When it All Ends Too Soon

I had spent the day basking in the afterglow of the morning’s success.  Brian and I had taken dozens of pictures, field-dressed birds in the sunshine, eaten celebratory breakfasts, and shared our story several times.  With a bird down for each of us so early in the season, we both agreed that a bit of ‘pressure’ was off our shoulders and we could freestyle some hunts, or even take a morning or two off and sleep in, spend time with our kids, and generally be less compulsive about chasing spring gobblers.

That said, we were still resolved to be hunting the next morning.  I awoke and Tack’s text simply said “Two birds roosted again. Let’s try for a second double” and I needed no further encouragement to rise early.

We drove to a property that was a bit further south than the one we had succeeded at on Friday morning, and once again in the darkest of pre-dawn light we set up decoys before sneaking under a cedar thicket and waiting for the sound of gobbling.  Much like the previous day’s hunt, we waited in the dark silence for what seemed like forever.  As dawn broke we saw a half-dozen or more deer filter into a distant field, and we heard the songbirds wake up around us.

Unlike the previous hunt, however, this time we heard the tom sound off from treetop far behind our setup.  I answered lightly on my mouth call and he cranked a gobble back in response, giving us hope that he would come investigate our little ambush and then take a ride home in the back of the truck.  Of course, not every turkey hunt can be the slam dunk we had the previous day…in fact most turkey hunts aren’t slam dunks.  This time the bird gobbled sporadically before hitting the ground marching away from our position, headed straight north.  We decided to dog the bird a bit and see if we could pinpoint his position, but after a series of slow stalks around the cedar islands that made up the property, it was as though he had just evaporated on the spring sunrise.  We had no choice but to pick up our setup and head on a quick run & gun hunt for a cooperative bird.

As we headed west down a local sideroad, we spied a gobbler the width of 100 acres on a property Tack had hunted several times.  We glassed the bird and seeing he was a good gobbler, we decided to hunt him. A snowmobile trail ran up one side of the property and we could see a hen in the trail, that presumably was holding the tom’s attention.

“I know how we can get to him.” Tack sounded confident.

“We’ll run in from the north and cut through to the hilltop and then try to call him in,” Tack said and since it was as good a plan as we had for the only bird we’d laid eyes on that morning, so we turned around, parked around the corner and started to double-time it out of sight along the field edge.  Coming to a cedar and hardwood thicket that was within 100 yards of the where we last saw the tom, we split up with Tack heading straight at the bird’s position, while I scooted down a cedar rail fence 80 yards to the west, next to the previously mentioned snowmobile trail.

I found a large, broad juniper bush that was high and wide enough to conceal my seated figure, and I sat facing southwest in the ample shadow it cast for a few minutes before crow-calling loudly.  Drawing no response from the bird, I began to do some soft calling on my Woodhaven Ninja-V mouth call.  The wind was increasing to somewhere between a soft breeze and steady gusts, and I half-stood to see if I could scoot down closer to the bottom of the hill.  I spied a hen and that essentially ended any dreams I had of changing my setup.  I texted Tack to see if he was on the bird visually, and he said he could no longer find the tom.  For a while we were at a stalemate as we were pinned down by a hen, but seeking a gobbler that would not answer any calls and had seemingly vanished.

While I sat there, my friend Lucas Hunter texted me to tell me had tagged his second gobbler of the weekend and I flipped him a quick message of congratulations.  I relayed the news to Tack and asked if had seen the gobbler yet, and he said he did have eyes on the bird now, directly in front of him in the field.  I decided it was as good a time as any to break out my crystal friction call and try some loud calling in the hopes that it would pull the bird my way, and hopefully up into range for Brian.

I cranked up some loud yelping and cutting, but still the stubborn bird wouldn’t budge and he was not gobbling at all.  I could only hope to keep calling and see if I could draw him in for a shot.

