Documented Memories: A Saturday Morning Turkey Hunt
|Firearms - Shotguns|
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
The niche of a hunter-writer is a very rewarding one. Recording hunts with words and photos allows me to capture and to share my expeditions, experiences, and emotions with my readers, and to relive the adventure myself. Every time I return from the field, bush, swamps, mountains, or woods, a separate yet related task awaits me—bringing the adventure to life for those who did not accompany me. There are so many ways to capture the hunts, safaris, and field research in which I am active, but alas, time, resources, and preferences do not permit my use of all of them. Because these trips are deeply personal, an equally intimate narrative seems the ideal technique to enable the reader to escape with me through my recollections, my documented memories. A heartfelt re-creation of the complete meaning of my time spent outdoors is at best only mildly reminiscent of the actual adventure. Yet I know that when circumstances prevent me from hunting, the next avenues for my passion are reading and writing about the sport. I learn so much more about God’s revelation in nature, about the implications of Psalm 19 and of Romans 1-3, as I attempt to set the stage and to prepare the reader for experiencing the real-life thrill of the hunt. There is so much the hunter-writer and her readers discover about themselves with each memory documented by the pen and camera.
Enter my best friend, Charis, pronounced "Ka-rees." She is an accomplished figure skater, a dedicated student headed to Seminary, a mentor to neighborhood youth, and most outstandingly, a strong woman of God. Charis has been and continues to be like a sister to me, and I am exceedingly grateful for her support and friendship. I am able to count her among my closest friends and, now, hunting buddies. Earlier this year, Charis accompanied me on a hunt for the Eastern wild turkey. We would have to handle unlikely dilemmas to see our effort come to fruition and to earn bragging rights for the season.
Charis and I have enjoyed some outrageous experiences together. We have shared classes, dilemmas, joy, and pain, team-taught a Bible study and discipleship for college women, and had so much fun with two more of our closest friends on a once-in-a-lifetime spring break road trip and vacation to Charleston. Charis has shared with me her figure skating performances, performances so spectacular that sometimes I believe ESPN should be filming. She is so graceful on the ice, and during those rare moments Charis encounters a snag, she effortlessly and discretely incorporates it into her routine. Charis showed interest in my outdoor pursuits, so during the holiday we checked the perimeter of my land until torrential downpours interrupted the hike. She was so psyched about picking up "bush skills" and interpreting wildlife sign that it was time to induct her into the "order of the huntresses." When spring turkey season arrived, Charis was to have an insider’s view into the life of a dedicated turkey hunter. We could not wait.
As usual, the planning and anticipation commenced long before our hunt began. We set the date for the first Friday afternoon in April, but the rain was falling so forcefully that we held off until the next weekend. Weather always has a way of scheduling the hunter’s plans for him or her. I began to get uneasy, knowing that we only had four weekends with which to work, and that one of them was already blown. On top of that, we were both juggling demanding course loads as well as outside commitments. We would have to get it together if we wanted to come up with a turkey. During the week, Charis and I chatted in Java City café and on the phone, discussing the approaching hunt. My tasks were to find netting for her and to fish out my hunting clothes—without triggering a cascading avalanche of the outdoor gear above me. Inevitably, I was clobbered with gear from the previous hunting season, but it worked to my advantage. I discovered some calls and products that I had completely forgotten about. Ah, life’s little joys.
Saturday seemed to take forever to arrive. Classes and meetings dragged on through Friday; it seemed to take forever to get home. Nevertheless, the morning arrived and I fumbled in the dark to get dressed. There are few things like gearing up in the early morning, heart beating in anticipation of what is in store for the day’s hunt. The fluorescent green screen of my cell phone served as a crude flashlight until my eyes adjusted so that I could avoid those blasted corners as I made my way downstairs to the den. I gave Charis a wake-up call to make sure she was awake and on her way over to the house. Her voice answered cheerily, as usual. I smiled. We were going to have a good hunt. Best friends cannot help but to have great times; it’s just something we do.
Charis pulled in and met me in the basement. One glance at her tennis shoes and I involuntarily grinned. "Girl, y’know there’s some pretty wet stuff we have to go through to get to the blind. Remember where I almost lost my shoe when we were out tracking a few months ago? We have to go through that. And with all the rain, we need to find you some…"
"Yeah, when the mud almost sucked off your shoe? Definitely not your most brilliant moment," Charis recalled with a laugh.
"It’s all about the right boots," I added as I sorted through the gear. "Here, try these." Charis tried on my extra pair of pack boots, but they would have caused her to either sink into the mud or trip every step, so I did what was left to do: I apologized in advance for the impending mud. Well, it was more of a knowing warning than an apology. Besides, I figured there couldn’t be that much standing water. Still, I kept in mind that she was at present a nonhunter, not knowing what to expect and trusting me completely on our trek. Every time introducing an eager novice woman hunter to the challenge of the hunt is unique because none of the women ever approaches it the same way. If anyone were to partner as a fellow hunter and go mile for mile with me, it would be Charis.
