MAY 7, 2018
I worked him for three hours on 5-6-18 but he would not come down the Mountain. He stayed on the other side of the fence, forbidden fruit, teasing and tempting me.
All that night the Devil whispered in my ear: “Go ahead, cross the fence in the morning. No one will ever know. You can lie about it later! It will be easy!”
My better angels won the fight. This morning I parked below the metal gate and turned my back on his roost from the morning before. A No-turkey is better than a cheat-turkey. I will be a better man for it. No bird is worth your dignity.
Faith. Easy to have when there is no test. I am unshakeable. A rock.
There are three roads up through the patch of woods above the Johnson Cabin, headed to the metal gate. Just before shooting light, while gathering my things, head stuck in the open door of the car, I hear a gobble but cannot place it. Maybe in the swamp? Not far, perhaps 300 or 400 yards. But that is it, just one gobble. Damn.
I ease down the middle road, to the intersection with the road that runs nearest the Johnson boundary fence. Here is my spot, and just down the middle road another 25 yards, just on the shoulder, I place two decoys, a jake behind a hen (I call her ‘Suzie’). I sit beside the intersection, the decoys off my right shoulder, me looking down the low road, with the food plots through the woods up to my left and behind me. It gets light. I am embarrassed by the decoys. But, that’s just me.
The sun rises. The crows wake up the world. Still, no gobbling. Songbirds everywhere. Woodpeckers abundant and hungry. Whip-poor-wills. No wind, clear sky. A perfect morning.
I call lightly, sparingly, with both the box and the slate, maybe three times in the space of an hour. After the last call, an answer, in the food plot up to my left. I cackle and cutt, and he answers, and I’ll be damned, back to my right, over the ridge toward the swamp and below me, another gobble, faint and sounds like down in the bottom. I yelp fairly loudly and am immediately honored by both birds. It is 7:35 AM. We are in the game.
I stand pat for 20 minutes. Silence. I gobble on the box, once again both birds answer, the food plot bird still in his same place, but the swamp bird is closer now, it sounds like he may be coming around the hill below me, down to my right. I watch the decoys and down the road beyond them, with a bit more interest.
I wait five extra minutes, then I cluck twice with the box and I get blasted with a gobble from down the middle road just out of sight at about 80 yards. I quickly yelp a 5-note and he cuts me off. Box down, gun up, hammer cocked. Here we go.
A turkey comes walking up the road toward the decoys, purposeful, deliberate. It is a hen. She walks right up to Suzie the decoy and pecks her right between the eyes. Suzie is unimpressed. The hen is indignant. She clucks and purrs loudly, the picture of a pissed-off turkey, and behind her, down the road out of sight, a roaring gobble. Breathe, Walt. Remember to breathe. Damn old eyes…parenthetically, I am no longer embarrassed by the decoys. They are beautiful things.
The hen mingles with the decoys, as if she is deciding which one to eat. She starts to pick grit between them. Over her, straight down the road I see what looks like a tractor tire strut boldly across the road, right to left, at about 75 yards. Breathe Walt. Slow down, be deliberate. A cold calm comes over me. For ¼ second. Then a tremble just like the first time that I saw this play, so long, long ago. Just breathe Walt. Slow; measured. In; Out.
He disappears behind the trees on the left margin of the road, but occasionally over the next 10 minutes I can see parts of him, his fan, part of his chest, a glimpse of the red and white head, but no closer. The hen seems content to stay right in the decoys. She has taken an interest in the jake, almost presenting herself to him on two occasions, squatting in front of him like a clumsy curtsy. Slattern, I think to myself. Come to the party with one dude, leave with another. Slut.
I can see all of this in the frame all at once; another 5 minutes passes. The hen flirts, the boss struts, I tremble. I can’t move, can’t call. God is teaching me how to turkey hunt. Breathe, Walt. Just breathe.
The hen looks over her shoulder down the road and I swear to all that is holy, she sings to the gobbler, a sound I heard Jim Fielder make on his box call 40 years ago, but have not heard a live hen make until this moment. The gobbler double gobbles. I see him sidestep a 30-inch cherry and take a few steps my way, almost trotting, only seeing parts of him between the trees separating us. He will not get into the road, choosing to stay on the lower margin. He pulls up between two big hickories, I can see a thin central slice of chest, his waddles and upstretched neck and white head, and the tips of his fan on both sides. Suddenly he straightens up; he sees something he doesn’t like. His white head goes red. The bead and his head are the same size; shoot it for 50 yards I think. I have a steady hold, beautiful, slow pressure on the trigger and the shotgun barrel roars.
The hen flushes like a Polaris missile, the two gobblers in the food plot gobble, and I am a steeplechase racehorse, vaulting down limbs and rocks as I streak to the flopping tom. I catch up with him (he’s dead, he just doesn’t know it) and give him my right heel, down on his head. In a few seconds he relaxes and I take a breath. Wow.
That was number 78, on the 7th of May, 2018.
20 pounds, 2 ounces; 11 inch beard; spurs just a hair shy of 1 1/4 inches.
Breathe Walt; just breathe.