lake Nebagamon, Wis. -- If you checked Becky Magdzas' to-do list for the past week or so, you might have found the following items:
1. Shoot a wild turkey
2. Have a baby by cesarean section
Which is why the Lake Nebagamon woman, in an effort to accomplish the first task on her list, was standing in the dark along a Douglas County road on the morning of April 23.
Her partner, Eric Gucinski, had just shattered the coming dawn with a single blast on his crow call. He was trying to get a gobbler to sound off and give its location away.
It worked. A shrill gobble rattled through the barrens on this 26-degree morning. Gucinski pointed in one direction, indicating where he thought the gobbler was. Magdzas pointed about 150 degrees in another direction. They smiled. This happens.
Then they hopped back in their car to go set up near the gobbler. Sitting in the car seat, biding his time, was their son, Easton, 4. Easton comes along on most turkey hunts, decked out in his miniature camouflage bibs, his camouflage fleece jacket and his camouflage-painted face. The kid hasn't been to kindergarten yet, and he's already had a graduate-level education in turkey hunting.
The couple, with Easton riding on Gucinski's shoulders, walked down a sand road into a Norway pine plantation. It's a little tougher walking when you're 38 weeks pregnant, Magdzas said, but that's not the hardest part.
"The hardest thing is putting my boots on and tying them," she says. "I triple-knotted them so I wouldn't have to do it again."
Rolling with it
What you come to find out about the Gucinski-Magdzas partnership, now 12 years in the works, is that these folks don't get worked up about working full-time and turkey hunting and getting Easton to day care and driving to Florida and back, as they had just a week earlier. They just make it all work.
Magdzas has shot several turkeys in her seven years as a turkey hunter. Yes, she said, it's a little harder turkey hunting at 38 weeks of gestation than at zero weeks, but it was April, and Magdzas had drawn a permit, and turkey hunting is sort of a big deal in this family. She had gotten the go-ahead from her pediatrician.
Easton had been born by cesarean section after a difficult labor, and this coming child was scheduled for delivery on April 30. The only question, really, was whether he or she would emerge wearing camouflage or not.
Now Magdzas was easing herself into shooting position beneath a pine. Gucinski was set up a few yards behind her under another pine, with Easton scrunched between his legs. Gucinski started calling, softly at first, using a diaphragm call to imitate the contented yelps of a hen turkey.
Gucinski, who didn't draw a permit this spring, has been hunting turkeys since 1997. There may be better turkey callers around, but you'd have to work hard to find one. A friend calls him "the turkey whisperer." Gucinski yelped with the mouth call for a while, then pulled a slate call from his vest and began using both calls at once. Now he was a whole gaggle of hens just poking through the woods, scratching for acorns, letting the boss gobbler know where he could find them if he were interested.
But this gobbler, wherever he was, was too cold to care. The post-dawn temperature had dropped to 18 degrees.
"No wonder they're not gobbling," Magdzas said.
The family stayed only 15 minutes at that first spot. That's their style. If they don't get a gobbler response quickly, they move on. They might scout several locations by car and sit at six or eight spots in a morning, trying to get near a gobbler.
Gucinski threw Easton on his shoulders again, and they moved to a second spot. Another 15 minutes. Another no-go gobbler.
"Where to next, Turkey Whisperer?" Magdzas said to Gucinski.
Plenty of sign
"You can see tracks all along the side of the roads," Gucinski said. "This year is the most tracks I've ever seen. Last year, there were hardly any tracks. But, yet, we had a fantastic year of hunting."
Gucinski made seven hunts last year, and he or his hunting partners shot six gobblers.
"For the next few weeks, I'll get random calls asking me to do turkey hunts," Gucinski said.
But the Turkey Whisperer couldn't make the gobblers gobble on this frosty morning at a half-dozen spots.
Leaving one spot, Magdzas walked down a two-track road, her shotgun resting on her shoulder. Easton picked up a stick that resembled a scaled-down shotgun and rested it on his shoulder, walking along beside his mom, the two of them talking quietly.
One more try
There would be no more gobbling that morning. But the following morning, back in the barrens, everything came together. Gucinski's dad, Mike, had come over from Port Wing. In the dawn half-light, the crow call inspired a young gobbler still on the roost to respond.
The crew set up not far away. Gucinski and his dad began issuing some clucks and coos and yelps on their calls. The jake, an immature gobbler, couldn't help himself. He flew down and began working, unseen, toward Magdzas.
"I thought I could hear him walking in the woods," she said. "He gobbled again. I could tell he was getting closer. Then I could hear him spit and drum."
Spitting and drumming is part of a gobbler's display that's part ffffft followed by a resonant thrum.
The jake was coming.
"We were in rows of standing pines," Magdzas said. "When he stepped up, I could see he was in full strut. I knew I had to wait until he was out of his strut. When he came out of his strut and lifted his neck up, I shot."
The bird went down on the spot. Easton gave his mom a high-five.
"He said, 'When I get big, that's the kind of turkey I want to shoot,'" Magdzas said.
She plans to dry the jake's fanned tail and put it in Easton's room.
In the meantime, though, wasn't there something else she needed to do?
Have a baby.