In between sequences, I looked southwest and was surprised to see, a few hundred yards in the distance, a strutting tom trotting my way. There was a hen with him and for a second I was unsure if I had called in the tom or the hen, but I didn’t care at that point. I messaged Tack that the bird was coming but that it was on the wrong side of the cedar rail fence, before getting my 870 rested on my knee and my left shoulder pointed towards the bird.  He made the cedar rail fence and began walking parallel to my position.  He had run ahead of the hen and was directly perpendicular to my gun barrel when he began to spin on the spot and spit and drum.  The hen yelped lightly and walked past the tom to position to my right; and the gobbler followed her close behind.

I thought on more than one occasion of shooting him through the fence, but there were two factors dissuading me.  First, I was unsure if we had permission on the other side of the rail fence, and second I could only see tom’s head and none of his neck through the slats. A younger version of me might have risked the shot, but part of me knew that if I were patient, he’d either offer an ethical shot or slide off and I’d set up on him again.  For about five minutes the tom strutted and the hen puttered around near him, just agonizingly beyond the fence.  After a while the hen crouched, and the gobbler commenced breeding her, which allowed me to twist into a position more in line with where the birds were.

In time, the gobbler hopped off the hen and went back into strut.  The hen, for her part, shook her feathers off and, to my joy, hopped up onto the cedar rail fence.  I had hoped she would cross at some point and now she was obliging me.  The gobbler, meanwhile, was oblivious that the hen had left him.

He spun in strut and, presumably realizing that his girlfriend had left, craned his head to full periscope.

I could have killed him quite easily at that point, but he was still on the wrong side of the barrier. While I silently pleaded for the hen to move off, she once again did as I had hoped, slowly marching north away from the tom.  The tom now dropped strut completely and himself jumped onto the fence top, which was my cue to slide the safety off on the gun.

He awkwardly tottered on the top of the fence for a moment or two, before hopping and flapping down onto my side, well within range.  He popped into strut and I bore down on the stock, welding my cheek to the comb and focusing the front bead on the base of his ruby-red neck.  I cutt hard on the mouth call, and the bird once again went full periscope and stared straight at me.

For a second, it was as though the bird recognized that he had been had.

I yanked the trigger and the shotgun boomed, but I was in such an adrenaline haze that I barely felt the recoil.  I saw as the bird’s head snapped out of sight, and he flopped limply to the ground, never twitching again.  I went out and put my bootheel on his neck, but that was a mere formality.  I pumped the gun and put it on safe before turning to see Tack walking my way.

One of the quick field-shots right after harvesting my second tom.

We had some high-fives and some photos before tagging the bird and heading out to the truck.  It was just after 9am and my turkey hunting season had lasted all of five hours over two mornings.  I was done; tagged out on the two legal toms that Ontario allows hunters to take in the spring season.  He weighed in just shy of 19 pounds, and sported a paintbrush of a beard, inch-long spurs, and long snood.  It was bittersweet in a way to be done on the opening weekend, but it was two completely different, yet still fantastic hunts, that had brought my season to a close.

Some tools of the trade, and the iridescence of an Ontario spring gobbler in the sunshine.

It was satisfying to know that, for the first time, I had no tags left to fill for a spring.  It was also satisfying to have my friend Lucas Hunter get his first two birds of his fledgling turkey hunting career, and it was great to have hunted the mornings with a friend like Tack, who I’d been hunting with since our early teen years.  We did some running and gunning that afternoon, and very nearly had Tack his second bird of the weekend as well, but as the toms sometimes do, the old gobbler zigged when he was expected to be zagging, and we were left to rue a close call.

Later that night, all the turkey hunters I knew and called friends got together at my cousin Luke’s and we feasted on chicken wings, fried shrimp, French fries, and cold beer.  The stories flowed as freely as the drinks and laughter, and we re-lived the hunts we had all experienced so far in the season.  Successful and unsuccessful hunters alike bonded over tall-tales, food and time spent with friends and family.

I was happy to be done, but it had also ended far too soon for 2017.

