THOUGH MOST FORECASTS say winter will return in force late this week, during the past seven days I was able to get in some great springtime walks. A day when a warm sun pushed temperatures into the 40s, my dogs and I took advantage with a long hike along a seldom-used side road that is nonetheless plowed all winter for the two residences near its end. 

The blacktop portion was clear and easy walking. The dirt portion had a few scattered short stretches of minimal snow cover, but were otherwise clear and not yet melted enough to be a sloppy, muddy mess to have to walk through.

One of the reasons we chose to walk that road that afternoon was that I have on occasion found a wild turkey or two in the woods which line its banks. It varies from primarily hardwoods to stands of pine with a spruce swamp or two thrown in for good measure.

In my pocket were two brand-spanking new turkey mouth calls. Not that I needed them, but it would not be springtime without a couple of new yelpers to play with.

I kept my eyes peeled in the unlikely event we would actually see a turkey waddling through the snow-covered woods. We did not, nor was I able to elicit a response from any gobbler that might have been in the neighborhood despite yelps, cuts and cackles which at least I considered to be of world-class quality. My dogs didn’t seem to think the calls were that good, nor did any gobblers that might have been in hearing distance. 

Another nice day, the dogs and I took to a snowmobile trail to see if we could coerce a gobbler into a conversation. The calls were again in my pocket as we set out on a walk that would take us well into a piece of country where I have killed a few gobblers in past years.

We tramped along, the dogs running with wild abandon. I stopped now and then to pull the heady aroma of abundant balsam fir deep into my lungs and when I tired of sniffing the balsam, I clucked on my mouth calls and yelped with a box call, all to no effect.

The dogs found plenty to amuse themselves with including the remains of a deer carcass that had been picked clean, by the looks of things, by coyotes and ravens. The dogs thought it would be great sport to do a little chewing on the rancid hide themselves.

Not only was it great to be taking in the scents and sounds of a favorite piece of woods while walking a path shut off to me — since I don’t snowmobile — all winter, but being there also brought back many fond memories of good times there in years gone by.

There was the little knoll I sneaked up on some 40 years ago on the next to last day of deer season where a buck stood still long enough for me to fill my tag.

There was the tree against which I sat when I killed my first northern Wisconsin gobbler, a bird which I was able to watch fly down from the roost and then, call in for a clean shot. Like the buck, he was very tasty. There was another tree alongside the grade which provided me a backrest a few years ago when I came within a whisker of calling in another big bird close enough for my son to kill his first gobbler.

We had that wise old bird coming from the minute he flew down, but at 50 yards or so from us, he decided something wasn’t quite right. Maybe my son could have killed him if he’d taken that wide-open long shot, maybe not. We’ll never know, because he didn’t shoot. And then, that “gol dang” bird walked into the pines, turned and walked right past us. 

A bunch of small white pines in between the bird and my son prevented him from getting a shot at 25 yards. If only he’d been sitting where I was 10 yards behind him he would have had a perfect open shot. “Cudda, wudda, shudda.” Though no gobbler was carried out of the woods that day, a great memory of a close call was and as I paused at that spot on our spring walk last week, the memory was as fresh as the day it was made.

Walking with the dogs being one of the few outdoor activities available when deep snow still blankets much of the woods, I have been doing a lot of it. Our most recent hike began as an out-and-back hike on the portion of the Crystal Lake campground road that is plowed in winter. It turned into something much better.

Where the plowing ended at the west end of the lake and with bare ground showing in the woods bordering the lake, we decided to go all the way around. Walking roads is a fine exercise, but walking through actual woods is so much better.

As we made our way along, I got to pulling back more memories from way back when. There was the time when some of us had campers in a frightened tizzy when one dark night, we sneaked in close to their sites and began blowing on “screaming dying rabbits” predator calls.

As teenagers, we thought the chaos we had caused with campers sure they were being attacked by hordes of hungry carnivores was quite humorous. One camper, an old guy of the woods himself, was waiting for us back where we’d left our pickup hidden. He knew what a predator call was and though he was laughing with us, he did mention that if we came back for an encore he would find it necessary to give our license plate number to a park ranger.

Farther along the hike, we hit the long-abandoned road bed of what used to be Highway N when it ran between Crystal and Big Muskellunge lakes. More memories flooded back as I recalled days of swimming at a beach 10 feet off the road. I remembered, too, the days when Grandpa Maines and Mel Long were the sole conservation department employees who handled the Crystal campground, registering campers, cleaning and supplying outhouses, and otherwise seeing to it that all was in order.

We finished our week of hikes with 10-year-old Molly gamely making it to the finish line of our 2-mile walk. It had been a good time for me and the dogs. Someday, maybe soon, we’ll be able to get other places not seen since last fall. All three of us are hoping.