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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Irate gobbler highlight of deer opener

by Bryan Hendricks | November 18, 2021 at 2:26 a.m.


Shawn Paul Miller asked social media Sunday, "Ever heard a turkey gobbling in November?"

I have. I heard it Saturday, about an hour after dawn on opening day of modern gun deer season. It took me a minute to process what initially was a jarring noise that was out of place. A bunch of crows railed at something in a thicket about a hundred yards from my stand. They were an annoying distraction that drowned out more subtle sounds, like a deer slipping through the draw in front of my stand. They do it all the time because it offers secure and protected transit all the way across the thicket. A deer traveling the draw is briefly exposed in one small window, but if I don't hear the approach, I'm not likely to look at the opening in time.

I couldn't hear anything over the crows, but an odd retort pricked my ears. I heard it again, and then again. It tripped a solenoid that opened a valve to my brain which closes in May after the close of spring turkey season.

"That's a dadgum turkey gobbling!" I thought. The crows shadowed the gobbler through the thicket, shouting insults while the gobbler bellowed obscene rejoinders. It was the highlight of my day, and it made me happy to know that Miller heard one too, somewhere near the north shore of Lake Ouachita.

Saturday was bitterly cold, made even colder by my having forgotten to bring gloves. I drove my four-wheeler to the trail to my stand with bare hands, and they did not get warm until I dangled them in front of my Little Buddy heater, a squat, propane wonder that has improved the lives of many thousands of hunters and anglers across the land. Even some anglers keep at least one in their boats.

Operating a Little Buddy is easy. Screw a propane bottle into the fitting, turn the knob to the Pilot setting, press the knob for a few seconds to flow gas and press the igniter. In no time, you'll be basking in glorious heat.

Like any equipment, using a Little Buddy accompanies some limitations. An open box stand like mine doesn't hold heat, so only my side facing the heater gets warm. My box stand interior is very small, so I have to guard against overheating. By the time I get uncomfortable, my pants are close to igniting. Avoiding self-immolation requires rotating and even standing up to put some distance between myself and the heater to allow myself to cool. And that's just on the Low setting.

All of this creates noise and movement, and neither is conducive to successful deer hunting, but neither does being cold.

I heard the first shot at 6:35 a.m. I heard two more at 6:50 a.m., and two more at 7:10 a.m. Only one sounded like a hit.

Swaddled in warm, wind resistant clothes and a fur-lined arctic hat, I got drowsy. I didn't try to resist drowsiness on Saturday. I had a long week without much sleep, and besides the turkey and his jeering section, my woods were devoid of wildlife. I've seldom seen the thicket so dead, and by 10 a.m., I returned to camp and took a proper nap in my teardrop camper, on a hard mattress, wrapped in one sleeping bag and covered by another. It was positively dreamy.

On the other side of Old Belfast Hunting Club, Mike Romine of Mabelvale had chosen his opening day stand wisely. He bagged a handsome 8-point buck with 15-inch main beams and 3.5-inch bases. The inside spread of its antlers was 11 inches. He shot it with a Savage 110 chambered in 243 Winchester.

Romine texted me a photo of the buck with the rifle resting against its antlers. The message said, "Where the trail meets the Savage."

Some hunters reported that a heavy acorn drop the week before opening day put corn feeders out of business. Bob Rogers of Maumelle and Mike Waters of East End reported identical observations at their hunting spots near Hazen and Ico, respectively.

"As soon as the acorns hit the ground, deer went to them and left that corn alone," Rogers said.

That will last for as long as acorns are available. Judging by the great amount of hog rooting sign near my stand, the acorns probably won't last long. Hogs will clean them up quickly.

My opening day was pretty sorry. I'm used to it. I always do better in the second week.


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