Double Trouble

“There are some turkeys right there.” It’s a phrase I say quite often when we are out scouting for turkeys on the Bruce Peninsula. We are fortunate enough to be in an area where a two-hour drive could turn up seven or ten different birds

“Those look like jakes” was the response from the back of the truck.

It was just before 8pm on the Thursday evening of the opening week and I was certainly not above shooting a juvenile turkey for the roasting pan. I’m the kind of hunter who is looking for an experience and wild game for the freezer more than I’m after a dragging beard or giant hooks.

To the southwest, in the distance far against some hardwoods two birds were strutting for a pair of hens. I asked politely for the binoculars, and as I glassed the turkeys in the sunset, one of the birds turned his back to me while strutting, and it was very clear these were not a pair of jakes in the lenses but rather two mature toms.   They glowed a deep bronze in the setting sun while they spun back-and-forth displaying for the girls.

My friend Brian, who we simply call Tack, said he had a good idea where they would be roosted that night, and we drove on in search of additional birds.  Later that evening over some stories and some beers, eight excited hunters devised plans for the coming morning.

My brother and my cousin Luke were going to head north and hunt a spot I had previously failed from last season. My friend Lucas Hunter and my cousin Dane were going to hunt a spot adjacent to the family farm that held a nice gobbler. Neither my uncle nor my good friend Justin were entirely certain that they were going to get out at all. Tack looked at me and said “We’ll go after those two toms and see if we can’t get a double”.  I said we should do exactly that and derisive, but good-natured, jeers rang out.  No one believed we’d be able to get one tom, let alone both, especially if they were roosted with the hens.

Banter and stories continued into the evening and Tack and I agreed on a 4:45am start.  The 4am alarm rang too soon.

I stepped into the kitchen to find Tack waiting, and we threw our guns, vests, and decoys into the back of the truck.  We formulated a plan as we rolled down the gravel lane at the farm.

“If both come in, is it 1-2-shoot, or 1-2-3-shoot?” I asked.

“1-2-shoot.”

“Okay, guy on the left gets the left bird and guy on the right gets the right bird?”

Nodding, Tack said “Sounds like a plan.”  Now we just needed cooperative birds.

The spot we were setting up was a five-minute drive up the road and as we headed there I made a mental note to myself of how dark it was going to be when we made our way in.  Seeing the birds in the trees from the distance was not going to be an option. We parked in a nearby corral and saddled up.  By Tack’s headlamp we made it to the field edge before going dark and walking the last 300 yards in the gloom of an April pre-dawn.  We stopped where we had last seen the birds and in hushed tones decided that a small island of six or seven hardwoods would be our spot.  If the birds had moved east after we left them, we’d hopefully hear them and get set before they flew down.  If they had gone further west before roosting, we’d be facing their approach.  In the dark we set three Avian-X hens and one HS Strut Jake Snood decoy at twenty steps, before slipping up against two trees.  I checked my watch and it was 5:25am.

We sat silently in the dark for a few minutes before I heard Tack hiss my name.

“Shawn?”

I turned my head.

“There’s an animal right there.”

I had a mild rush of adrenaline at the murky silhouette just five steps away and in my heart of hearts I would have been fine if it was a coyote, or a deer, or even a lion at that moment.  So long as it wasn’t a skunk.  As it turns out it was a husky old raccoon, and he made his way up a nearby tree after eyeing us in the dark for a few more minutes.

I calmed down and waited for a hen to murmur a morning greeting or a crow to fire off and draw a shock gobble from the toms.  But all that stirred were some spring peepers in a low marshy spot nearby and a steady but not altogether hard wind from the west.  What I noticed first as the dawn slipped slowly forward was that the decoys seemed quite close.

So yeah, that ‘twenty steps’ we had put the decoys at?  It was more like twelve or fifteen steps in the dim but inevitable light of day.

In the dark, I had resolved not to call a single note until I either heard a hen yelp or a tom light up with a gobble.  That was a particularly tough resolution for me as I really enjoy hearing myself make turkey noises, but I persevered.  I was passing my Woodhaven mouth call from cheek to cheek and strongly considering breaking my resolution when I saw a black shape on the ground go from narrow to wide.

