The spring of 2013 turned out to be a bountiful one. It started with me taking two nice turkeys, 1300 miles and about 6 weeks apart. I killed an Osceola in Florida in late March, and an Eastern in early May on our farm here in Wisconsin. The last of the bounty came the day before Memorial Day, when I found and picked the last morel mushroom of a long spring season.
Reflecting on it all, I realized that the best part of it all has been the people I’ve been sharing the spring and its harvest with.
Florida turkey hunting was with long-time family friend and Duren Farm deer hunter, Mike Harkins. “Hark” belongs to a hunting club lease with a bunch of characters near Gainesville. This group of 25 southern gentlemen and ladies (some use the phrase “’necks” to describe them, but they were far too refined to rate that moniker) lease several thousand acres from a timber holding company. As a land manager who handles many hunting requests on his property, it was enlightening for me to see how these lessees interact personally as well as devise and enforce the rules and regulations on their Seminole Woods Hunt Club. When they learned that I live in Madison, Wisconsin, I had to handle a good-natured bit of torment about being a Yankee Liberal who may be less concerned about gun regulations than they are. But that was a small price to pay for the nice young Tom I killed off their lease!
Spring came very late to Wisconsin this year, so those hunters with permits for the mid-April turkey seasons suffered through some nasty weather with little success. Since I didn’t get my application in on time, I had to buy an over-the-counter tag for a later season. For once, a screw-up actually turned into a benefit. The weather was much better for the fourth season in early May.
My wife Trisha and I went up to our land on the Richland/Sauk County line during the middle of the week. Our friend and neighbor, Ty Hall, joined us for an evening of hanging out at a local establishment and then he stayed over at our cabin. Ty and I had good intentions of getting out before dawn to catch a gobbler on the roost, but we had a couple extra cups of coffee with Trish and left the cabin at 6:20, well after the birds were off their evening perches. To make up for our tardiness, we had a great spot picked out and a foolproof plan. We went down in the valley to get out of the wind on the breezy morning and set decoys on the end of a field in full view from the road that runs down through our farm.
Ty and I settled into the brush nearby and leaned up against a couple trees. After a minute or two to let the woods settle down, I let out a few of what were meant to be purrs and clucks. But it was damp morning and the chalk was wet and I heard Ty snort under his breath behind me. “That sounded like a drunk hen. But maybe they’ll come in, thinking that she’s easy. “ We both stifled our laughs and I waited a couple minutes and hit the call again, with what sounded like the drunk hen’s half-in-the-bag friend. Ty then gave a couple purrs to prove he was just as bad a caller as me. The plan was working perfectly.
About a minute passed and from behind me I hear Ty say “Doug did you see that Tom fly down over us?” I saw a bird to my right about 100 yards out but had no idea where it came from. But he was marching in to our decoys like a guy who just bought the girls a couple of drinks. When he got to 25 yards, I made him pay for his youthful exuberance. As we celebrated our success, Ty looked at his watch and said “It’s 10 minutes to 7! We left the cabin about ½ an hour ago!” We had a short walk back to the cabin, registered the bird over the phone, plucked and cleaned it and were at our favorite breakfast spot before 8 accepting congratulations from Dave, the proprietor of “Little Cazenovia.”
The late spring conditions continued to hold for the morel mushroom season. Morels usually start showing up in mid-April under dead elm and live apple trees, with the peak of the season being Mothers’ Day. It’s usually over about a week later. This year, though, the morels didn’t start showing up until early May and we were still picking them on Memorial Day.
We found around 15 pounds of morels this year. My daughter Eleanor and her best bud Claire proved to be excellent hunters as I took them to a few spots and they found and picked a nice mess that they shared with their mothers and grandmothers in Madison.
Ty and his girlfriend, along with a buddy of theirs, found enough to make a trip up from Madison worthwhile; although I had already gone through the area, they found plenty that I’d missed. My wife Trisha and I hit the season at its peak a few days later. Trish isn’t that into hunting animals, but she is a passionate morel hunter and her enthusiasm is contagious. She and I went out on the farm several times and found nice bunches of the little gray morels and big yellow morels. The little gray ones tend to come earlier in the season. To me, they have a “nutty” flavor. The small game equivalent is squirrel. The big yellows have a more mild flavor and I’d call them the “rabbit” or “pheasant” of morels.
Morels are a big deal in Wisconsin. A town near us claims to be the Morel Capital of the World, and they have a Morel Fest every spring in mid-May. Fried morels and beer is the basic fare. They have contests for the biggest mushroom, biggest bunch, etc. They also buy and sell morels, which I have never done, and likely never will. They were selling for $45.00 a pound, which would have netted nearly $700.00 for what we picked this year. But we’d rather give them away and build up some good karma. My parents, who are in their late 80s, always get their “percentage” of any found on the farm. That means we keep bringing them some until they say, “enough!” We share them with friends and family and even send a few to my favorite of the Rinella brothers. Sometimes I’ll even send Steve a few as well.