There is a time in every person’s life when anticipation crosses over from simple forethought into obsession, and for me that time is now. Worse still, it is a recurring experience that happens at least four to five times a year.
Opening day has passed and I was not out there for it. I’m cooped up inside, and there isn’t a damn thing I can do about. The exigencies of career and family often conspire to keep me home for several opening days a year, and this week it was the spring turkey season opener that I spent in a boardroom instead of nature’s amphitheatre.
We tell ourselves convenient lies meant to assuage our anxiety, and I’ve heard them many of them and told them pretty much every one.
“The hunting is better later in the season.” Says one hunter.
“Everyone is going to be out on opening day…it will be less crowded if I go later.” Opines another.
Yet another states assuredly that “It is too early in the year, so the birds won’t be responsive until it warms up.”
One frustrated individual cries that “Birds are still henned up in the first two weeks, if I give them time the hens will go to nest and the gobblers will be out searching for a mate.”
“Opening day is just a day like any other” mutters a disaffected miscreant in the corner.
Now most of those lies above contain a kernel of truth, and yes I have hunted early season days when birds are henned up, hunters are everywhere making all kids of racket, and gobblers are silent.
But to say that ‘opening day is just a day like any other’ is as blatant a fabrication as one can blaspheme in the springtime and in my humble opinion it has no basis in fact.
Opening days in general, but especially in spring turkey season, are a turning of a page, and a renaissance of the hunter’s spirit. After a long, grim winter (and we know more about that in my neck of the woods than many would care to admit) the oncoming verdure of the spring signals the renewal of life. If human existence could be said to be represented by the seasons, with autumn and winter embodying aging and ultimate death respectively, spring can only remind us of our childhoods and of salad days when we were carefree and full of youthful exuberance. Missing out on these moments shortens our proverbial ‘lifespan’ in the woods, and brings us closer to the moribund purgatory that is the off-season.
That dreaded off-season is a time that (although cyclical) is really just one of a virtual ‘hibernation’ if you will. Sure you might get out in the woods and hike around, maybe you look for shed deer antlers, or perhaps you go to the range and keep your shooting skills honed, but you’re really just fooling yourself into thinking that you are in some way connected to hunting. Because you see, if the off-season is a metaphor for a marathon, those winter days of idle busy work are the early miles of the race. As the off-season wanes, any delays in starting the season are really the equivalent of that last, long, final miles that we run in pain before breaching the threshold of a finish-line. And even though I can’t be alone in my ordeal, it feels like the most solitary and isolated mental state one can inhabit. I know there are others suffering with me, but nobody else quite understands what I’m going through. I’m limping to the end of this proverbial race all alone and only by virtue of endorphins and my own stubborn will.
I can see the finish line, but I’m not getting there fast enough. Story of my life.
But soon this will all resolve itself because in spite of my petty mental weakness and inability to escape the advance of my turkey hunting separation anxiety, the steady march of time plods onward. Eventually I’m going to walk out of my office and the only thing in front of me will be the drive to turkey camp. The music, the laughs, the early mornings and the rampant expectancy of a gobbling bird. The hits, perhaps the misses, and the celebratory meals and beverages. The stories that we’ve told over and over again, the repeated fabrications and lies, and the time spent under a tree on a bluebird spring afternoon.
I may even have a siesta in the May sunshine, which is a delight so pure and unadulterated that it borders on the illegal. The trials of career, world politics, and modern society will be far, far away.
And then maybe, just maybe, while I snooze with a soothing springtime breeze caressing my hair and a diaphragm mouth call wedged firmly betwixt cheek and gum, a tom turkey will fire off a distant gobble. I’ll methodically rise from my dreamlike state, and cradling my shotgun, I’ll seductively call back to him. With any luck, he’ll gobble harder and begin to head my way. He’ll winnow his way through the trees, or maybe he’ll break into the open from a field edge and the sun will make him glow in that iridescent purple, copper, and emerald way that only a spring afternoon can. He’ll strut and drum, before spinning his way into range, and the turkey gods willing, I’ll rest the front bead of my barrel on his red throat before launching a salvo downrange.
He’ll go down and I’ll soon get to lay my hands on him. I’ll hold his beard in one hand, and thumb his curved and keenly sharp spurs with the other. I’ll fan out his tail and smooth out any feathers that may have gotten mussed in the hunt. I’ll heft him up and feel the weight of his life, thinking about what his days were like before I was privileged enough to take him home to the roasting pan or the deep fryer. We’ll take pictures and I’ll smile in the giddy way that all turkey hunters ought to when they get a chance to put a tag on the red legs of such an animal.
It will be exceptional.
As you can see, I’ve got it bad folks, and getting my butt under a tree in the spring is the only cure.
Wish me luck.