Some mornings in a turkey blind, the time between gobbles seems endless. This was the case recently not far north of the Twin Cities. Wood ducks fluttered onto small ponds. The odd deer picked at new shoots of green grass. And overhead, Canada geese paraded noisily, their wings flapping against a clear sky hued midnight blue.
Just before dawn, two hours earlier, I had heard one tom gobble, followed by another. But perhaps I had imagined these. Now, with the temperature at 24 degrees and holding, I was waiting, if not on a turkey, then at least, as Bruce Springsteen sings, on a sunny day.
Until maybe 20 years ago, I was content in April to make maple syrup, chase trout in the southeast and try to fool lovesick steelhead swimming up the foamy torrents of the Devil Track, the Kadunce, the Baptism, the Cross or other North Shore rivers.
Then one day Ron Schara, the retired Star Tribune outdoors columnist who recently published a book of his musings, "Ron Schara's Minnesota, Mostly True Tales of a Life Outdoors" ($18.95, paperback. Minnesota Historical Society Press), said I should try turkey hunting in April.
"You might even get one," he said.
So it was a couple of decades back that I first traveled to the Black Hills to hunt turkeys with Ron, an effort that ended successfully.
Except for the medical bills.
"What happened to you?"
This was our first morning. We were near Custer, S.D., and Ron had heard a report from my shotgun.
Finding me surrounded by ponderosa pines whose long shadows suggested the day was only an hour or two old, he peered first at the dead tom that lay at my feet, then at me.
"You mean the blood?" I said.
"Yes, the blood."
I had arrived at the Turkey Track Club, a hunting camp Ron and some of his buddies own outside of Rapid City, late the night before, and Ron had asked whether I had sighted in my shotgun with turkey loads.
"I can hit a turkey," I said.
"Maybe, maybe not," Ron said. "Many shotguns don't shoot straight. Use my gun instead. It's got a scope."
Ron had hunted turkeys since 1967, when, fresh out of college, he worked for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department editing its magazine, "Conservation Digest." So perhaps, I thought, I should take his advice.
I was recalling all of this the other day just north of the Twin Cities while waiting for a turkey in a turkey blind.
I recalled also telling Ron how I had bloodied my face.
"You were calling from somewhere behind me, as you said you would, trying to draw a tom to me," I said. "Then, at dawn, a tom flew down from his roost, along with a dozen or so hens. No matter how much you called, the tom wouldn't come close enough for a shot.
"So I crawled on my belly in short grass to get closer to the tom, and when I got within 35 yards, I put your gun out ahead of me, laid my head on the stock, lined up the tom with the cross hairs of the scope and pulled the trigger. That's when the gun's recoil sent the scope back into the bridge of my nose. I've been bleeding ever since."
I've also been hunting turkeys in Minnesota nearly every year since, thanks in part to Ron, Bob Nybo of Red Wing and many others.
"When I discovered the joy of hunting wild turkeys," Ron writes in the introduction to his book, "my life was forever changed. I was inspired to start the first Minnesota chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and become its first president. We led the effort to restore wild turkeys in Minnesota."
Reflecting the interests and passions of many Minnesotans, Ron's collected columns chronicle days well spent fishing and hunting over four decades, as well as well attempts to conserve Minnesota's natural resources.
Known less prominently in the past 20 years as a newspaper guy than as host of his "Minnesota Bound" television show, Ron, in a long career at the Tribune and, later, at the Star Tribune, nevertheless helped elevate Minnesota outdoor writing from the sometimes informative but frequently mundane hook-and-bullet scribbling of yesteryear.
"Larry Batson was sports editor when I got hired at the Tribune," Ron recalled the other day. "During my interview, he took me to lunch at the Little Wagon, the local watering hole for Star Tribune staffers. He ordered a cocktail, so I said, 'What the heck,' and I ordered one, too. I thought it was odd that Larry didn't ask me many questions, but the bartender talked to me a lot about hunting and fishing. I later found out that because neither Batson nor anyone else in the Tribune knew anything about the outdoors, Batson asked the bartender to check me out."
Toward the end of his book, in a column titled "Writing my own writing obit," Schara pens, "I wondered if reviewing one's past work, one's contributions to the written word, was a good thing to do. ... I wanted to avoid any melancholy or sadness because, frankly, those writing years were the best moments of my life — even if I didn't know it at the time."
The other morning, just north of the Twin Cities, after three hours of turkey hunting, I pulled the plug.
I hadn't seen one tom.
The good news was, I hadn't bloodied my face, either.
I'd be back.