It was a gobbler on the ground, and he was popping in and out of strut.  Neither Tack nor I had seen him fly down, and he had not made a peep on the limb.

“Tack, turkey right in front of us…” I whispered and as I did so another bird flew down a mere 70 yards from us.  Our silent sneak in under cover of darkness had put us close to the roost.  Way too close if you trust conventional turkey wisdom. In short order two hens and two longbeards were sixty yards from our gun barrels, milling about just out of range.  One gobbler stayed in strut the whole time while the other puttered around near the hens.

Tack and I both shoot right handed and he was about four feet to my right side, so as the hens began to slide to my left I grew worried that he would not be able to safely get a shot.  I had my longstanding 870 rested on my left knee, but I was going to have to shift slightly to have a shot myself.  At first the birds had shown only mild interest in our setup but then something changed.

As the four birds began to skirt the outside edge of our effective range, the strutting tom raised his head to full periscope and eyeballed the jake decoy intently. Both Tack and I saw the big longbeard’s head turn a bright white, and as he popped back into strut he began to do what Tack called the ‘dinosaur walk’ into the setup.  A crow barked and the big tom rattled off a gobble. It was the only sound we’d heard him make.

As he marched toward our gun barrels, the second bird popped into strut and began to do what I call the ‘death run’ trying to catch up.  They had one thing on their mind and that was to beat up the interloping jake moving in on ‘their girls’.

The birds strutted shoulder to shoulder, spitting and drumming as they approached the fake jake, and both their skullcaps were electric white. Without hesitation, the dominant bird that had been strutting from the time he flew down leapt and landed a flying kick to the side of the jake decoy, before following up with another kick and wing swat to the head, knocking the decoy from its stake.

In the commotion of the initial attack I whipped my gun into position, and I saw Tack do the same in my peripheral vision.  The second bird kicked the decoy while it was down and after a few seconds there was enough separation that we could distinguish a ‘left’ bird and a ‘right’ bird.

The dominant tom was to the left where I was, and the satellite bird was in front of Tack.

“Shawn…one…” I heard Tack whisper.

“Two…” I whispered, slightly louder.  The bird lifted his head and turned towards my voice just as I tightened my grip on the trigger.

My shot roared home first and milliseconds later Tack’s Winchester barked a reply.  I saw my bird flop down and stay down while Tack’s bird rolled once and came to rest against the base of one of the hen decoys. I pumped the gun and turned my head to meet Tack’s eyes.  I don’t know what my face looked like, but his was a huge grin punctuated with wide-eyed, stunned silence.  For a moment, we just sat there speechless.

Then the hooting and high-fiving started.

The final resting place of two big Bruce Peninsula gobblers.
The final resting place of two big Bruce Peninsula gobblers.
Red leg, black spur, yellow turkey tag.
Red leg, black spur, yellow turkey tag.

I went out to put my boot on the gobbler’s neck, but that was not necessary.  At 15 steps my new Winchester Longbeard XRs had blistered his head and neck completely. He had lifted his head slightly at our count, and although no pellets had hit him in the breast, his neck was denuded of feathers and part of his beard was shot off.  Tack’s bird flapped feebly as Brian picked it up, but he was stone dead within seconds. It was 6:25am.

Brian "Tack" Tackaberry (left) and Shawn West (right) with their Ontario longbeards.
Brian “Tack” Tackaberry (left) and Shawn West (right) with their Ontario longbeards.

We unloaded the guns, tagged the birds and for a few minutes just stood there soaking in the morning so recently ended.  We both agreed that we had been much too close to the birds, but that our early arrival, absolutely silent setup, and use of the lone jake decoy against the two toms had been the factors that bought us some leeway on being right there in the bird’s bedroom.  A few pictures later, I sent a text message to the boys from the previous night, reveling in our hunting group’s first double off the roost.  Their response started coming in and before long we were at the truck bed and our friends were rolling up to hear the story and check out the turkeys.