I pulled on my rubber swamp boots and collected my calls while I caught up with my friend. Charis picked up the cushions for us to sit on, and I unlocked the gun cabinet and took out my 12-gauge pump-action. Partnering that shotgun with 3-inch magnum shells is a PARTY of fun for the shoulder of a woman, but it serves the purpose of turkey hunting admirably well. Besides, the hunter never feels the recoil in the heat of the moment. All her thoughts stick to the task at hand, and that is how it should be.
Charis’ eyes followed me as I picked up the gun and then cradled it with an arm as we walked out the door. The spark of intrigue was there: I secretly hoped it wouldn’t be long until Charis had enough experience and knowledge to carry a firearm on her own. For now, though, I was content to have her along as an awesomely fun hunting buddy. We resigned to take this adventure seriously and find fun and beauty in every moment, and that’s exactly what we did.
A rabbit waited right outside the door, where the first blades of grass meet the concrete behind the basement. I pointed and silently (yes, silently) laughed at this cottontail, for he had become something of a pet as soon as he determined the end of rabbit season. The rabbit was without motion, without a muscle twitch, when we passed within his most personal space.
Long-time hunters can appreciate the hikes to the hunting grounds before dawn. Well, I miscalculated daybreak and rays of light started to shine upon us long before we got to our blind. I am sure most hunters can appreciate that as well! All we could do was to keep trekking and to hope that we didn’t flush a big bird as we entered the area. As Charis and I crossed fences through the flatlands of my farm, I began to think. I thought of all that rain that drenched our area the weekend before, and how rain and clay earth mix to make slick muddy patches. Yes, I admit I am a hunter who ponders over the very philosophy of mud. Ha! And you never even thought a philosophy of mud even existed! Well, creation is the most wondrous marvel indeed! Philosophers or not, neither of us expected the water to rise above the height of the pasture grasses, to just below our knees. (Author’s note: Have a look at Charis’ jeans in the photos.)
We quietly made our way from the clear-cuts to the dense creek bottoms. We swiftly weaved through mazes of briars so that we could reach the blind "on time." I usually don’t rely heavily upon a watch during my hunts, but turkey hunting is an exception. A watch is necessary to space calls correctly and time responses by gobblers. A digital watch is definitely a mainstay for the serious turkey hunter. It was 7:01 when the blind came within sight. Sunrise was at 6:50.
When we arrived at the blind, Charis and I settled in and took our places, she to my left, our backs to the ancient oak behind us. It was almost completely light, and since we already made unavoidable noise entering, I proceeded to brief Charis on what might occur. I highlighted the lay of the land and showed her where gobblers had positioned themselves in the past. Birds coming down from their roosts would likely give away their positions with a smooth yet noisy flight earthward. Likewise, I indicated that a turkey flying across our creek 20 yards behind us will be signaled by the same loud wing-flap. Knowledge of the birds’ movements and presence in advance would allow the hunter to assume a shooting position and to get on the turkey as soon as possible. It was easy to see that Charis naturally had what it takes to be a successful turkey hunter, so I asked her to cover the whole left side of the blind. If the blind were the face of a clock, the outside area from 6 to 12 o’clock was her charge. The area almost out of her peripheral vision was a typical entrance for the biggest game birds, and I secretly hoped she would have the thrill of spotting a smart turkey as he paralleled the creek toward her.
After fixing Charis’ netting to fit over her eyes without resting on her face, I fished the trusty slate call out of my side cargo pocket and let out a few clucks and purrs. I tried so hard to maintain a straight face while imitating sounds of a turkey that can be quite humorous. Charis glanced at me and made a face. I’ll never forget the mixture of curiosity, amusement, and pity that was in her expression. Maybe she never heard a wild turkey or a turkey caller. I don’t know, but although I was confident in my "turkey talk," I recalled the "secret" my dad shared with me when he first taught me how to call. It doesn’t always depend on the expertise of the caller. There are some turkeys who sound worse than a very inexperienced caller, sometimes birds who sound totally pathetic. If you screech a putt or draw out a yelp too long, you can usually make it believable and cover it up before a wise tom picks up your game. Just don’t give up, and don’t overdo it. My calling has brought me some lovely birds, but only after reminding myself of these words many times. We’d just have to wait.
Almost immediately, a very strong gobble responded to my call. It usually only works this way on the Outdoor Life TV shows, I thought to myself. Charis looked at me. "Hear that?" I asked. "That’s our bird. He’s up bright and early, isn’t he?"
"Unbelievable!" she whispered.
"For sure. Super cool," I agreed with her. Isn’t it funny how outdoorsmen and women, especially hunters, can issue effective exclamations in a whisper? But Charis was right, it was definitely unbelievable.
