I've always considered fall turkey hunting to be on a par with eating bologna on white bread.
Spring gobbler hunting is ham on rye.
Spring turkey hunting in Missouri is a civilized, sophisticated exercise which requires scouting, stealth, calling ability, tactical expertise and the ability to stay awake for more than 30 seconds.
If you do everything right, a 22-pound gobbler with the machismo of an NFL pulling guard will come to the gun, and you can spend the next 11 months boring people with the story.
Fall turkey hunting, as it is recommended by experts, is to find a hen with a bunch of flighty, young-of-the-year turkeys, scare the sauce out of them and then call back a lonesome, virginal hen that might weigh six pounds. It's kind of like Mike Tyson challenging the toughest kid in a day care center.
I had no plans to ever hunt autumnal turkeys. The season comes in the lull between dove and quail season, and you have to take a break from hunting sometime. My wife, Marty, told me so.
Besides, we were deep into wedding plans. Our son Eddie was getting married, and the Vance Back Forty was to be the site.
The young couple planned to convert the basketball court into a fall harvest area and say their vows amid hay bales and corn shocks. It promised to be emotionally moving, tender and a whole lot of work.
I had bought a fall turkey tag when I was buying a deer tag because we'd seen turkeys from time to time all summer, but I doubted I'd use it. Every time I cast a longing glance at my camouflage gear, Marty came up with a nuptial nudge that found me with a broom and dustpan in hand rather than a Model 12.
The turkeys lurked in the back of my mind like an evil impulse. We'd seen the turkeys since the youngsters were fuzzy caricatures of their mother. A couple of aunt hens hung around with the family group. The kids picked up weight all summer eating local bugs, and by fall it was difficult to tell the young ones from the old ones.
I slipped away from the myriad marriage chores for a couple of hours one afternoon because sitting in the October woods is more fun than working. Voices drifted up the ridge, especially that of Marty asking, "Does anyone know where Joel went?" I basked in the afternoon sun and listened to a squirrel call me names that you can't print in a family magazine.
A couple hours later the dinner bell sounded in my stomach, and I went home to eat. I neither saw nor heard any turkeys. The rest of the first week trundled by, and I figured my permit cost was a contribution to conservation, not a ticket to Thanksgiving dinner.
Saturday was the last day of the first week's hunting. I was cleaning out the woodworking shop because if it rained, the marriage would take place between the joiner and the radial arm saw. I clattered around with the quiet grace of a garbage collector, and then heard faint yelps from the edge of the woods, about 50 yards away.
"Naw, can't be," I mumbled to myself.
But it was. A second turkey answered the first, and they continued to gossip. I quietly put down the push broom, trotted down the hill and pulled on my camouflage gear. I slipped out the back door and into the woods, making an arc toward the birds. I picked a good-looking tree (one with a comfortable back rest, no stobs sticking up or out and with a bit of foliage in front of me for concealment).
I tucked the mouth caller, idle for five months, into my mouth and earnestly assured the unseen flock that I was lost and scared and really wanted company.
The lost hen call is different from the lovesick spring call where you pour into each passionate series of yelps all the affection-starved emotion of Elvis crooning "Falling In Love With You."
Instead, you put a panicky note into it as if you were whistling past a graveyard in the dark of the moon and you just heard heavy breathing behind you.
Another turkey yelped to my right and up the hill, closer than the original bunch, so I scrootched around the tree, situated myself against a sharp stob that threatened to make me an organ donor before my time, and waited.
Now, hen turkeys are not the toughest things in the world to call. They are communal, love nothing better than good gossip, and if you can promise them a juicy story, they'll show up.
Two did, their blue heads bobbing through the understory. It was as easy as falling off a log. I know all about that, having fallen off many logs in the spring woods when sleep ambushed me.
The lead bird came into an opening in the brush and I centered it above the bead on the end of the long-barreled Model 12. A micro-second later, I had taken a nine-pound juvenile. It was nothing to bore you with, but it was my first fall turkey.
I dressed the bird and contemplated its innards. I poked through a handful of turkey plumbing and found the liver. I carried the organ to our pond, threaded it on a hook and pitched it in. Thirty seconds later I was fast to a five-pound channel cat which became supper. The hunter-gatherer had come home bearing his shield, not on it.
I even considered buying a lottery ticket. When you're on a roll ...
The week flew by in a frenzy of housecleaning, arriving guests and wedding decorations. The last time I saw anything as elaborate was when Prince Charles and Diana got married. I had no time to think about killing a second turkey.
Eddie and Dina were married beneath a big old oak tree, red with autumnal color. Marty, Eddie's mother, cried, and I must have gotten something in my eye-or maybe it was a fall allergy.
The next day was the last of the fall season, but I figured I'd run out my string of luck the previous Saturday and decided to spend the last few hours of the season contemplating the inside of my eyelids.
I was imitating a Shopsmith sawing lengths of knotty pine, when another of our sons woke me and said, "There's turkeys up in the woods." He had taken a walk around the place and flushed several.
Once again I seized serendipity by the throat, put on my musty camo gear and trudged into the woods. A half-hour later, I came to the house with an 11-pound hen, one of a dozen that investigated my doleful dirge.
The family, including the newlyweds, rushed to the yard once again to see the hunter-gatherer come home with his bounty. The turkey bounced against my back as I strode into the yard like Odysseus back from the wars. I lay it on the ground amid admiring murmurs. Eddie and Dina stood hand-in-hand, their happiness radiant.
Marty looked at them. "Isn't that beautiful?" she asked, her eyes misty.
I gazed down at the turkey and smiled gently. "It sure is," I replied. "I never shot two turkeys in a season before."
I don't understand the dirty look I got. I guess some people just don't appreciate fall turkey hunting.
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