Sports editor

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

Watching wildlife is an unparalleled pleasure.

However, it’s an unnerving experience when the shoe is on the other foot.

One morning last week was spent driving slowly through Sahara Woods State Fish and Wildlife Area. For the time being, before an ATV course will be completed, Sahara Woods is a quiet place where deer, turkey and other critters can be observed in almost pure silence.

Inching along a park road, scouring the trees and grasslands, I sensed a presence, an eerie sensation that it was me being watched. It was only after the car came to a complete stop that I saw her.

A doe stood motionless about 10 yards deep in the woods, her gray-tan hide blending perfectly into the background on this overcast morning. Our eyes locked when I looked up. For the next minute or so, the doe stood motionless. She didn’t shift her feet. Her ears never twitched.

After about 30 seconds, I started getting nervous.

“What is going through her mind?” I asked myself. And, I really would like to know. Was there an element of intimidation involved? Did she think her motionless state made her invisible? Or, was she fighting the urge to bolt from the woods and kick in my car door?

Not that I’m particularly proud of this, but eventually I prevailed in this ocular game of chicken. First, she began shifting her feet nervously. Then, she took a timid step or two, looking back over her shoulder nervously.

Finally, she bolted away, disappearing into the woods within two or three strides.

I found it impossible to drive on immediately. It took several seconds to gather my wits. And, I’ve thought of the confrontation several times since then. It is a strange sensation to know nature is studying you.

A turkey hunting trip in Missouri yielded a similar experience several years ago.

I was hunting with guide/friend Keith Enloe. We were hunkered down in a fence row surrounding an open field when a tom gobbled about 150 yards away. Enloe worked the bird masterfully. The gobbles got louder and louder.

Between calls, Enloe told me several times the bird was getting close. Unfortunately, my vision was blocked by the trees in the fencerow. I didn’t see the turkey until it was just a few yards in front of me.

And, when I finally saw the bird, it had locked in on me. I’ve never had anyone stare at me like that — not my parents, not a teacher, not an irate reader. I felt that bird looking into my soul and not caring what he saw.

A few yards away Enloe was hissing, “Take him, take him.”

Fat chance. Any movement on my part would have sent the tom sprinting to safety. At the same time, the turkey was totally unaware of Enloe’s presence.

Finally, Keith jumped to his feet and killed the bird with an amazing hip shot. Which, in the final analysys, is a harsh reminder that it is impolite to stare.

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


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