Diary of a Mad Turkey Hunter

PICTURES FROM OLD I PHONE 890I do not suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.” Unknown

I come to you traveling on fumes. You know, like when you are out of gas and you hope that the truck will go three more miles after the gas gauge is on “E”. I just came through the door, dropped my duffle bag on the floor, threw two shotguns on the bed, and remembered to put the leftover baloney and turkey breast in the fridge. Physically, I feel like I am in some sort of fog, as if I have either taken too much cold medicine or I am on the brink of complete exhaustion or a nervous breakdown. I hate turkey hunting.

I say that and yet I have just returned from over a two week stint of this madness. Strange, you say. Well, you should be used to me saying strange things by now.

My annual descent into the depths of turkey psychosis started in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The grass is always greener, and I have always loved this state, but I do wish they would change the opening of the season as this makes me start hunting three weeks before our season opens in West Virginia. Don’t even mention Georgia, they start in the latter part of March.

The days in Virginia are just a blur now, but the first was spent with a buddy as I tried to toll up a gobbler for him. The turkey’s response to my calling that morning was the same as that of a door to door salesman trying to entice Eskimos into buying Whirlpool freezers. Think what the noise level might be inside Grant’s Tomb. This was in the exact spot where the morning before sworn witnesses testified they had heard numerous turkeys gobble for hours. I no longer try to explain such phenomena.

Speaking of strange phenomena, (and I was) I witnessed a different kind that week. I was hunting alone one morning, (which I am going back to thinking that this is the best way to hunt), and I happened to call to a turkey that acted like he might want to get together. This gobbler soon arrived at the party but of course came up on my off side. I got a glimpse of him to my left and figured he would surely escape. I was amazed, (as was he) when I was able to get the gun pointed in that direction and end his time on earth. Maybe he was blind in that eye.

The next week was my annual reunion with game warden, turkey hunting pals from Georgia and West Virgina. Believe it or not, this fandango has been going on for thirty seven years. I know, I can’t believe it myself. The planning of this yearly endeavor has somehow reached the proportions of playing the Super Bowl at the World’s Fair during a Rolling Stones concert. Three guesses who gets to put this all together.

We had a wonderful week of good weather, the turkeys were not overly boisterous but we managed to take five gobblers. One member had a little trouble with the sights on his shotgun and actually missed a couple of big gobblers. After several group therapy sessions, a trip to the range and a new screw-in choke, he was fine. Getting right back in the saddle, he shot a big four year old turkey on Friday.

Even though I had to get up at the dismal, evil, hour of 3:30 am every day, it was a very pleasant week chasing the monarch of the woods with old friends. When you are hunting with partners that you have known for better than 30 years you are making new memories while reliving the old ones. Some of the stories never get old; you have heard them all before, you know them by heart, but in this setting you long to hear them one more time.

Wild places on mountain tops we may never see again are revisited, turkeys called in to the gun and turkeys that never answered are rehashed and relived. For six days we live in the past of treasured times in the woods, visit on the back porch with old hunting partners, and anticipate what the sunrise will bring.

I love turkey hunting.


First Hunt of the Season


“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected” Robert Frost

He was coming from some place far away. It was dark, and he couldn’t seem to find the path. Then he was underwater and he kicked and struggled to get to the surface. Just before he broke through he was guided by a strange noise, he had no idea what it was but pulled toward it.

The cheap alarm radio bounced when his hand hit it. The alarm stopped buzzing but a country station blared out a song about beer and a girl sitting on the tailgate of a truck. He turned the radio down but left it on; afraid he would fall back into the abyss of sleep. Pulling himself upright, he put his feet on the floor and thought this might be the hardest thing he would do all day.  Coffee was made in the kitchen wearing only his underwear and socks, the cabin was cold but he thought it might wake him up.

For some reason it seemed to take him forever to get dressed, like he could not decide which camouflage pants to wear or what to put on first. The first cup of coffee finally started to work and he felt some confidence return, he thought he might be able to do this now. Allowing a few minutes to sit and watch the fan on the ceiling go around, he thought about how many mornings he must have done this. Why did it seem so hard now just to get up and go turkey hunting?

Settling for a banana to eat he went out the door with a cup of cold coffee but higher hopes for a good day. Frowning at a stiff wind blowing he threw his vest in the truck hoping everything was in it. He had sorted it out the night before knowing there wouldn’t be time in the morning. Pushing the truck a little too fast going up the mountain, he didn’t want to be late to meet his buddy at the gate. As they chatted on the way to their spot, he sensed some of the old self-doubt returning. . Sometimes other hunters seemed to place a level of confidence in him that he felt unworthy of, it made him feel like a despicable fraud, as if he had deceived a small child.

