“When Things Go Wrong”

Out of breath and nearly at our destination, we climbed up a steep rise that then sloped back down into yet another secluded bowl feature, created by a drainage swale off the side of the huge bluff.  We stopped in our tracks, eyes riveted on the sight below us.  There in the small flat below, was a cow lying on its side, occasionally twitching, with its newborn calf hovering nearby.  We set our gear down and observed for several minutes.

After coming up empty-handed Kansas turkey hunting the week before, I was a woman with a mission this week in Wisconsin.  For the third year in a row I was not drawn to turkey hunt my own 80 acres near Isle, Minnesota. The torrential rains in Kansas the week before had dampened my spirits further.  Wisconsin was forecasting the same kind of weather for the rest of the week, and today looked like the only nice hunting day we would get.   When we arrived, my favorite hunting field had been taken by two other hunters so we ended up hunting the opener in an uncharted field with results one might expect without any homework.  Zip.  No Birds.  Midday we drove around glassing areas we had permission to hunt and spotted strutters in a remote grassy bowl near a cow pasture.  I was hunting and Steve Plummer was doing video of my hunt for Ron Schara’s Minnesota Bound.  My buddy Dale Kane was hunting further to the north on another farm.  The landowner farmer, Kurt, met us on the road in his truck and suggested we climb up and over the south side of the bluff and put a sneak on the birds through the woods to the north.  I felt entering through the field in daylight would scare the birds off, but this back door approach seemed do-able.   So that was the plan and I was finally excited!  Coming up the back of the bluff became a Herculean undertaking however.  I was toting my packed turkey vest, shotgun, turkey seat, rain gear and a Double Bull blind.  Steve had his video camera, tripod, pack and his own larger Double Bull Blind as well.  We forged through thorny briar patches and stinging nettles, buck brush thickets, up and down 45 degree angle slopes, and on deer trails that were more like mountain goat paths.   It was nearly seventy degrees and we were sweat-soaked once we came down the north face of the bluff.  My plan was to skirt the fields sixty yards back into the woods to avoid detection and set up on the field edge if we saw birds.  We were within two minutes of our intended spot after a 40 minute trek. 

That’s when we came on the downed cow and her calf.  The animal was in trouble and we knew what we had to do.  Steve went back to alert the farmer about the emergency and I went ahead to find a spot to set up our blinds for the evening hunt … if there was going to be one.  The landowner Kurt quickly drove his Bobcat back into the swale and tried to lift “Teffer” the cow up but she was too weak to stand after struggling all day.  She had calved in the last 24 hours which added to her weak state.  Kurt rolled her off her side and upright to rest, gave her water and prodded her to get up.   Steve and I finished setting up our hunting spot and I decided to try calling gobblers for the last half hour left of legal shooting time.  I immediately got gobbles responses back, but I just as immediately realized that at the rate the gobblers were approaching, it would be after legal shooting time before they got to us.  We then would have turkeys around us till they roosted three hours later, so I indicated we should get out of there right away and hunt the morning.

Morning came and with it, so did rain and high winds.  We heard a few gobbles at dawn, but as soon as the rain and wind started, the gobblers went silent.  By 7 a.m. we were surrounded by cows who decided to play with my decoys and nose up to Steve’s camera.  By 9:30 a.m. I was getting hypothermia and the shakes.  I was relieved when Steve said his camera was fogging up and suggested we head out.   I tried shoo-ing the cows away when I removed my decoys, but they recognized me as a human and a possible food source and wanted to follow me around rather than be driven off.

For a number of years I had the privilege of hunting this area of Wisconsin with my buddy Dale and it felt good to do something in return.  Kurt said the cow would have died over night had it not been found, and her calf would likely have fallen prey to coyotes.

As Steve and I trudged back through the pasture to camp, he noted “What comes around goes around.”  He had three more video shoots to do in as many days and needed to pack and leave.  While we were not successful in getting a turkey kill on video, we both enjoyed an even better kind of success:  Giving back.


© May 2006