Photo by Lloyd K. Pruet
“Don’t move, Jerry. I see one.”
Dad was standing on the side of the two-track eye deep in his binocular. I was sitting in the middle of our single cab pickup’s bench seat, scanning the field edge for a tail fan. Jerry wasn’t listening. Next thing I knew, my head was bouncing off the dashboard. Jerry had thrown the seat forward to get to his shotgun behind it. That bird was long gone by the time I got the imprint of the air conditioner vent rubbed off the bridge of my nose. And I had still never seen a turkey in the wild.
Dad and I’d been hunting turkeys for a couple of years. Or at least that’s what we told people we’d been doing. As I said, we’d yet to see a bird. We tried so hard. We scouted. We brushed in blinds. We called. Oh boy, did we call. Box calls. Slate calls. We even sent off for an audio recording of what was billed as a ‘wild turkey jamboree.’ The idea was that we’d listen to the recording until we could imitate the sounds we heard, but when we slipped the cassette into the tape deck and turned up the volume it sounded like an orchestra warming up with every instrument tuned to a different key. I couldn’t imagine hearing anything like that in the woods we hunted. And I certainly couldn’t imagine those noises bringing a bird within gun range.
The time we did spend in the turkey woods was never wasted, though. No time spent in the outdoors ever is. We’d usually come home with a shed antler or an abandoned turtle shell, and sometimes there’d be a stringer of sunfish or a mess of morels to chase away the disappointment of another empty afternoon afield. But the birds continued to elude us. Right up until the moment dad hatched a plan.
We’d bring in a ringer. Paul was a colleague of dad’s that just so happened to speak fluent yelp and cluck. He’d killed scores of birds. Turkeys feared his name. But a morning hunting with Paul ended the same way a hundred mornings hunting without Paul ended. We hadn’t heard a single gobble. We were walking back to the truck, hanging our heads and licking our wounds, when we heard something behind us. Two toms crossed the road, running and then launching themselves into the air, their wings beating the breeze like it owed them money. They couldn’t have been twenty or thirty yards away, and Paul and dad filled the sky with #5s, but I never so much as shouldered my shotgun. When dad asked me why I didn’t shoot, I just shook my head. My first fleeting glimpse of a wild turkey had completely paralyzed me. Lord help me if I ever saw one up close.
A decade later my new friend Danny asked if I had any interest in killing a turkey. I started to tell him that I’d only ever even seen two tom turkeys in ten years’ worth of hunting, much less killed one, but instead I just nodded my head and graciously accepted his invitation. Everything that could go wrong on a hunt went wrong that morning, and that was before we even got out of the truck. We finally got settled in, though, and just in time, too. The birds Danny had roosted the night before greeted the still rising sun, and I heard at least a dozen different gobblers among the chattering hens. I swear, it sounded for all the world like a wild turkey jamboree.
I got my first close up look at a wild turkey that morning. It didn’t quite paralyze me, but it sure made my heart skip a few beats.
It still does.