I recently found myself clad in camouflage, nestled motionless among briars, crawling ticks and mounds of poison ivy when I embarked on my first turkey hunting expedition.
We were hunting on a beautiful, hilly, hay and pasture covered farm in Harrison County. We tent camped for two nights and the weather was generally rainy and cold despite the mid-May calendar date. (It is a bad sign when you see the farm owner covering her garden plants with blankets headed into evening when you are tent camping outside.)
I never saw a turkey, but despite the general unpleasantness of the weather, ticks, briars and poison ivy, it was still a wonderful experience. We cooked our food over a campfire and shared many stories of the turkeys we thought we might have heard crying out from the depths of the wooded hollows. One person in our group, an experienced turkey hunter, got a large gobbler. The rest of the group came up empty, and that was fine.
Though I never even turned the safety off on my shotgun, I did learn quite a bit through the experience. First, turkey hunting is very challenging and requires a very savvy (or lucky) hunter to be successful. I also learned that there is much to observe while simply sitting still and silent surrounded by nature.
It rained off and on for much of the trip, but finally on the last day of the turkey season, the sun shone and the temperatures warmed. I sat in my spot and watched as nature (but no turkeys) responded. I heard countless bird songs, some familiar and some new to me. A field mouse popped out of a nearby brush pile, scanned the surroundings and casually hopped right across the toe of my boot. A small rabbit bounded from the woods and settled in inches beside me under a thicket. A pair of hummingbirds busily buzzed directly over my head for a half hour, unflustered by my presence. I also learned how beef cattle warily respond to a turkey decoy in the middle of their pasture.
Most of the time when working on a farm we are focused on the task at hand — feeding livestock, fixing fence, planting, harvesting, or preparing the fields. When turkey hunting, I had the privilege of being a silent observer of all the countless things that take place in the natural setting around the farm that I would normally miss because I am focused on doing something else. I was sitting out there to see (and shoot) some turkeys, but that doesn’t mean that all of the other stuff going on is not worth watching and enjoying.
The experienced turkey hunter in the group also pointed out that, more often than not, the crows are worth listening to when turkey hunting. When the turkeys themselves are not making noise, the crows in the area often announce the presence of a gobbler as he moves through the woods and into the open clearings and pastures. The problem with relying on crows, though, is that they make a ruckus about most anything. A hopeful hunter can set his sites on a possible turkey in response to calling crows, only to find a hawk or an owl in the canopy or a deer stumbling out of the underbrush.
As those of us in Ohio agriculture have been focused on many other pressing issues as of late (water quality, the weather, the farm bill), the crows have been gathering around the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Since the notorious animal rights wolf in “save the kitties” clothing took the animal welfare Ohio ballot box issue off the front burner in 2010, few in Ohio agriculture have forgotten about HSUS, but it has been easy to focus on the many other issues at hand.
In the meantime, Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has been engaged in a very long battle with HSUS. This month, Feld Entertainment finally received a nearly $15.75 million settlement from HSUS and other animal-rights groups that filed a frivolous lawsuit against them. The lawsuits in federal court in Washington have been ongoing for more than a decade. In 2012, a judge said the case, alleging abusive treatment of elephants, was frivolous and forced Virginia-based Feld Entertainment to spend millions in legal fees. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals already agreed separately to pay more than $9 million to settle.
Only time will tell if the increasing incidence of groups crowing fowl about HSUS will push that sneaky turkey out into the open for the general public to see.