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Sports editor

Les Winkeler is sports editor and outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan.

It’s time for the annual Winkeler Christmas list.

Several years ago I decided that sharing the blessings of the past year was preferable to a wish list. So once again, here are the things that happened in the past year that were true blessings.

• I’m thankful for the two days spent fishing in the northern woods of Wisconsin. A bonus, old friend Todd Gessner served as my guide. We spent one day chasing walleye and the second targeting smallmouth.

It was fun to reminisce about warm spring days catching crappie on Rend Lake. Oh, and we caught enough walleye for a couple delicious meals.

As an added bonus, we stayed in a cabin on a small lake. There is nothing quite like hearing the lonesome call of a loon the first thing in the morning.

• I’m thankful for the one day spent turkey hunting.

The hunt began spectacularly the evening before. I arrived at our family’s cabin on the Kaskaskia River shortly before sunset. I had enough time to stow my gear inside before building a fire.

As I sat there in the cool evening, taking warmth from the fire, I was able to roost at least five toms. I was certain three of them were on the right side of the river, the other two were questionable.

The next morning it was simply a matter of walking 50 yards south of the cabin and setting up on one of the birds. Within 10 minutes, one of the toms crashed loudly to the ground.

Things were looking good for several minutes. However, a pair of hens appeared to complicate matters.

The tom never came around, but we, a couple cousins and myself, stayed on a couple other birds the rest of the morning. I’m already looking forward to this year’s hunt.

• I’m thankful for being able to experience the solar eclipse. Circumstances beyond my control forced me to leave town Aug. 21. There was only about 95 percent coverage where I viewed the eclipse. It was still one of the most memorable things I’ve ever seen.

• I’m thankful for the quiet time I spend in the woods or around the lake with a camera. Finding birds and animals to photograph now takes up most of my spare time. There is something spiritual about finding that rare bird, or having a deer walk up to you, oblivious of your presence. When the critter’s ears perk up at the sound of the shutter opening and closing, you know you’ve done a good job.

• I’m thankful for happy accidents, those moments you just happen to be at the right place at the right time. That happened at Crab Orchard early last year when I caught several beaver gnawing on trees and building their lodge. That happened just a week or two ago when I stumbled upon several trumpeter swans in Union County. And, it happened at the Henry Barkhausen Wetlands Center last winter when I crossed paths with a bobcat on the hiking trail.

• Finally, I’m thankful for the continued opportunity to tell the stories of Southern Illinois outdoors. May 2018 bring you all incredible outdoor adventures.

LES WINKELER is the outdoors writer for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at les.winkeler@thesouthern.com or call 618-351-5088 / On Twitter @LesWinkeler.

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