Guns and Cornbread: Requiem for a Gobbler Season

Knowing it was coming didn’t ease the pain any. He had been awake at least thirty minutes before the alarm jolted the house. He didn’t really mind, the house seemed too quiet most of the time anyway. It felt like a place that needed a jolt, as if something had to give, somebody needed to yell and release the avalanche. Regardless of all this he had to get up and go turkey hunting.

“Do you really have to go?” It was the same old voice, grating in tone like a box call needing chalk, whining, discouraging. “Not gonna argue with you today,” he mumbled when his feet hit the floor. Now he paused as he sat on the edge of the bed, trying to gather his thoughts and the juice to stand up and meet the day. This didn’t seem to be as difficult a few years ago he thought. “Coffee,” he said aloud, that would help everything.

The drive to the creek was spent in deep thought on which spot to visit. Three more days of turkey season left, if he didn’t have these turkeys figured out by now he may as well quit. Five miles out he knew he would park on the main ridge and walk down in the hole. That is what he called the hike down an old tram road into Jacob’s Run, it was a pleasant walk going down the hill, not so much coming back.

He would never use a flashlight, so the walk down into the hole was always interesting. A barred owl’s screech right over your head in the darkness could make the hair on your neck stand up and conjure up visions of panthers if you were so inclined. But he knew better, and now he slipped down the path barely breaking a twig in the gloom as he ground his teeth and fretted about the past few days.

“Got your turkey yet?” the barber had grinned as he slumped into the chair at the backstreet shop. This, he realized was getting tiresome. Not so much that everyone was asking about his hunting success and he had not killed a turkey yet, but everyone just seemed too interested in his business. He tried to put it away. This is a small town he told himself, every mothers son knows that you turkey hunt. They are going to ask. Could be you are just getting old and grouchy.

Much to his surprise a turkey seemed to want to cooperate this morning and after about thirty minutes of what seemed like cat and mouse the gobbler had advanced directly in front and below him on the slope. This was exactly where he wanted the turkey to appear. When he did give the occasional low call on the diaphragm the turkey shot back with a lusty, growling gobble, sometimes twice. The big bird was so close now he could hear the grating rattle in the gobble. He sat at the base of ancient oak, did not blink an eye and tried not to breathe.

His hunter’s heart was pounding but he was for the most part calm. The shotgun was pointed in the right direction and the turkey was coming. For an instant he thought about going by the barber shop and holding the turkey up for the smirking barber. But he quickly drove this from his mind and made himself press his cheek tighter to the stock of the 870. Keep your mind in the game he told himself. One way or another, this was going to end soon, and it did.

Just as he thought the turkey would step out from the thin veil of small pines a flicker of movement caught his eye on the left, just under the slope. It took a second to register but he watched two coyotes as they slipped past, a hunting pair. He knew it was over. He never heard the turkey run or fly. He never heard the coyotes make a sound, so much for that.

He marveled a little at himself. No doubt he was a little disappointed but he wasn’t really mad. He just groaned as usual to get on his feet and had a look around while standing. After about fifteen minutes a turkey gobbled far around the hillside to his right. Figuring it was the same turkey, he tried to renew the relationship for about an hour but the gobbler had no interest in getting reacquainted. The hunter walked up out of the hole, tired but not discouraged.

He went home and avoided contact with anyone; he was out of milk and bread but didn’t go to the store. The old Chevy truck was low on gas but he didn’t stop, there was enough to get to the hole and back a few times. The phone rang a few times that evening but he never picked up, knowing it was probably sales calls and if it wasn’t he didn’t want to hear anything about getting your turkey yet.

The last day of season was bright and clear. The song birds, after a few days of rain and clouds, seemed to be in exceptional voice and they joined in for a hallelujah chorus to the morning. He heard turkeys gobble twice as he walked into the hole. He didn’t stop to listen, they were far below him and he had to get into their neighborhood.

Although he called from a different place today the scenario was much the same as before. The turkey came from well below him, ascending out of the abyss of Jacob’s Run. It could have been the same gobbler from before; although it didn’t gobble as much it sounded much the same. He was ready, relaxed, locked and loaded when the turkey stepped out at thirty five yards. The gobbler’s iridescent feathers caught every bit of sunlight and his head was glowing with fire red wattles and a blazing white cap. He was as pretty as any eastern wild turkey this side of the Mississippi River.    

The hunter watched with as much awe and wonder as the first turkey he had called up. What was it about these crazy but beautiful birds that captivated him so? He didn’t know, and he felt he would never know. The trigger finger that had pulled on dozens of turkey tightened and relaxed several times.

“What is the matter with you?” a voice said. “Pull that trigger and let’s get out of here, you will have your turkey and an answer for all the busybodies that have been asking.”

For reasons he could not explain he relaxed from the trigger and watched the turkey walk away. “I’ll pull the trigger when I want to,” he said to himself. “Not to satisfy somebody in town.” He got up and had a look around. The song birds sounded as if they had been rehearsing for days. He felt light, as if a burden had been lifted.

He started the long walk out of Jacob’s Run, happy not to have any weight on his back.

– Larry Case, HashtagWV #113. May 2019. If you would like to contact Larry Case, email him at Larryocase3@gmail.com. See Larry’s online blog at GunsandCornbread.com

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