Stumbling through the darkness to the listening post did nothing to boost his confidence or raise his spirits. The branches of small saplings tore at his arms; he didn’t remember them being so unfriendly. When they finally gained the ridge he was relieved to see that his buddy was as out of breath as he was. Pulling out the owl call he apologized for using it. He had always prided himself in hooting with his voice to make a turkey gobble.  Now he said he just didn’t seem to have the wind. Twice they stopped to sit and call and during this time they talked about a little bit of everything. His buddy seemed to want talk, so he joined in. After a while he realized that he wanted to talk as well.

Long past sunrise they stopped at the last listening place before they would leave the ridge. When he hooted the turkey gobbled 400 yards due east from where they stood, he signaled to his friend, and they were off. He knew almost exactly where they should sit. Knowing his friend would offer no opinion, he asked him anyway. His buddy wouldn’t suggest anything so he sat about fifteen yards behind him and called. The turkey answered his second call but then didn’t gobble for another 30 minutes, and he didn’t seem to have moved much.

Knowing this could take all morning, he decided to use one of his old tactics, get comfortable and take a nap. He hoped his friend would stay alert, but he was too far away for a whisper.  He was dreaming about hunting with his son when he realized there was a turkey drumming nearby. Glancing at his partner, he saw that the barrel of the shotgun had been shifted to the left. A few minutes later the top of the gobblers fan come into view. From his position, he knew he could see it but his buddy could not. The turkey let out an earth shaking gobble and he stifled a laugh as he watched his buddy’s gun barrel move in a little nervous circle.

The sun was warm on his shoulders and even with the turkey this close he thought he could doze again. He knew this turkey may or may not step into view, and while he hoped it would so for his buddy, the old do or die urgency was not there. It was a good day, he could still walk up the mountain and he was pretty sure he would be able to get out of bed in the morning.


“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it” Margret Thatcher



    So by now you think that you are getting a little tired, the Spring Gobbler Season has been in for seventeen days and you are actually thinking about quitting. So what if you fell asleep at work for the third time this week and then you pulled into your driveway and couldn’t remember where you were? Now my turkey huntin’ brother I am going to be a little hard on you, but this is for your own good. You have only hunted seven days since season opened and you are ready to sleep in and then get up and watch Dr. Phil, shame, shame.  


    Is your memory so short? Is your faith so small? Can you not remember the immense girth of your optimism before the season? You lived in a haze of turkey land, you dreamed about huge gobblers with spurs like daggers and a gobble so loud that it blew your hat off. You actually dreamed about turkeys more than you did about Raylan’s ex-wife on “Justified”. You spent hours (just ask your wife or girlfriend) practicing your calling and going over your equipment. Is everything ready in your vest? Do I need another call? How about gloves? You may even have went all the way this year and bought a new shotgun!


    And now just because you spooked a turkey on the opener, one you should have had, and haven’t worked a turkey since and the boys at the barber shop are telling you “they’ve quit”. You are ready to go home with your tail tucked. This isn’t how we do things, my brother in camo that is not how you were raised. OK, here is what we are going to.


    If you need to take a day off and rest, go ahead. This will give you energy for the campaign ahead. Take those camo clothes that have not seen soap and water for two weeks and run them through the washer. Get those boots dried out and wipe that new gun down with a little Hoppes. Go through that vest and clean it out, remove all sticks, leaves, and Little Debbie wrappers. Organize everything and have it ready to go for a new day (don’t forget to load up with fresh Little Debbie cakes.) While you are at it, shovel that truck out. More wrappers, Skoal and Diet Coke cans and about a dozen empty water bottles, out they go! Now, one more thing, take a fresh shotgun shell, not one you have loaded and unloaded twenty times, out of the box and put it in your vest. When you go to load up tomorrow morning, put that new, fresh shell in the chamber.


    Alright! Are you starting to feel better already? Things are not so bad after all, just wait till you get out there and face those turkeys this time! You are now going to be a more seasoned, wizened, hunter. All the easy turkeys are gone, now it’s you and the wise ol’ gobblers that are left. (Who will be no match for your predator like cunning.) When you get on a turkey that is gobbling, (and you will), take it easy, just a few little yelps and clucks, he heard all that supersonic calling the first two weeks. Play it cool.


    I think you are about ready; almost everyone goes through this sometime in their turkey slaying career. You just needed a little guidance and a swift kick in the seat cushion of your vest. Now get out there and do what turkey hunters do, pursue those longbeards to the ends of the earth. No thanks are necessary now; you can thank me when you put a bead on that red head in a couple days. I really didn’t want you to sleep in. You never cared for Doctor Phil anyway.





