I’ve heard turkeys gobble at coyotes and car alarms. I’ve seen them strut through school zones and supermarket parking lots. I once stood slack-jawed as a dozen jakes flowed around either side of my pickup like river water around a midstream stone. So it seems like they’d be easy to kill, doesn’t it?
Only those that have never hunted them think so.
I chase the stinking things every spring and at least once a season, I’m the one that winds up looking like the turkey. Don’t get me wrong, I usually bag a bird or two but I always feel like I just kind of lucked into it. And the toll it takes on my body is tremendous. I get up too early and stay up too late. I sweat and I sun burn and I scratch myself raw with chigger bites. My family suffers, too. I neglect the yard and fall asleep at the supper table. And still the blasted birds continue to outsmart me.
Last year that moment came on a sun-soaked, April afternoon. The moon that morning was beet red and clutching a wisp of cloud across its midsection, like a man running through the house in nothing but a towel because he’d forgotten his boxer shorts in the bedroom. I should’ve recognized it for what it so obviously was – an omen, a foretelling of future embarrassment. But I ignored it and plowed on ahead anyway.
I set up that morning under the cover of darkness, believing that the birds would come off of their roost, peck and preen for a minute, and then make a beeline for the tree line, right past my set up. Unfortunately, the flock got their directions mixed up and headed west instead of east. I trailed along behind them, watching to see where they’d cross the fence so I could ambush them after lunch. I ran late that afternoon, though, and walked right in on a big bird strutting in the very field I needed to cross. That stupid turkey wouldn’t respond to a single call. Oh, he strutted and showed off, sure, but he never gobbled. And he certainly never veered my direction. So I veered in his. Or, rather, I army crawled for what felt like miles through goat heads and bovine landmines to plant myself in a spot that the tom evidently had no interest in passing.
I eventually gave up on that bird and crossed the creek to set up where I’d watched the turkeys duck under the fence that morning. I didn’t have much faith in the hunt that late in the game, but I took a seat at the base of a live oak, stuck my decoy in the dirt, and hoped to get lucky.
I made a single sounding call and listened intently for a gobble. When none came, I leaned my head back on the tree trunk and closed my eyes. That’s when I heard a bird drumming. A tom had snuck in silently with a hen. Evidently, the gobblers on this place had taken a vow of silence. But this one made the mistake of falling for the wrong girl. She was obviously looking to ditch him because she headed straight for my decoy and then skedaddled the minute his back was turned. The afternoon silence was broken when my twelve gauge boomed. Never in my life have I felt so frustrated and fortunate to be standing over a turkey.
As I shouldered the bird and started the trek back to the truck, I smiled to myself. “Who’s the turkey now?” I thought. Then I bent over to pull a sticker out of my sock, lost my balance and fell over, landing face first in a fresh cow pie. Who’s the turkey now, indeed?