When English Romantic Movement poet Percy B. Shelley penned the rumination “If winter comes can spring be far behind?” he reminded readers that we must endure the hard times in order for the good to come, that darkness is necessary to keep the universe humming.
Winter of 2017-18 served its last official day of duty on March 19 and spring clocked in on the 20th, but try telling either that they should obey their respective obligations. Our current climatological aberrations cause us to tamper with Shelley’s speculation: “if winter ends, can spring be far behind?’
Poets like to emote about spring, and though there are three other months that claim pieces of the vernal days, April’s portion of spring gets the most attention. T.S. Eliot, though American, spent much time in Britain. He called April “the cruelest month.”
If old Thomas Stearns were living today and in Kentucky, it would truly reinforce his opinion. I wonder if our own Jesse Stuart would lose any of his infatuation for the Fourth Month because of her current behavior and not be so eager to “hold onto” her.
I grew up as an outdoorsman who viewed April as the time to get the fishing season underway. When I became the family gardener at age 18, April got more complicated. With the renaissance of wild turkeys and turkey hunting, my April complications increased multifold, and complications mean stress.
Spring turkey season launches this weekend with the Youth Hunt and the predicted weather is ungentle, with snow in the Saturday forecast. I do not envy the kiddos and their mentors. Nothing is more miserable than turkey hunting on an unseasonable, freezing April morning. Frost on vibrant green grass seems to penetrate even more than frost on dead winter meadows.
At least my phone weather app is predicting more moderate temperatures for the general opening day on the 14th, though there is a rain cloud.
That’s all right. If it’s pouring rain I just won’t go, but on bright mornings of hand-freezing frost, duty demands that I get out there and suffer. I began trout fishing at the lake on February 27 and have had my hands numb so many times that I cannot count, but I had the car nearby for a warming break when the pain became intolerable. No such amenity is available in the turkey woods.
I have heard that gobblers are bellowing around the limestone mine in the old Springdale area where only employees can hunt and only with bows.
On the 31st when Devin Smith and I arrived early at the Washington lake to fish, both gobblers and hens were sounding off down Wells Creek below the dam and from across the thicket and cornfields eastward. I have been back to the spot at first good light three mornings since and heard nary a gobble of yelp, not even on Tuesday when thunder showers were approaching. Thunder is one of the natural gobble generators.
My opinion about April is closer to Eliot’s than to Stuart’s. I have seen too many mast and fruit crops damaged or ruined when April showed her nasty side. Even if we did not have a spring turkey season, April would still be the most critical month to hunting because it makes or breaks the crops of hickories and oaks, the major mast that affects the success and strategy of our fall deer, turkey and squirrel hunting. A bad April morning can wreck two years of squirrel hunting if it freezes enough new growth and flowers.
I do not consider our current cold weather a bad thing because it will discourage early flowering during this period of the moon’s being in its dark, or waning stage, when flowering fruit plants are said to be more vulnerable to freeze damage.
I write this on a lovely day when the grass of my Garden Drive and park area is resplendent in bright sun. Dandelions — a delicacy to wild turkeys — are scores of suns in what resembles a green sky. Snowdrops are coming out and may actually bloom over snow this weekend. Even the earliest daffodils still have color.
This past Sunday — Easter — there was a warm-up that brought the trout-lilies out in the woods up our holler. Everything looks like spring but doesn’t feel like it, and that conundrum is what influences the negative feelings I have always harbored about April, even before a family tragedy in April just before turkey season soured April deeply for me and took most of the joy from the hunting.
I do not stumble out early these chilly mornings to listen for gobbling. I am going to hunt in my favorite places whether there is gobbling there or not, and this lackadaisical approach has worked well for me. I know the birds are there even when they are in stealth mode. I hunt in only three places and plan to open this year where I did in 2017, an easy territory to get into and out of and where I have hunted twice and killed a gobbler each time.
There is discussion, some unpleasant, on Facebook turkey hunting pages about the new high-tech ammo that is now available. Some of these shells run almost $50.00 for a box of five! If you need such ammo to kill a turkey, or if having it under your trigger finger fills you with happiness, by all means use it. It is foolhardy to embark on a hunt without pattern testing you gun and ammo, no matter if the ammo has a guarantee to kill at 60 yards and never miss, so in addition to ten-dollar trigger pulls to kill a real turkey, there are those to perforate paper ones. I think the idea of firing such ammo would disturb me enough to cause me to miss!
I do not like what is now available in the way of turkey ammo. The trend seems to be to fire lesser payloads faster. I became concerned because I was down to only two shells of my favorite load for my Remington 11-87 and its Remington Super Full .660 diameter choke tube. With two ounces of lead to throw these post 1150 fps muzzle velocity. That box of shells has killed eight turkeys.
I will not divulge the brand, but the load is a three-inch length, full two ounces of No. 5 shot. I discovered that this line of shells was discontinued over a year ago but I found a supplier that had a few 10-count boxes left. I am of too fatalistic a nature to believe that I will fire 30 shots at wild turkeys in the abbreviated hunting career remaining for me unless I undergo a change of habit and become one who travels the U.S. in pursuit of longbeards, but I will not have to worry about ammo for the 11-87 again!
I am so comfortable and confident in this load that I have not wasted a shell of it on a paper turkey in more than a decade. I have a new Franchi 12 bore capable of handling the 3.5 inch big boomers. I am going to outfit it with a .660 choke tube — as of this moment I do not have this choke in hand — and will have to man up and check it on paper turkeys before I take it to the woods. I have assorted 3 and 3.5 loads to test, but I expect it will be the 11-87 and those last two shells of the old box that go to the woods with me this season.
I just hope that April is over her bad mood by then.