At first it was Los Angeles: a warm and sunny beach; a beautiful blonde in her bathing suit looking at me looking at her. Then, suddenly, I was back in Sicily where I’d studied wine and foreign girls in what seems like another life. That is, of course, until the dreams faded and the singular notion that I was going turkey hunting set in.
I hate the cold, especially the humid cold of the South that will ache the bones of even the most calcium-laden individual. But unlike many things, turkey hunting will drive me out into the worst weather. In fact, I’ve traveled many miles through days of sleep deprivation and exhaustion just to see one more sunrise and hear one more gobble, both of which I least expected as I shut the alarm off on my first day of the 2014 season. It was 3:45 a.m.
I’d never hunted this property, nor did I know where it was. Luckily, I have a cousin who is a four-year veteran of Jackson County that I’d be hunting with. Aaron and I go way back, but have rarely gotten the opportunity to hunt together and never for turkeys.
We parked our cars at “camp” (a few sleeping trailers and a sideways barn, you know the type), unloaded the four-wheeler, and headed out. The fog had slowed our progress on the steep, windy mountain roads, but I couldn’t tell we were late. It was one of those days that comes to life without really waking back up. Low clouds and a thin mist, dead trees and soft leaves. I surprised myself at my own distant laughter and the smile on my face as we putted down the treacherous trail toward the bottom of nowhere.
I’ll mention here for the sake of accuracy that there was one more hunter with us. Ed wasn’t hunting with us per se, but we all eased through Matthews Bottom together, listening for a gobble through the deafening silence. A hoot owl occasionally sounded off, but our hushed walking was really the only audible noise in the woods.
We had walked a good half mile when the first gobble reached our ears. Saying that I was quite shocked would be an understatement. Aaron and I had already decided we’d let Ed go after the first bird and we’d hunt off on our own. He headed up the draw closest to where we assumed the gobbler would be, and we walked up another draw some 400 yards further down the road. If by chance you’ve ever been in or even driven through Jackson County, Alabama, you know that it’s no country for old men.
Up through the woods we hiked, the cold air filling our lungs at a rapid rate.
“Why don’t we just sit on this bench a while and see what happens,” I suggested. “Who knows. Ed might spook that bird and send him our way.”
“Good enough for me.”
We set out our decoys and shuffled around looking for a nonexistent dry spot to sit, facing back down the hill. Ed was somewhere off to the left (my directions are a bit fuzzy here) looking for the turkey that had gone silent. I was thinking about Los Angeles and a warm beach when a gobble rang out across the draw to our right. A whole flock of crows ripped the morning apart with their angry caws, and apparently this tom had had enough. Another gobble came two minutes later.
“He might be hot,” I whispered. “Get ready, face that way, and good luck. I’m heading off behind you to try and draw him in.”
I yelped softly and he immediately responded. This went on for several minutes while I thought two gobblers were answering back. Sounds carry differently in the mountains—it’s quite perplexing, really. Apparently he’d just been walking back and forth on the hillside adjacent to us, right across the draw. But when he gobbled for about the fortieth time and I could feel it, I knew he was coming.
Aaron and I had discussed the theory just hours earlier about the inability to call a turkey downhill. When I first spotted the white head bobbing through the trees up the hill from us, I began to lose hope. He stood there, spitting and drumming, hammering back at every yelp, for what seemed like hours. Then I shut up.
I’ve been in the game of love for a long time now, and know that more often than not you typically want what you can’t have. More drumming, more gobbling. He was putting on a show, I’m here to tell you! I couldn’t stand it, and in the end, neither could he. His journey didn’t stop at the decoys nor at the report of Aaron’s Mossberg. It continued on down the mountain and back through Matthews Bottom, and he will remain an integral figure in a moment that I wished would never go away.
It is so damn important to take a minute—hell, take an hour—to just sit and enjoy the outdoors and appreciate what we’ve been given. So let it be known, cousin, that even as I sit writing this story too many miles away in a hotel room in Knoxville, Tennessee, on a gloomy day, that I will forever cherish the moment that will live between us for the rest of our lives.
Image courtesy Josh Wolfe