A Turkey Hunter’s “Holy Day”

For many, Monday, April 21st in 2014 was just another painful start to the week; an unwelcome, dreaded inevitably.  But to those faithful souls who adhere to the religion of gobbling on opening morning, it was a holy day.  Simply questioning what I’d be doing that day would be declared blasphemy if it were up to me.  And those who didn’t understand couldn’t be saved.

My body and mind together had but one purpose, and I would not stop until it was fulfilled.

I sat patiently in my turkey blind as daybreak approached. A steady rain beat down in a rhythmic pitter patter against the thin fabric of my hiding place.  Still, silent, and unseen, I observed the solemnity of my surroundings.

An hour passed before the rain stopped.  Clouds still covered the sky in all directions.  The weather calmed into a windless, gloomy morning.  My favorite.  Discontented with sitting, I made my move.  I headed south along the edge of a lush, clover field towards a stand of timber.  A dark trail amongst the dewy clover leaves was left in my wake where my steps brushed away water droplets blanketing the field.  I reached the timber.  Cottonwoods, oaks, and evergreens covered the area along with the undergrowth.  The king of the spring woods would make his presence known soon.

As if he knew my thoughts, the boisterous gobbler sounded off in the distance, letting his domain know its ruler had awaken.  Soon, an onslaught of challengers answered his call from multiple directions.  But none could match the authority in which he sang out.  He resonated like the loudest boom of a thunderstorm, lingering long after its first crack.  I stalked closer, moving silently on the dampened leaves.

Soon, I heard his female companions calling out and moving towards his location.  My battle for his attention would start with them, but past experiences told me my efforts would be fruitless.  My enticing hen yelps and clucks were not enough to draw him away.  I reminded myself that on this turkey hunter’s holy day, human time did not exist. Turkey time was in full effect. Patience continued to be my ally. Before long, the boss gobbler would be on the prowl.

In the mean time, the soaked, matted leaves allowed me to stealthily inch closer to his location. Hours passed and I was closing in now. I crawled on my stomach along a shallow, winding creek to reach my final position.  The opposite bank lay higher and I took advantage of it to conceal my movement as I approached.  Nearing the edge of a wide pool, I suddenly heard ripples in the water created by some disturbance.

I peeked over the edge.

Just feet from my face, a vibrant, red eye amongst brilliant, green feathers connected with my gaze.  The male wood duck and his female companion remained motionless, as if they were as stunned as I was at this encounter.  They studied me for several moments, moving their heads from side to side.  I held my breath and my neck strained painfully.  Having determined I was no threat to them this day, they turned and swam upstream. Momentarily, my purpose was forgotten as I became totally immersed in the encounter.  I exhaled, finally becoming cognizant of the mud and moisture soaking through my clothes.  Where was I?

But then the king sounded off, much closer, and I forgot my discomfort once again, my purpose restored.  I let out a short string of yelps and he fired back once again.

The king of the spring woods was coming to claim his prize.

He approached quickly from the opposite bank, the once advantageous landmark was now a superior vantage point for him as I had not yet reached my ideal spot.  I looked around and eased up against the closest tree a few yards away, straining to see above the edge of the stream.  The deep sound of him drumming could be felt in my chest. He was close.  I yelped again, hoping he would raise his head high enough for me to see.  Instead, he gobbled and cut me off in the middle of my cadence.

My heart beat so loudly I could hear and feel it in my ears.  But I wouldn’t let the exhilaration of the moment become my demise like it does to so many.  He gobbled again just over my field of vision.  The sound penetrated to my skin, uninhibited by my wet camouflage.

Then, all was quiet.  I glanced at my watch.  Just minutes of legal shooting time remained.  It was now or never.  I refocused my gaze as a shiny, black body finally appeared in a depression on the opposite bank.  In full strut, the king gobbler made his triumphant, and final, stand.  The end of my barrel honed in on his crown, like a natural extension of my arm.  I never felt the squeeze of the trigger.

The king of the woods had been dethroned, and my obligation on holy day was fulfilled.

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Tyler Mahoney with his 2014 opening day gobbler.

 

 

 

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