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Hoosier Daddy

6/25/2009

FRIENDSHIP, Ind. — The soreness and fatigue in my muscles disappeared with the first volley of flintlocks followed by the low thrum of drums and trilling fife wafting through the gentle hills.

Maybe a mile away, the Voyager Ancient Fife & Drum Corps from Indiana performed its long-forgotten music for visitors at the annual Lore of the Laughery event at the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association headquarters. Each year in this tiny community by Laughery Creek — pop.,about 65 — a re-enactment festival is held featuring glimpses of life from the 1840s gathered at the association's campground.

Mentally, I was transported to Revolutionary times with my camo becoming a mélange of ordinary early American clothing. The shotgun wasn't much older than those times — a side-by-side, upland double hammer blackpowder gun, stamped with "David Lloyd, Leominster" and believed to have been made in the 1830s or 1840s. I stopped climbing to listen to the drums and fife, imagining Redcoats marching along suspecting nothing from their bane, the hearty Americans who founded our country.

Early mornings during Indiana's three-week turkey season offer a resounding drumbeat of a different sort as well. Eastern turkeys sound off in the hills and hollers, strutting grandly in one of the Hoosier state's most populated areas. The southern portion of the most of the state's estimated 120,000 or so birds, and the southeast corner along the Ohio is rife with them.

Fortunately, the state conservation bosses deem one bird a season to be enough lest the slightly growing but still fragile population be harmed. The season has been open for 39 years but the numbers just never have exploded. Unlike other states with three or even five birds allowed per season, one gives hunters enough opportunity to enjoy the chase. About 37,000 were killed from 2006-08.

Not much there

Fortunately, as well, there aren't any touristy areas or accommodations in southeast Indiana other than a few spots here and there. Madison is one, and I'd recommend visiting the Thomas Family Winery there. There's a hotel or two in Seymour and Lawrenceville, and a few bed and breakfasts here and there.

As for Friendship, you won't find much other than a post office, general store, tavern, auto repair shop and headquarters for Carl Dyer's hand-crafted moccasins. They're big among the re-enactors who bring history to life at events throughout the country.
Arriving late for my hunting trip a few weeks ago, the tavern was the only thing alive with a few folks enjoying the jukebox, a game of pool and cold beverages. There may be more turkeys than people in the town. Considering we heard about 15 gobblers the first morning, that might be a fair guess.

"I've been coming down here for about 30 years," said Steve Swallow, who lives in an Indianapolis suburb and was one of our hosts, and camp chef, at the NMLRA gathering hall during our hunt. "I just like it down here. It's quiet, relaxing and I get to visit with old friends. Plus, we shoot cool guns. How great is that?"

Southeast Indiana is studded with verdant hills and valleys covered with hardwoods and laced with clear creeks. Smallmouth bass thrive in them, with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources designating several specific areas as top bronzeback streams. The woods are lush and, quite refreshingly, dotted with a wide variety of small wildflowers that add a dash of color.

Plenty of turkeys

There is no shortage of turkeys in southern Indiana, either, especially in the counties along the Ohio River to the east. The bountiful habitat, careful management and light hunting pressure helps ensure the population's continued growth.

Our hunting party consisted of Pennsylvanians Kermit Henning and Corey Brossman, who host television and Internet outdoors shows, and longtime writer Dave Erhig of Pennsylvania. Our first night in camp, we checked an older aerial photograph of the property, established our hunting areas and hit the racks.

Before daybreak the first morning, Henning and Ehrig teamed up in a ground blind where a giant gobbler had been seen strutting for several weeks with his harem. Brossman and his videographer, Kyle Morgan, headed south to a wooded point where five ridges met in a beautiful setting, while I eased up a small creek and heard three gobblers that didn't want to play.

Brossman was amped upon their return, citing the rumbling gobble of a turkey that promptly silenced the seven other birds they heard. Henning and Erhig pinpointed five birds as well at their location, further heightening our anticipation. Lunch didn't last long.

"That bird was a T-Rex, a Gobblersaurus," he said during lunch, earning a dose of good-natured ribbing. The day ended without anything on the lodge pole, but that changed the following afternoon when Henning smoked a monster gobbler. The old boss had an 11-inch beard, spurs pushing 1½ inches and weighed 24 pounds.

"I thought I was going to have a heart attack," Henning said. "That was the most exciting thing I've ever done."

It was less than two hours after Henning dispatching the first bird, and therefore earned his National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association "Longhunter" turkey pin signifying the feat with a muzzleloader, that a second gobbler emerged in the same area to take over as the boss bird. We watched through binoculars as he strutted and fed, contented in knowing he was in charge.

His reign as the gobbler king was short-lived, for Brossman put the hammer down in a cloud of smoke the following morning with the 10-gauge percussion shotgun. Employing a blind as well for video footage, after a follow-up shot Brossman was so excited he squeezed through the narrow window and took down the entire blind to chase down his bird — all of it hilariously captured on video. Brossman's bird was 22 pounds with a 10.5 inch beard and 7/8 inch spurs.

There would be no Longhunter pin for me, despite two extra days afield. Hens yelped and gobblers sounded off only once, most possibly on the roost to notify their girlfriends. The ridge confluence where Brossman heard his rumbling "TurkeyRex" gobbler fell silent from morning through the afternoons. Even the open pasture I lounged in expecting birds to visit and dry out from an early morning rain remained empty.

But I know they're there, in good numbers, and Indiana has a short autumn season as well. October may find me in the woods again, pursuing a Hoosier gobbler with a smokepole and possibles bag filled with necessities and anticipation.