The Turkey Hunt
By Cameron Kirby
The sun had yet to present itself to the floor of the canyon; reds and oranges were painted across the crown of trees as it broke over the eastern hillside. I broke camp.
I drove along the winding two-lane highway that paralleled the cold black river, its current moving so swiftly that fishing from the bank required more patience than I possessed.
The aged suspension of the Land Cruiser creaked as I took each corner with a gentle approach, due to a thermos of coffee resting on my camouflaged thigh. The coffee was in that precarious range between hot and too hot, but I kept sipping it in the hope it had cooled off enough for a full swig.
I arrived at my turkey hole later than I would’ve preferred, however during my time scouting the area, I knew their route. I would set my blind lower in the gulley to accommodate the delayed start.
My 12-gauge Benelli was loaded with three-and-a-half-inch number four shotshells.
“I should’ve started sooner” I thought.
“They stay in their roosts later than most” I justified as I arrived at the base of the gully. I looked up the gradual incline and adjusted my pack which had three decoys strapped to the back bodies bobbing with each step.
The oak grove was beautiful during all seasons; however, it was unmatched in Spring. The newly sprouted leaves complemented the verdant valley floor.
My blind was set between two knobby oak trees with my back to a third. I had positioned the decoys about 20 yards up the hillside facing North;this was the direction the turkeys came each day.
Yelp-Yelp, I started calling with a box and then a slate call. I heard a gobble in the distance. “Good, there’s at least one tom”, I thought. This late in the season there was a good chance the turkeys had all been pushed out by other hunters.
There was movement to my left! It had taken longer than it should to train myself to slowly turn my head in the direction of movement or sound. Millimeter by millimeter until the image solidified; there were three mule deer milling about, feeding on the various sprouts Spring had provisioned.
I watched them for a while, their large mule-like ears revolving and absorbing the sounds of the forest. Black tails darting about.
Purr, purr, purr I used my slate call to goad movement from the deer, worried they would spook the lonely tom I was calling in.
Their ears rotated toward me; their bodies tensed in a synchronized fashion. The unease was obvious and soon they ambled to another corner of the woods.
I resumed calling the tom and he responded in kind.
A splash of red quickly moved across my periphery.
The excitement spirited me from my wandering thoughts to the quarry moving through the woods.
He was close and getting closer; the largest tom I had ever seen. He had a brilliant crimson wattle with a pronounced beard. The arrogant bird was strutting toward me trying to locate the hen who had been propositioning him all morning.
I called and called, but he never came closer. He kept skirting right outside my range and eventually disappeared over a nearby ridge.
“Should I follow him?” I asked myself, tamping down the urge to pursue. “You don’t stalk a turkey… just keep calling, he’ll come back”.
Yelp-yelp I called to no avail.
A slow deliberate boom from a shotgun rolled through the valley, my valley.
“Damn” I said aloud, the first time I had spoken for two days. It’s odd how foreign your own speech can sound after a short reprieve.
“Another hunter,” I said. The sound came from the direction the tom had gone.
I started packing up my blind, stool, shotgun, and decoys. In frustration, and against my better judgment, I wanted to see the evidence of my failure.
Down the hill I trudged, toward the cause of my disappointment.
Bright red again came into view, however it was distorted and splashed outside the lines.
A man was sitting at the base of an old, gnarled oak, his boots were off and neatly placed beside him. His big toe was looped through the trigger guard of a well-used over-under shotgun. The deep bluing speckled with his blood. The barrel was resting against his chest and was pointed at what had been his head.
As I looked up and around to gather my bearings, I saw his blood and hair in the boughs.
A short time passed and I heard a familiar sound from the gully…
You are not alone. Dial 988 to connect with the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline!