to a DNR report.

The preliminary 2010 harvest included 54,263 bucks and 52,141 antlerless deer.

The department reported 607,926 gun deer licenses sold by the start of shooting hours on Nov. 20, a 3% drop from 2009.

Eight non-fatal shooting incidents were also reported through Wednesday.

The nine-day season ends Sunday. A 10-day muzzleloader deer hunt then runs statewide from Nov. 29 to Dec. 8.

The legend grows: You may remember the story of Larry Grassmann, 46, of Wauwatosa, who took his first deer -- a doe -- on opening day of the 2009 Wisconsin gun season after 25 years of hunting. It was the first time he'd actually been in the stand at sunrise.

"There's a lot of stuff going on early" in the woods, Grassmann remarked at the time.

Looks like his hunting gene has fully switched on.

Over the last year, Grassmann and his teenage son Evan successfully completed a hunter safety class.

Last Saturday found the Grassmanns hunting the same property near New Lisbon that Larry took his deer in 2009. Brice Osinski and Tim Rochman, both of Wauwatosa, hunted nearby.

About 11 a.m. Evan had to leave for another commitment so Larry walked his son back to the cabin. Rather than linger, Grassmann grabbed a sandwich and went back to his stand.

About 12:30 Osinski and Rochman were having lunch when Grassmann returned to the cabin.

"Want something to eat?" Osinski asked.

"No, I'm getting my camera," Grassmann said. "I shot a buck." Grassmann's reputation had -- at least until recently -- been founded mostly on his skills as a story teller and musician.

Osinski and Rochman took a good look at their friend. Was he working on a ruse or telling the truth? The scene near Grassmann's stand told the tale: A 14-point buck was prone in the woods, felled by one perfect shot.

"He asked if it gets any better," said Osinski. "I told him he should go buy some lottery tickets." Send e-mail to psmith@journalsentinel.com To see more of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.jsonline.com. Copyright (c) 2010, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com.

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