Leighton Wass grew up in Southwest Harbor and graduated from Norwich University with a B.S. in science education. He taught high school biology in Vermont for 33 years and also is a freelance writer. At 80, he continues to use the outdoors as his playground. Wass lives in Adamant, Vermont, with his wife Jane and two Labradors. He has a book coming out this spring, “Fly Fishing The Hex Hatch,” published by North Country Press.
I had just recovered from a two-week May illness, smack-dab in the middle of turkey season, and had a little more than a half-hearted urge to get back out in the woods. But this was a double calling: gobblers and morel mushrooms. I had to get out there.
As I slowly ambled toward the mushroom area, I stroked my push-button call, hoping the yelps would entice a gobble. There were small knobs here and there, my favorite kind of terrain for hunting turkeys.
Suddenly a tom turkey answered my call, and not too far distant. I hurried to find a large tree, plunked myself down, and called again. The woods rattled with his immediate return gobble and I was wired!
I had a decoy but didn’t dare set it up because the bird was so close. The hot gobbler answered every call and double-gobbled once. It was slowly pussyfooting my way. There was a small knoll 17 or 18 yards away that hid his approach from that direction.
In my excitement to get out in the woods, I had failed to plaster myself with fly dope and the blackflies were absolutely horrendous. I slowly moved my gloved hand up to get rid of some of the “bastids” but, of course, they returned. At this point, I had no choice but to bite the blackfly bullet.
The gobbler still appeared to be inching its way in my direction, based on its gobbles, so I cut back on my yelps in hopes of arousing curiosity. This all took about 30 nerve-wracking minutes.
Then, a gobble roared even closer still, so I readied my gun into position for a shot. I fully expected it to come over the top of the nearby knoll, and by the sound of the gobble, I believed it to be a mature bird.
Then, there was a bit of a lull. I waited and waited and waited. My 12-gauge was feeling as if it were made of lead, causing my muscles to shake. All of a sudden, I heard a “putt-putt-putt-putt” above me and out of view.
I had been had! The jig was up. I slowly turned to look uphill and to my left, and there, 21 yards away was this gorgeous tom, his bright, crimson head and neck seemingly glowing like neon lights.
I moved my gun around ever so slowly in its direction, figuring it was about to vamoose any second. The gobbler took a step and at the same time, I quickly raised the shotgun to my shoulder. BLAM! I saw it flap its wings and then it was gone.
This was only the second turkey that I had missed in 30 years of hunting. What the hell happened? After checking the spot where the handsome bird stood, I found a 3-to-4-inch maple that had taken a huge chunk of the pellets that were destined for the bird’s head and neck. Those quick shots never have hit paydirt for me.
After mulling the whole frustrating event over, I got out the rest of my equipment — a jackknife and mesh bag. It was time to engage in the second activity I had planned, to pick some tasty morel mushrooms.
Probably no more than 20 yards from where I missed the tom turkey, I collected my first few morels, but because of a dry spring, I was only able to find 19. Man, were they some delectable sauteed in butter, wine and cream, and then served on toast. Of course, some fried turkey fritters would have complemented the morels nicely, too.
I have been gathering morels in the turkey woods for 23 years now, and some years I was able to find enough to sell to restaurants. The very first morels I ever found came while I was turkey hunting and, as a result, I have tried to combine the two activities ever since.
Sometimes I check out a new area of hardwoods for morels, all the while using it as a turkey scouting mission as well. Both can be found in very similar habitats: rich, open hardwoods with a scattering of white ash trees. Never pass up white ash when turkey hunting without scanning the ground within a 10-foot radius of the trees for morels.