Onward he came, the pale colors of his fan enhanced by the rays of sunshine behind him. My heartbeats came so fast they struggled to keep a rhythm before forever expelling into the echoes of time. If you can make this, Lyle, I thought to myself, this trip has been more successful than we’ve ever hoped for.
By this time we were on the fifth of seven days. We pulled out of southern Tennessee on a rainy Monday headed due west, then north, then west again for Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I had business on Tuesday morning. From there we reached the Sandhills by late evening after my meeting concluded early, stopping by Cabela’s in Springfield, Missouri to stretch our legs.
The trip was already wearing on me. Little sleep over the week prior was finally catching up to me, and my mind seemed to darken by the minute, almost to the point of feeling nothing—no happiness, no sadness, no excitement. A terrible burden, that indifferent mood, especially given that I now had the opportunity to hunt for a week with two of my oldest friends. The feeling would not go away—that is, until I entered the fishing section of that Cabela’s.
A young man, probably my age, drove himself around in a wheelchair, following another gentleman who I assumed was his father. He wasn’t handicapped just from the waist down, but his entire body, including his brain, was deteriorated to the point that only his hand moved to control his wheelchair, and the look on his face is one I’ll never forget. Despite his ailment and the delicate life that would never allow him more than limited movement, he was smiling. I was frozen in my tracks, unable to move, hardly breathing. My heart broke and healed simultaneously, and I became embarrassed about the way I felt. His father pointed to this and that and I watched his eyes follow, that grin never leaving his face.
The cloud over me lifted as I once again learned to not take one day for granted. The material things, money, whatever; nothing in the world holds a candle to that single moment I watched that young man in the wheelchair. If he only knew how he changed my life.
Not needing anything essential in the huge store except for a one-pound pack of beef jerky, we headed back into the parking lot. I told Lyle how happy I was that we were together, heading off onto this adventure that didn’t need more than a couple of good buddies and some wide-open country to make it a success. Sure there were frustrating moments when we got slightly bent out of shape, but turkeys will do that.
Then, on that Easter morning, our lucky stars aligned. Tense moments followed until we heard the drumming. Closer. Closer still, until the broad fan emerged over a log slightly to the left. My heart ran wild with fear and anticipation as the missed opportunities felt heavier in that single moment than any other time in my hunting career.
His head was red, white, and blue. “Beautiful” was the word we used to describe every aspect of the entire hunt. My heart was nearly out of my chest, but Lyle wasn’t about to take any chances. He let the turkey walk directly in front of his gun barrel before the report of his Mossberg blazed a trail for the deafening whoops and screams of three old buddies, jumping up and down and hugging like we were kids again playing baseball at Palmer Park. It’s these little links that create enduring friendship—not necessarily the kill, but the success you share when it all comes together. Playing a solo puts you in the limelight, but you would never be there without the band that backs you.
I was fortunate enough to take a nice gobbler of my own. He and seven other strutters put on one hell of show in front of us. The spitting and drumming and simultaneous gobbles were incredible, though after it was over and both our tags were filled, it didn’t evoke the same feelings as Lyle’s bird. Who knows why? Maybe I do, but the explanation is just too powerful for me to reach.
It’s my hope that we’ll go back year after year. I wish I could see that wheelchair-bound young man just one more time to tell him what an inspiration he is, how he nearly knocked me off of my feet without ever noticing. For that, I am forever grateful—more than any turkey or big buck that may walk into my life. It was a good trip, no, a great one.
Note: As an outdoor writer, you are asked to do some testing and evaluating from time to time. If it’s something I need, sure. On this particular trip I was fortunate enough to wear an Isobrite Chronograph watch. A fellow outdoor writer who you’re probably familiar with, Kevin Reese, put one on my wrist and I immediately didn’t want to be without it. I’ve never been one to wear jewelry (if you would even put a watch in that category), but this thing is awesome. This is the world’s first T100 tritium-illuminated lightweight polycarbon watch with a scratch-resistant sapphire glass crystal. Let me tell you, I followed Lyle and Dale—walking, running, crawling and wading—chasing turkeys like mad men, and nary a scratch nor any kind of blemish resides anywhere on this watch. Its ruggedness and durability are heights above any watch I’ve ever worn. Plus, it looks good. Visit www.isobrite.com to learn more.
Image by Josh Wolfe