WHEN IT COMES to a hunting story, the hunter never knows how it will begin, nor how it will end when all is said and done.

Certainly, that was the case with my short, two-day turkey hunting expedition to Illinois last week. A beautiful Wednesday afternoon, I arrived in Jo Daviess County where I would stay with the Harmston family while hunting properties owned by Dr. Greg Harmston, along with one owned by Brock Wackerlin, another of my North Dakota duck camp regulars.

Thursday morning dawned cool, with just a light wind afoot. Greg and I parked at 5 a.m., at a new property he bought just last fall, a property of about 160 acres. I had a suspicion my hunting trip might not play out exactly as planned when the evening before, I discovered I had left my rubber knee-high hunting boots at home. Plodding through a short stretch of pasture in borrowed size 12 boots which were four sizes larger than mine, I followed Greg wading across a small creek before switching into my own leather hunting boots.

Then, we climbed a steep ridge which led to our designated hot spot. We stopped where a trail opened into a picked cornfield which had yet to be tilled for planting this spring.

Very quietly, we stuck a hen decoy, described by its maker as being in “the most receptive pose possible,” into the field 25 yards from where we would sit. A half-bodied jake with fake tail in full strut position stood guard over the hen. A killer setup if ever I saw one.

Settling into a hidden place in the brush at the field’s edge, we waited for the opening hour to begin. Half an hour before that time, the music started. Six gobblers, one roosted within 75 yards of us, began gobbling their heads off half an hour before shooting time began. Smiling, I rubbed my hands together in anticipation of what I hoped would become a short, sweet hunt.

And yet, having hunted turkeys for more than 30 years and killed my fair share of gobblers, I knew in my heart, that there was an equally good chance that the gobblers would turn out to be smarter than the hunter.

After listening to all those hot-blooded gobbles, along with a chorus of notes provided by answering hens, real live hens, the opening minute of shooting hours duly arrived. Shortly thereafter, the gobbling and hen yelping ceased. It ceased permanently for the morning.

No matter how I pleaded with box and mouth calls, none of those gobblers would answer. About 7:30, Greg had to leave for his day job at the clinic where he doctors folks.

Later in the day, he would tell me that when he got to the edge of the ridge overlooking our parked vehicles 150 yards down and away, there was a gobbler in full strut 50 yards ahead of my parked car. Ain’t that the way it always goes?

After a full morning of trying to locate and call in a gobbler at that property and later on at Brock’s “150” property, perhaps named thusly because it contains 150 acres, I went back to Greg’s house defeated, at least for my first day.

Therein I made a mistake. I was remembering, inaccurately, that Illinois daily shooting hours ended at noon, when actually, they end at 1 p.m. I was thus busily engaged in a serious nap when Peggy Harmston burst into the house and bellowed at me to “get your lazy butt out there.” It seems that as she drove in their 200-yard long driveway, she encountered two big tom turkeys parading across the drive about 50 feet in front of their new garage/machine shed/taxidermy display area/Will’s future new luxury vacation apartment.

It was 15 minutes before 1 p.m., time to make a last ditch desperate try for a gobbler. Being an old geezer, very educated about the extreme unlikelihood of running fast enough to cut off and ambush a gobbler and, most notably, too lazy to try, I told her I would let the birds live in peace for another day. She loudly responded with something like a mixture of sneer, snort and a derisive “harummph,” not to mention a sharply-worded description of my hunting pedigree. My response was “Why the blue blazes did you send me forth to the wilderness when I could have sat here all morning in a comfortable recliner with the garage door wide open?”

Despite finishing the day with no gobbler, I did triumph later at Greg’s lower pond which is full to the brim with fish. Throwing my never-fail secret plastic minnow lure at them, I caught several bass up to 16 inches, one walleye of 17 inches and one 13 inch-plus crappie that was thicker through the back than any I have ever caught before.

Not only was I pleased with my catch, but so was Gordie, the yellow lab who accompanied me on this trip. As each fish was brought splashing and flopping to the bank, he stood ready and anxious to “net” it with his jaws agape. He and I agreed to handle the fish a little more gently than that, and all were released to fight another day.

To shorten this particular hunting story up, the next and last day of my hunt ended the same as the first. Hunting with Case Harmston as my junior partner, I never heard or saw hide nor tail of a turkey. Winds were gusting more than 30 miles per, and except for jumping a herd of about a dozen deer and having a fox cross my watching point at a range of 25 yards, I had a rather uneventful morning. Case had one hen come into the field about 100 yards from him just before we quit and that was it.

After a hug from Peggy, and lunch with Greg and Case, which fortuitously Greg paid for, I was on my way with Gordie back home to Wisconsin. As with every trip to “Harmston-land,” I had a great time, drank a dollop or two of Greg’s Crown Royal, enjoyed a visit and supper with dear friend Anne Harmston and swapped a bunch of North Dakota stories, tales and outright lies with Greg, Brock and Curt, Peggy’s brother.

The story of this hunt played out like many another has. No gobbler, but a great time. 

Who could ask for more?