“The Gobble”

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It only took one gobble to make me a “turkey hunter” and I heard it on the morning of May 24th, 2013.

It all started with a wife’s request.

Jessica loved that I put food on the table with my longbow, but (due to her body’s intolerance of red meat) hated that she couldn’t partake. This posed a problem, as I was a deer hunter with little desire to mess around with poultry. Plus, I knew nothing of turkey hunting save for what I’d read in magazines. Still, Jessica held firm in her opinion that a wild turkey would be the epitome of table fare. She insisted I shoot one that spring.

I’ll admit the “know-how” wasn’t my only hang up. It was also a matter of pride. I worked hard to be an amateur deer hunter and took my lumps on a regular basis. An ass-whooping beneath the talons of yet another species wasn’t all that appealing. But I loved my wife and was willing to try.

Several months later, I had a late-season license, a pot call, and a flock of turkeys discovered on my morning commute. The latter was dumb luck. I’d just dropped my girls at daycare and decided to take the “long way” to work. This particular “long way” bordered the Rogue River and included several hundred acres of state hunting land. I’d scouted it for deer in the past, but had little interest in the turkey population. Things were different now and I was ecstatic to see 8-10 birds flocked up from the road.

The “long way” became “my way” for the next several months and the birds remained. Something peculiar happened while seeing these birds. It began as an itch of sorts. Something unreachable in the back of my head and creeping ever forward as the hunt approached.

I read about turkeys. I watched videos. And I discussed turkey hunting with those who shared the sickness I suspected I had. The night of the 23rd, I dreamt the most vivid of hunting dreams I’d ever experienced. I saw the birds flocked up in the field. I saw myself giving chase – playing the part. I watched my hands put striker to pot and arrow to string.

I didn’t get up when the alarm chimed 5:30. Exhaustion was only part of the cause. Deep down I knew the events of the day couldn’t compare with those in my dreams. And I couldn’t compete with the hunter either. Jessica, who’d awoke to my alarm, rolled over and shot me a quizzical look.

“You getting up or what?” She asked, mid-yawn. “Late season turkeys aren’t like early season turkeys.” I lied. “They cruise around a lot. No need to get up too early.” She wasn’t buying it. “Okay, then why did you set your alarm for 5:30?”

“Wishful thinking I suppose.”

“Well, if you don’t leave by the time your daughter gets up, she isn’t going to let you.”

The short ride to the Rogue was completely silent. I needed to adjust to the quiet and would have nothing distract me from the task at hand. My knees bounced with excitement. My hands fidgeted on the wheel.

I pulled into the gravel lot to find it absent of competition. It was just light enough for me to see the river and the path that ran along side it. This was one of three paths that lead to the killing grounds and I figured it the safest. The churning river would mute the shuffling sound of boots to the previous year’s leaf fall and there was plenty of timber to keep me hidden.

The air nearest the river was damp and cool. It reminded me of Sunday afternoon fishing trips with the rest of the Viau family. I wasn’t much of a fisherman, but always enjoyed these trips. Mom promised baseball cards or comic books to whichever of us boys caught the biggest or most. Little did she know, watching my father lose his mind over frequent snagging would’ve been enough to get us out of bed.

The road lay to the east. The river began to drift to the west, forcing me to abandon it. The turkeys were somewhere in the middle, but I didn’t know where. There was a barren cornfield to my right and a plot of hardwoods in front of me. It was dead calm, so navigating the timber absent the noise of the river seemed foolish. On the other hand, so did walking across an open field. It seemed like a life or death decision – one I wasn’t about to rush. I took a seat on an old hickory stump to avoid doing so.

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As soon as hickory met hind-end, everything changed. A gobble shot through the timber and straight into my chest, which thrummed in its wake. I held my breath, vowing not to take another until he spoke again. A second gobble ripped through the trees, this time from a different direction, and was immediately answered by the original. This went on for several minutes and quickened in frequency as the two converged. It was quite the racket. Even a rookie like me could imagine what was happening – and what was about to. I sympathized for the hen that had their attention.

The air seemed to buzz with an energy I can only describe as supernatural. I slipped into a trance of sorts – unable to move or think – until I noticed a tapping sound. I glanced at my lap and realized it was the arrow dribbling against my riser. My legs had a tendency to shake when excited, but never to this degree. It reminded me of John Voight’s deer encounter in Deliverance. I’d mocked that movie’s ridiculous portrayal of buck fever for years, yet with the possibility of a turkey looming, was doing my best imitation.

“Not today.” I chuckled to myself. “That’s not going to be me. I’m not going to end up like John Voight.” I took a deep breath, stood up, and dashed off to claim my destiny.

This was turkey hunting. And I was hooked.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guest Post – “My Uncle Chuck”

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Sometimes, while sifting through the political rants, click baits, and mindless updates of my Facebook feed, I find a real gem. This particular one, written by my dear friend Jeff Wilcox, pays tribute to his Uncle Chuck (Baker) whom he credits as being responsible for his love of all things stick and string. I have tremendous respect for Jeff and his family and felt that anyone striking this kind of chord with a man of his stature, deserves a bigger audience.

But the story isn’t just about Jeff’s Uncle Chuck. It’s a tale of Michigan bowhunting heritage and I guarantee you will enjoy it.

Wow where do I start? How do I explain a man that has truly touched my heart? All I can do is start and hope I do him justice.

I remember my uncle to be a strong man, as well as a man of integrity. One committed and faithful to God. I remember him to be totally devoted to his wife – whom he loved more than anything on this earth – and the kids who were his life.

I remember his smirky little smile as he would tease the girls during Thanksgiving dinner and watch his face glow as the boys told of their adventures in the outdoors.

I remember when I was a very young boy and he built two bows for his two oldest. One had a 100#, the other 80#. He knew the boys couldn’t shoot them, but everybody in Gladwin knew about those bows and at least tried to pull them back once. That was the start of my passion for archery.

I remember when they moved and I visited them in the country. Their basement was a bowhunter’s shrine filled with arrows, arrow shafts, feathers, paints, fly-tying equipment, head mounts, bows quivers, all kinds of leather goods, old bamboo fishing cartels, bamboo fly rods, and many other things an outdoorsman could want.

I remember the beautiful red canoe he built from scratch and how us boys would cruise the lake in it; hunting frogs, black birds, chipmunks, and any other critter to cross our path.

I remember a dozen of the most beautiful blue arrows I’d ever seen. I can still see them to this day. That was the final confirmation for me. From that point on, I knew the way of the bow and arrow had hooked me deep!

I remember many of the hunting and fishing stories my uncle would tell me back when he was just a young man, and would like to recall one or two of those old stories with the hopes they will ignite the flame inside of you, as they did for me.

The first begins in the Grayling, Michigan area where my my uncle used to live. He was already an established and accomplished archer by this time, and used to shoot at several of the local archery tournaments. I remember him telling me he would shoot against several of the Bear Archery guys and even Fred himself on occasion. (You know I never once remembered him saying who won or who the best shot was – only how much fun he had.)

He was already making his own arrows, but after awhile, decided he wanted to start building his own bows too. He would go down to the Bear factory, hang out, and ask questions. I am not sure who it was that he befriended, but one of the crew told him they would scrap out all the bows, risers, and limbs that got rejected for various defects. If he was interested he could go through the scrap and salvage what he wanted.

He would find bits and pieces in those piles, take them home to his workshop, and piece them together. Now that I look back on it, he had his own line of bows. He could’ve given them colorful names, like “the Bear Baker Take Down” or “Baker Bear One Piece”. It was around this time he made the 80# and 100# bows for my cousins. I’m not sure what happened to those two bows, but would sure love to know.

Thankfully, I do know what happened to his arrow building equipment. He had a homemade spine tester, cresting machine, a Bohning feather burner and ½ dozen Bitzenburg jigs with different clamps. In case you haven’t guessed, they are safe in the archery room of my basement, and when you see me out shooting, you can rest assured that the arrows leaving my bow have passed through that very equipment. In fact, the first deer I ever shot with a longbow were the first arrows I made using the equipment my uncle gave me. They weren’t very pretty, but they were very effective!

The second story is about a dozen matched-arrows I doubt anybody could ever match again. Uncle Chuck used to teach and teach driver’s training at Mio schools systems. One particular summer, he had a young man in his class who was very interested in archery. My uncle took some time to teach this young man a thing or two about archery and they developed a friendship of sorts. As best as I can recall, my uncle took a liking to this young man and decided to build him a dozen brand-spanking-new cedar arrows. Not only was it a dozen arrows he made, but a matched set on the plus side of perfection.

Forty years later, I found myself and eight other archers driving up to Grayling, on a Sunday morning to go to the MTB Jamboree. We got there just as the Christian Bow Hunters of America service was ending and met up with this man who seemed pretty interested in us being there. After an hour or so of great conversation, we asked this fine gentleman if we could tag along and shoot the 2D course with him. Of course, had no choice but to agree to go with us.

For the sake of all you readers, I’ll cut through all the good stuff and get to the great stuff. After a couple hours of talking to this gentleman, I realized he had been around archery for a long time and knew about some of the same things my uncle would talk about. To test him, I mentioned my uncle Chuck who used to live in Mio and was quite an archer, bow hunter, and fly fisherman.

Suddenly, I saw a spark show in his eye. “Your uncle’s name wasn’t Chuck Baker was it?” He asked. When I confirmed we were talking about the same man, a big smile came to his face. He then told me a story about my uncle giving him a dozen matched arrows to like he hasn’t seen since, and how he wished he had another dozen just like them.

That young man my uncle helped all those years ago not only stayed in archery, but ended up being the President of the Michigan Bow Hunters and founder of the Christian Bow Hunters of America.

I’m not claiming its because of my uncle this gentleman went on to do those wonderful things, but I’ve got to believe it had an influence on this man’s life. I can’t help but wonder how many other people my uncle influenced through his passion for God, family, and the great outdoors. Now, when I hear someone ask to define a “traditional archer”, my Uncle Chuck immediately pops into my mind and heart.

On February 18, 2008 my uncle went on his final hunting trip. He’s been called home to the Happy Hunting grounds he so anxiously looked forward to most of his adult life and is now sharing a campfire with his Lord and Savior. He’ll be greatly missed and appreciated for the legacy he left his family, friends, and country.

END

Posted in Archery Tackle, Arrow making, Bowhunting, Family, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment