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.
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.