Turkeys, Coffee, and Sleep Deprivation


    Do you really think that having eight hours of sleep every night is necessary? Don’t you figure some scientist somewhere doing a study tells us this because it sounds good and maybe he is working on the side for Mattress Company? Yeah, that’s what I thought too, the people telling us this are definitely not turkey hunters.

    All my brothers in camo out there know that we and are in the middle of Spring Gobbler Season and that means little or no sleep. Your humble scribe is writing this to you from turkey camp, sleep is almost a nonexistent commodity and I am doing just fine. Again, I think the necessity for a lot of sleep is highly over rated. Now what was I telling you about again?……. O yeah, turkey camp.

    Most days in turkey camp start the same way, you get up at some evil, chilling hour, and the feeling in your head is reminiscent of that time you had the flu and you took way too much cold medicine-fuzzy. You stumble through the cabin to get the remedy, the only relief known that will help your fuzz infested brain-coffee! No one knows how the Indians hunted turkeys before they had coffee, I have read about several studies on this, but the results seem to be inconclusive. They may have had a substitute for coffee, maybe some tree or root that they boiled to get a coffee like substance, kind of like the newer turkey hunters today that drink Mountain Dew.

    The need for coffee during Spring Turkey season cannot be overemphasized, I would much rather forget the shotgun than the coffee. Most of the time I don’t need the shotgun anyway.  After stoking up on several cups of coffee that some of my buddies claim that I have made too strong (again). I run out the door after stuffing several Little Debbie Cakes and an apple in my vest (have to eat healthy, you know.)

    I am now driving in the predawn darkness, (only slightly above the speed limit) arguing with my buddy about where we should go and having maybe my eighth cup of coffee. I know that is not much but it will have to do me as the guy I am with will invariably forget the thermos we filled up back at camp. We pull into the hunting spot that he wanted to go to. I argued with him because I knew we would not hear one turkey gobble at this place. I have a terrible habit of always being right about this, (it’s a gift). My friend has his shotgun, vest, all his other goodies and is gone into the darkness. I am still looking for that other glove, my shells, one certain turkey call, and the rest of the Debbie Cakes.

    I now locate my buddy going up a steep incline as we must gain elevation to listen for the raucous call of the gobblers, (but we won’t hear any here, remember?) When we reach the top I walk away from him so he can’t hear me as I gasp for breath, about the time I regain my breathing I inhale a gnat that seems to be roughly the size of a quail. This induces only a short coughing and gagging episode and my former buddy actually laughs out loud only once.

    Now as we stand and listen to the entire woodland world wake up, the best part of the day, I start to feel the need for more coffee. It has been roughly twenty minutes since I finished my last cup, but the fuzziness is coming back, trying to carry me away to another place, a place where I can sleep, and dream. Wait, what’s that? My former buddy is motioning to me frantically, implying that he is hearing a turkey gobbling; he is starting tolook kind of fuzzy around the edges, why didn’t he bring that thermos!     










    The hunter eased the truck door shut and shoved three shotgun shells into his pocket. Loading up would come a little later and he hoped that he would not forget. The pale glow was starting in the east but there was lots of time. Walking out the road in the dark a small bird went by his head like a guided missile and he barely flinched, like he was expecting it.


    “Hey boy, you better stop and put some shells in that ol’ gun a ’fore you forgit.” As with the bird, he didn’t flinch at the voice, as if expecting it. Even in the dark he had no trouble loading, he could do it blindfolded, something he had been taught early. Nearing the first place to listen, he was still early; not even a cardinal had called yet.


    He fumbled for the owl call in his vest. “Now boy jest be patient and wait a bit, ain’t nothin’ wrong with hootin’ like an owl, but sometimes hit’s better to jest let them ol’ gobblers wake up on their own.” He knew it was true; he always wanted to hurry the thing along. “Jest sit quiet boy, let the world wake up on its own.” Watching the pale grow, he calmed himself and strained his ears to listen.


    The first turkey gobbled about where he thought it might. He had tramped this place with the old man since he was a kid. “When that turkey is still on the roost, you git over there on him as quick as you can.” “You don’t have to run, but git rite in there as close as you can without spookin’ him.” He hurried to his rendezvous with this gobbler.


    To his surprise there were several trees that suited him for a calling position. “You get back up agin the biggest ol’ tree you kin find.” He heard the old man say. “Helps hide you, and might keep some fool from shootin’ you from behind.” He nestled into the tree and started getting the mouth calls ready. The turkey gobbled just enough to let him know he was there and had not been spooked. Now he heard a bonus, there were two!


    “Now boy, don’t you call too much when that turkey is on the roost, I know hits temptin’, jest give him a couple little calls, he knows where you at.” The turkey did not answer his first call, and his heart sank a little. A few minutes later on the second call, the gobbler rattled back. He chewed on the edge of the call and fought the urge to answer every time the turkey shouted. He was not surprised to hear a hen start calling.


    “When all his girlfriends is around, there ain’t much you can do.” “Jest sit still and wait it out, what you are a hoping is that they will sneak off from him and he will find himself all alone.” He couldn’t tell what happened to the hen, but a gobbler started raising Cain under the hill, this turkey was coming.


    “Boy, you git that gun pointed in the right direction when the turkey is a headin’ your way’” “You have it up on your knee and be ready; you don’t have it on the ground, leanin’ agin a tree or any of that.” The old man went on. “If’n you ain’t got that gun ready when he comes in sight, you ain’t gonna have no turkey breast that evenin’.”


    Now of all times, with his heart pounding as he squinted down the rib of the old man’s double barrel, the years came flooding back on him. Memories of the man who was the reason he was here this morning, doing what he loved. He thought of when he was a little kid. What seemed to be a giant of a man had first taken him to the woods. A big, rough hand held his and showed him everything from turkey tracks to morel mushrooms. Years later, life, and all that goes with it had taken him away from this place and the old man.


    When he finally returned, he saw through hot, wet tears that the old man was on the porch, confined to his rocker. Somehow he was frail and much smaller than he remembered. Thankfully, his old teacher could still speak and had plenty left to tell him. “You just remember what I’ve taught you boy.” The old man rumbled one fall day. “You see that you listen to me after I’m gone.”


    When he caught the first glimpse of the gobbler’s fan coming up the hill, the ivory bead of the old double was pointed directly at it. He had picked out a white oak that marked forty yards. All he need do was caress the trigger and wait. “I’m listenin’ Granddad” he said, “I’m listenin’”.






Immerse Yourself In The Hunt



“Go afield with a good attitude, with respect for the wildlife you hunt and for the forest and fields in which you walk. Immerse yourself in the outdoor experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person.”-Fred Bear


    He grabbed a sapling as he struggled a little to get up; seventy six winters took some toll. He had just put the shotgun over his shoulder and was fixing to start up the hill when the turkey gobbled. He allowed himself a momentary grin, for almost two hours he had been sitting here waiting for the old sinner to say something. Now, just as he was leaving, the gobbler decides to speak up. The hunter pulled down on the brim of his weather beaten hat and peered in the direction of the turkey. He was planning his next move while picturing what the bird was doing. One more grin as he started out the deer path. This move would work, or it would not. He cared not a whit; the fun was in being here this day! He was here in the spring woods with the cardinals yapping, redbuds blooming, the creek in fine voice, and the rest of the world seeming to come alive after the long winter.   

    We all must have our own reasons for going to the woods or the creeks and the rivers. We go because of tradition, or we go because we like to eat the fish and game that we bring home, at times I wonder if some of us really know why we are out there. It would seem that we are living in a world that is going nowhere at ninety miles an hour. We are not sure what we want to do, but we have to do it as fast as we can. If anything takes more than a few minutes, it is not worth the time and we have to move on to something else. Whew!

    Fred Bear (the father of modern bow hunting) is trying to tell us something in that quote. Besides the fact that we must have respect for the game that we hunt, and the woods where it lives, he is telling that us that we have the natural world as an immense gift. A God given gift for us to enjoy, revel in, and pass on to the next generation. In that gift he is saying we can “cleanse our soul”, to me that also means “rest” our soul. In the solitude of the turkey woods or a trout stream we can rest our souls while we cleanse it from all the stress and static of what too many of us just think of as life anymore.

    My brothers in camo, I want you to think about this. Too many of us live with a self-imposed burden. We think that we must bring home a deer or turkey or a stringer of fish for this trip to be “successful.” What are you doing while you are only thinking of this? Are you living in the day? Did you notice how nice it was in the woods today? Did you pause as the boat glides down the river and you can lean over and watch the motion picture of the bottom as it goes by? How about just enjoying a day with friends or family in the outdoors? There is no prerequisite that you must bring home fish or game to enjoy these days.

    Hat pulled low, the double barrel on his knee; he sent three soft yelps down the hollow, an invitation. All creation held its breath for a second, the cardinals and towhees stopped as did the spring peepers. Just when he thought it was futile, and he would hear no more from this turkey, there came an indignant gobble, then another. One more quick grin, this turkey might come up here, and he just as well might not. It did not matter, there was nowhere else on the green earth that he would rather be.