The 2017 season was started with a bang, and little did we know that it was only going to get better.

The List

It is around this time of year, with just a single weekend standing between me and the opening of turkey season, that I make “The List”.

It is a somewhat redundant exercise, but it makes me feel better about myself.

For months now I’ve been writing about the preparations I’ve been making, the mental duress I’ve been experiencing, and the practice I’ve been doing.  But “The List” brings closure, and likewise serves as the primer for the much- awaited start of Ontario’s wild turkey season. Every year the list gets longer, partly out of necessity, partly because packing and planning is an immensely fun part of the ritual.

I started all this with similar exercises for goose camp, and I came by it organically from my father and his numerous hand-written deer camp checklists that used to appear around our home in mid-October every year.

So, here’s some of what happens to be going to the Bruce Peninsula with me next week.  Some of the items may duplicate things you’ve taken for years; other things might seem like surplus to requirements.  Maybe you’ll even find a nugget or two in my list that you might start taking for yourself.

Calls

  • Mouth Calls. I have a dozen or more of these stashed on my person or in my vehicle at any given time during the spring. Keep a ready supply, because they aren’t for sharing.  My choice? Anything from the good folks at Woodhaven Custom Calls, but currently I’m running the Ninja Ghost more than any other call.
  • Box Calls. Yes, I used the plural.  The Real Hen from Woodhaven sounds exactly as it is named, but it is not waterproof.  I also pack along a very serviceable Primos Wet Box because it runs in the rain and has never failed me yet.
  • Friction Call & Strikers. Some hunters pack many pot & peg style calls or other manner of friction calls with them. I have one go-to in my Cherry Classic Crystal, but I have strikers from several companies to help sound like multiple hens.  I also pack a push-pin friction call from Quaker Boy, because it is great for doing fighting purrs or soft yelping like tree calls.
  • Locator Calls. I have owl, crow, hawk, and gobbler calls in my vest.  Turkeys have answered all of them at one time or another.

Equipment

  • A weapon & Ammunition. My 870 is all I have, and it’s all I feel I’d ever need. In past years I’ve used Federal Mag Shok #6, but this year I couldn’t find it so I made the leap to Winchester Longbeard XR #5.
  • For notching tags and cleaning gobblers, a good blade should always be handy. Just watch your thumbs.
  • Pruning Shears. I love these for making shooting lanes or snipping twigs to construct a little makeshift blind if required.

Gear

  • Sore feet and blister suck, so a pair of comfortable, properly-fitted boots is essential.  Depending where you hunt this may mean hikers, rubber boots, or even snake boots.  Both my pairs are from Rocky Boots and I use rubber boots in the early season and lighter hikers with the addition of external Gore Tex gaiters in the later, warmer parts of the year.
  • A Turkey Vest. I was lucky enough to win some Cabela’s gift cards over the winter through a work function, and splurged them on a new turkey vest. My Primos Gobbler vest was on its last legs after serving dutifully for nearly a decade, and after doing the research I opted for a Cabela’s Tactical Tat’r 2 vest. I’ve tried other vests from Ol’ Tom and Under Armour, and all are equally solid.  Anything with a comfy seat and abundance of pockets fits the bill in my opinion.

Apparel

  • Camo Outerwear. I always used to bring two sets of jackets.  One that would handle rain and one that would handle warm spring weather.  After last year, when my cousin Luke and I nearly caught a mild dose of hypothermia, I’ve resolved to also bring winter weather clothing as an insurance policy.  Get the best, driest, most comfortable camo you can afford.
  • Facemasks & Gloves. Again, I use the plural. I usually follow the warm-weather/cold-weather approach that I use for outerwear when it comes to facemasks and gloves, but I also have extras at the ready, because nothing is easier to lose than an absent-mindedly stashed pair of thin mesh gloves or an old facemask that gets hung up and left behind. I take three sets of each, minimum.
  • I bring a good camo hat with a mesh back for the warm mornings, and a camo fleece beanie for the cold mornings.

