It was gray among the predawn shadows. Not enough illumination poked through to distinguish colors. Even when the light finally climbed over the ridge, there were few colors fighting for my attention.
Two of the five bull elk I was watching had already dropped their antlers. The other three looked raggedy and scuffed as they began the shedding season that would rid them of not only their antlers but also the irritatingly heavy coats they had carried all winter.
Their hair was washed out and blended in with the brittle grasses. They trudged back up the ridge, lacking the bounce in their steps that a few weeks of green grass would soon bring.
Directly behind and below me on the creek bottom, hundreds of turkeys were doing their best to gobble springs greenery and colorful blossoms a bit closer.
This time of year, the most vibrant hues of nature reside with turkey gobblers. They zestfully remind every hen they encounter that egg laying activities are planned in the near future and that their services will soon be in demand.
It is that border season. Winter has baked and bleached the vibrance from the landscape. All is tan and white and shades of evergreen.
I am always so grateful for the ponderosa pine’s refusal to give in to winter. The tamarack larch of the Flathead Valley caved each winter when I lived there and provided a sterility we here in the Hills do not have to suffer. Those larch gave up every needle and forlornly hung naked and dejected until spring.
The calendar says that it is both turkey and mountain lion season. This year, due to an extension in the mountain lion regulations, a hunter will be able to call in a tom of either species on the same hunt.
While this has always been true on the prairie, it is a first for Black Hills hunters who chase turkeys where the most lions reside.
While archery turkey hunters are already posting pictures of their successes, most are waiting for the large winter flocks to disperse from the private lands.
Turkeys gather where there is feed readily available and often do damage to ranchers’ stockpiles. While a dozen birds might be considered a nuisance, imagine the amount of feed that 300 turkeys might consume. That’s the size of the flock that was scratching and strutting while I glassed the wintering elk.
Quite often, they will linger until driven away by the sounds of shotgun blasts.
Big-cat hunters have already shown great success. While last season’s harvest total only came to 21 lions, for the first time, more males than females were harvested.
This season, we have already more than doubled last season’s total with 44 animals, but once again, the number of males is nearly matching that of female lions in the total.
I have seen many predators stalk turkeys. Some of my favorite memories are of golden eagles diving in to ruin my stalk and killing the gobblers that were strutting just out of range.
I’ve followed the paw prints of coyotes as they worked in teams to push turkeys into thickets that held other members of their pack.
I’ve watched them rush in when they could hear the heavy beating of wings. A big turkey can deliver a strong blow with its wings or spurs, and a coyote welcomes any help he can get when he grabs on to one.
In all of those years, I’ve never watched a lion stalk a turkey, nor have I imagined one stalking up from behind while I was calling in imitation. Having tags for both in my pocket will make this spring more interesting.
The Speirs family has owned and operated Crow Creek Wildlife Management Service since 1996.
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