May 30, 2012
OHIO -- The scene was straight out of a cartoon, the one with the three blind mice.
The lead mouse, Jim "Peck" Martin was charging up a hill with Mike Sullivan close behind and a reporter close behind him. The trio was shrouded in fog.
A minute earlier a gobble had resonated in the distance, forcing the line of hunters standing on the edge of a power line right of way to discuss a course through the rolling hills.
"I think he's 100, maybe 200 yards past that pole,'' Sullivan said, pointing at a power pole 100 yards away, "just past that point of woods."
The point of woods was 70 yards away just over a small hill. After a quick discussion the trio decided to move to the point. Thirty seconds and 20 yards later, like three blind mice, Martin abruptly stopped, making Sullivan crash into him, and the reporter to bump them both. By the time they were all stopped, panic was the next order.
Shrouded in fog was the outline of a gobbler standing at the point the trio was rushing to get to. Instead, they hit the ground, rolling over each other and scrambling back down the side of the hill looking for cover like those three blind mice in the cartoon.
By some unexplainable stroke of fortune, the comedy of errors would stop there. Martin slipped off the side of the hill, scrambling to pull out one of his custom-made calls, while Sullivan slipped to his knees behind a triangle blind and the reporter fell in the middle lying on his belly.
The turkey was only 60 to 70 yards away, now unseen behind the rise of the hill and the thick fog that was lying across the foothills of the Appalachians.
This was the final hours of a two-day Ohio turkey hunt with Martin and Sullivan in the foothills of one of America's most historic mountain ranges.
" ... People who cut wood, hunt."
This is coal and steel country with steep hills and broken landscape, perfect habitat for turkeys and big deer, the kind of habitat that fits well with Sullivan's workout regime.
Sullivan, of Colebrook, Conn., is currently best known as one of the top lumberjacks in the world in the STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS® Series presented by Ram Trucks, which airs on Outdoor Channel.
He was getting some leg work in preparation for this week’s U.S. Pro Championships in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Sullivan said he finds turkey hunting and lumberjacking fit well together.
"Hunters and lumberjacks are cut from the same cloth,'' Sullivan said. "They are both skilled woodsmen and from my standpoint of being both, they make me better at both.
"All of it goes hand in hand. The same kind of people who cut wood, hunt."
One of the easy ways he sees the benefits is when it comes to deer hunting. His skills are not only based on how fast he can obliterate a log or saw through a tree. There are times when skinnying up a tree is equally important.
"In the deer woods, I use a lot of my skills. When I tree-stand hunt, I always use my spurs. I see a tree that I need to get in and I'm up it. It doesn't matter if it's crooked, has limbs coming out everywhere. I can pick any tree and get in it.
"That's a big advantage when I'm deer hunting with my bow. You find the perfect funnel and you can be where you need to be. You don't have to start looking for the straightest tree with the fewest limbs to put a climber on and still be close to the sweet spot."
And that's just when it comes to deer hunting. Turkey hunting has a special place for Sullivan as well, especially when it comes to competitive lumberjacking.
"Running around the woods chasing turkeys keeps you fit. Anytime you can get walk through the woods it is good exercise. But turkey hunting is almost like a training regime,” he said. "One minute you are slipping as quietly as possible, utilizing every muscle to not make a sound, the next you are running up a steep hill, still trying to not make a sound. It's a great way to get in shape."
Sullivan apparently has been. He’s been in the STIHL® TIMBERSPORTS® Series since its inception 27 years ago, and he was the first person to win the U.S. Champion title. He has won 37 world titles and more than 150 overall titles in various lumberjack events.
A turkey hunt this time of year with Sullivan is more a training exercise than anything else. Add a gobbling turkey and the cardio gets an extra push.
Hot and ready gobbler
The first day of hunting in Ohio served as a reminder that at least Sullivan was getting some training. Like most of the country, the Ohio River Valley has had its share of rain this spring.
The day before our hunt started, Martin had spent the morning listening to a particularly vocal gobbler on a small tract of land, ironically situated right behind the hotel where we were staying.
The trio had spent the evening listening for the bird to gobble on the roost. Regardless if he peeped or not, we were going to hunt that bird the next morning.
"The turkey gobbled dozens of times from the roost and gobbled at every sound,'' Martin said. "He's hot and ready."
The next morning dawned cloudy and dank. It was one of those mornings where you never know which way the chips will fall. No stars, 50 degrees and humid are conditions where you never know if a gobbler will be roused to action or not.
But with the promise of a hot bird, we set off into the darkness, walking up and down the soggy hills (at home hills are rocky, in Ohio soggy hills are pretty common) behind the hotel, getting into position to make a quick move.
Big stands of oak and hickory completed the picture of at least half a perfect turkey hunting scenario. But as the morning lightened and birds began to sing, the woods were quiet.
Twenty minutes rolled by and you began to wonder and another 20 and you began to think "what next?" By the next 20 and with not even a peep from some very good calling from Martin, it was time to train.
Like so many turkey hunts that meant walking 1/4 mile stopping, calling, listening. And then doing it over. Jump in a truck, drive to another section and repeat the process. In our case, drizzle and rain added to the mix. All of it in hills that rolled and got higher and higher with every step. Big hills holding a mixture of pasture and wood lots. The perfect broken land for deer and turkey habitat.
Almost every step we took there was some sort of sign from both. But not a turkey would breath a noise. It was easy to think that the gobbling activity was over in Ohio.
Until the next morning, when stars coated the sky and by the time day started breaking fog started rolling off the Ohio River. And three blind mice heard the first gobble of the two-day hunt.
Blind mice find cheese
Moments after getting set, Martin scratched out a series of yelps that were immediately answered by a gobbler. The trio could only guess if it was the bird that was standing on the point. The rolling gobble sounded like it was 200 yards away.
The distant gobble forced several things to cross the mind.
"There's no way that was the gobbler that was standing on the point 70 yards away just a few minutes ago.
"But then there's no way we could have spooked that bird and still have him gobbling even 200 yards away.
"If that was indeed the gobbler, how come no one ever relayed how much thick fog could suck up the sound of a gobbling turkey."
None of it really mattered, Martin and Sullivan were doing their thing and a turkey was gobbling somewhere in the cloud of fog. Martin would call. The turkey would answer. They would wait and every 20 seconds the turkey would gobble on its own, every outburst seemingly hundreds of yards away.
It went this way for 20 minutes. Martin would nonchalantly make a call, Sullivan was like a statue, and the turkey seemed miles away. There was never a feeling that the bird was getting closer, that it was just standing its ground and gobbling in the fog every 20 seconds.
Until it made it's last gobble from a distance of 15 steps.
From the position on the ground it was easy to see everyone tense simultaneously. It was like the sound was so close it parted the hair of three blind mice. And at that point, it was a literal description.
The gobbler was 15 steps away and completely out of sight. A moment later the bird moved in the shroud and Sullivan pulled the trigger, having seen the turkey for only a half second despite how close it was.
After the traditional celebratory back-slapping, the turkey was weighed. It was just over 21 pounds, with 1 ½-inch spurs and a 10 ½-inch beard.
Turkey hunting in Ohio is like turkey hunting anywhere. When the chips are on your side, everything falls in place.