Extras

  • Because you never know when a poker game will break out or when you’ll make an ill-conceived bet with a fellow hunter and be required to pay off. Also, not every small-town business takes plastic, and there may come a time when you’ll be the one buying snacks at the local gas-station.
  • Because once the guns go away, nothing makes your tales of turkey hunting glory (or comedic, flailing, abject failure) more grandiose than a dram or two of the good stuff. I suggest a good single malt, or if you’re into bourbon, the clichéd but still excellent Wild Turkey.
  • Because nothing chases a whiskey like a beer. Duh.
  • Water bottle. If you’re running & gunning birds in the mid-day sun & have been huffing on a mouth call for six hours, you will be thankful for even a single mouthful of water.
  • A camera. From a basic cellphone camera right through to something too expensive to realistically be taken afield, make sure you have something to document your success with.  Also, I’ve seen some wacky things in the spring woods, and more than once wished I had a camera close by to document the proof.

I have way more than the above on my personal list, but if I had to pare this down to the “essentials”, I think I could manage to hunt quite comfortably outfitted in camp with the above items.

Stir Crazy

It won’t be too long now, and I for one am very happy for that.  You see it has been a long time since I felt a May morning’s dawn on my face, and too much time has lapsed since I last had twenty pounds of feathers and turkey meat slung over my right shoulder.  In the intervening months, I’ve dealt with all the same stressors and failings that you may have had to put up with.  Long hours at a job, family commitments of varying importance and enjoyability, the interminable puttering around with gear, and the long pining for the always-too-lengthy season of this Canadian winter to pass. I did get out and enjoy an unforgettable few months of waterfowl hunting, and as I often do, I passed another personally fruitless deer season trying to use telekinesis to convince a tall-tined buck that he’d much rather reside in my freezer than spend another winter in his wilderness home. But warmer weather is inching ever so slowly closer, and my inner monologue screams out to re-mortgage the home and head abroad to pursue wild turkeys.  Meanwhile, my imagination wanders to sun-dappled woods, the smell of trilliums blossoming, and the distant rattle of a dominant tom’s lovesick holler in response to my sweet calls floating on the spring breeze.

Spring greenery and Ontario trilliums are calling me.
Spring greenery and Ontario trilliums are calling me.

To paraphrase Tennyson “in the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of hard-gobbling longbeards”. Butchering legendary poetry in the anticipation of turkey hunting.  That’s about where I am right now.

Some of you, if you are reading this from the southern United States, are already deep in the throes of turkey season, and for that I envy and secretly hate you. Not a day goes by when my social media feeds on Twitter and Instagram aren’t chock-a-block full of pictures of men, women, and children of the south grinning their proud, beaming grins from behind the fanned out tailfeathers of a recently deceased gobbler, or of hunters leaned pensively against a broad tree trunk patiently waiting for a wily turkey to make a fatal misstep.  Meanwhile here I sit north of the border with my head in my hands, angst-ridden and impatiently waiting.  Sometimes I slither down to my basement and delicately put hands on my favourite box call, before I lay it down and reverentially glide the purple-heart tip of a striker across roughly conditioned crystal.  When I do that, the raw nerve is soothed…albeit temporarily. I drive my car to work every day, erstwhile yelping and purring and whistling on assorted mouth diaphragms, picturing the approach of a thoroughly seduced gobbler in my mind’s eye.

Somedays the old fella plays hard to get, tiptoeing stealthily in, walking almost sideways to the setup the way that old, cagey turkeys with scimitar-long spurs sometimes do.  Other mornings I picture him as a frenzied two-year-old, horny, triple-gobbling and almost stomping on his beard as he stampedes down my gun barrel.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see turkeys do both scenarios above and almost everything in between…and one hefty longbeard that did both the slow approach and the death sprint in short succession of one another.  But most of the allure is in knowing that no matter the vividness of my imagination, pretty much every spring Tom Turkey finds some other way to surprise and teach me in a fashion that pales in comparison to everything I’d imagined.

My batting average is not hall of fame worthy, but my list of stories might be.  Wild turkeys can be maddening to chase, and almost once a season I’m ready to quit on the whole goddamn thing. Operator error often plays a factor, and I’ve worn them all.  Poor shooting, bad decision-making, impatience, having too much patience, over-confidence, lack of confidence, incredulously blind faith, and stubborn cynicism have all cost me turkeys in the mere decade that I’ve gone from rank amateur notorious for over-calling and educating turkeys, to only-slightly-less-rank novice turkey hunter who still overcalls and educates turkeys, but now does so with misplaced confidence in my occasionally shabby set of skills.  Every time one of those gaudily-plumed professors whips me, which is often, I file the experience neatly away in the memory banks, hoping that being humbled that particular day will make me slightly less gullible the next time I spar with a bird.  In the decades to come I marvel at the things I might learn about myself, all the while not really knowing what those things are.

Friends, or at least people who purport to be my friends, label my lamenting as grandiose.  They say “It’s just a dumb bird” or “I don’t see why you think they’re hard to kill. My buddy shot one within twenty minutes of his first hunt” or “Stop being a drama queen and focus”.

So maybe that is it.  Perhaps I am just of too fragile a disposition to make a legendary turkey hunter.  True, I can call well enough, and I can even do a reasonably good job of sitting still, but when that longbeard sounds off and heads my way, things get immediately and chaotically re-wired in my brain. I instantly get into a pitched battle between pride and hubris, and things I’ve long rehearsed and believed all my life somehow fall by the wayside.  Safety first and foremost always, but planning, rational decision-making, and even my proudest skills of being articulate fade from view under the heart-pounding, single-minded haze that making a gobbler bury his own head in the dirt breeds in my psyche.

I’ve got it bad, that gobbler fever.  Even when I think I’m alright, it can all slip-slide away in seconds when I hear him drumming on the other side of the ridge.  I think I’m so hot, with my high-test shotgun shells, sweet-sounding game calls, and photo-realistic decoys made of space age materials.  They aren’t worth their weight in manure when a bird that I didn’t even know was there rattles my bones with a gobble from inside ten yards and proceeds to turn my insides into just so much quivering pudding.

Writing this all down was supposed to be an act of therapy, some shameless display of catharsis in the public sphere.  An admission of my own faults and addictions that while purely self-indulgent, was also meant to entertain and perhaps even serve as a cautionary tale to those in the same lamentable predicament.  But all I’ve really done here, so far as I can tell, is wind myself up even tighter. The drum is stretched taut now, and as the hands glide around the clock face in my office, every tick-tock just reminds me that I’m still weeks and weeks away from a happy place at the foot of a tree.

Picture Sylvester the Cat in that Looney Tunes episode where he thinks he’s finally managed to kill Tweety Bird.  That’s me lately…pacing back and forth in my mind and about to wear a groove through the floor of my once steely resolve.

Pratfall comedy and children’s cartoon references aside, the masochist in me openly loves the emotional duress and occasional physical suffering.  The sleep deprivation.  The bewildered looks from my spouse. Silent mornings of serenity, punctuated with raucous turkey noises and booming shotgun blasts. The sense of community in being with other turkey hunters, and the sense of exclusivity in having a one-on-one battle of wits and skills with a supremely adapted and wary (not to mention delicious) adversary. The outdoors experience is full of emotional complexity like this; I’ve always felt a sad sense closure to a successful turkey hunt, mingled with a degree of whooping excitement as I smooth down any feathers I may have ruffled in harvesting the bird.  When the season comes to a close, there is relief couple with a lingering sense of greater things still unexperienced, and I suppose these are true of any kind of hunting if a person is passionate enough about it.

I’m fairly far gone from being philosophical anymore, and this rambling is best served to end now, so I’ll close with wishing all the other members of the Tenth Legion out there the best of luck and I hope you have fine weather and willing gobblers wherever it is that you hunt them.

Hunting. Not Hype.