Then I heard the flapping of wings to my left. I counted in my mind: one, two, three. There were three birds coming our way. When I peeked beside the oak tree, I saw the three turkeys now on our side of the creek, but they were all hens. I relayed the news to Charis because my body and the tree were blocking the hens from her sight. She definitely wasn’t disappointed. On the contrary, Charis was thrilled when they passed in front of us. These three lady-birds were most talkative, clucking and scratching through the fallen leaves with much animation as they fed. The beauty God infuses into His creatures is so awesome to behold. The light bounced off the hens’ plumage and created brilliant bronze and green edging on their feathers. As every turkey hunter knows, the best decoys for a trophy tom are actual hens that hang around and serve as live decoys. We kept an eye watching the trio in front of us as we scanned for other turkeys.
Thirty minutes later, the hens were gone, but a grey squirrel fed among blue jays, cardinals, and other songbirds. Charis and I watched him climb halfway up a pine tree and then belly-flop to the forest floor like an acrobat. This crazy squirrel entertained us, but the birds around him did not seem as impressed. I soon cranked up my calling in hopes that I might attract something other than a few hens and a squirrel. A couple minutes later, Charis tapped me. I looked where she had her attention but wasn’t able to see behind her. "There’s one coming; I see him!"
"He’s on our side of the creek?" I asked to confirm. "Is he a shooter? Do you see a beard and red and blue head, or are there feathers covering the head?"
"Yes and I’m not sure, I think there are feathers."
"But on the head?"
"Yes. And I think I see more movement. Y-y-yeah, oh my gosh, there is another, Kim."
"Okay, there might possibly be a tom following her. Let’s hope so…they seem comfortable feeding. Keep an eye on ’em and wait for them to make their way around to 11 o’clock," I indicated with my hand low under the blind. This is exactly what I had hoped that Charis could experience. Oh, the excitement of turkey hunting!
They turned out to be two more hens. Charis and I watched as they got closer and closer to us, at one point coming within three to five yards of our blind. They fed but kept up their pace like they had somewhere to be. As I was scanning the woods, I happened to notice a spot of red bobbing toward us from a distance, among the thickest hardwoods, and my heart started racing. I remained quiet and watched, hoping it was what I thought it was. Then the one red blob became two red and bluish blobs. There were definitely two gobblers coming toward us. Not wasting any time, I whispered to Charis. "Look, I’m not sure if you can see them from where you’re sitting, but there are two nice birds coming toward us. They are at 2 o’clock and will meet up with the hens if they continue on their path." Charis nodded, but said nothing. A true outdoorswoman, she was using every sense in her body to concentrate on and study those birds.
When they got within 60 yards, I could see that both of the birds were not jakes but gobblers, although one of them was clearly larger and had a beautiful paintbrush beard. He was the one I would take. "Wow, Charis, these boys are beautiful. Can you see them? They are both trophies, but one of the two gobblers is larger so I’m going to take him. He’s beautiful." Only then did I breathe for the first time in what felt like ages.
"Okay, Kim," Charis said. I didn’t turn to look at her because I had to concentrate on what I had to do to harvest the gobbler cleanly and to prepare Charis for my shot. I re-situated the shotgun on my knee and made sure the butt of the stock was in the pocket of my shoulder and not on my collarbone. I thought it better I decide where the after-shot bruising would occur instead of dealing with inadvertent hairline fractures.
"Charis, just to let you know, I’m going to shoot as soon as he gets to that diagonal fallen tree there, okay?" I knew the distance of that landmark and picked it as an ideal yardage landmark and shooting lane focus. "You okay over there? Slowly bring your fingers up so you can plug your ears. It’s gonna be loud."
The gobblers unexpectedly sped up as they got closer to the hens. I said a little silent prayer that they wouldn’t cross the creek and deny me a shot. The larger of the two gobblers began to chase the hen, and made her cluck and run in a short circle before continuing feeding. The gobblers stayed together but came closer at an agonizingly slow pace. But then, finally, my gobbler disappeared behind the diagonal tree. I flicked off the safety and took my shooting breath. The turkey’s head popped up to the left of the tree and my bead rested steadily on his head. I carefully squeezed off the shot.
After instinctively pumping to expel the shell and to chamber a new one, I dashed out of the blind and held the bead on the gobbler. He was down, albeit flopping like all downed turkeys due to nerves. I checked the safety on the gun. My problem was that after all my preparation for this hunt with Charis, I totally forgot about explaining how the turkey’s CNS causes the bird to flap even when the shot is perfectly placed and lethal.
When I realized that Charis was right behind me, I explained what we were seeing biologically. "Charis, this is normal. The turkey’s dead; I got him good. He’s not suffering. It’s just his central nervous system," I assured her. Central nervous system? Jeez, Kim, that’s a good one, I thought. Why not "nerves," why not "a natural reaction," why CNS? Try as I may to eliminate the biologist’s jargon, it is a part of me, a part of my vocabulary, no matter how unfitting the situation.
"You’re telling me! He went down immediately, just dropped. What a great shot. That was awesome. You did so well, girl!" Charis congratulated me. She was absolutely thrilled; I could almost see the adrenaline pumping through her veins. As I said before, my friend is a natural. The outdoor sports are in her blood. Charis had understood even before my explanation.
Charis and I knelt to pray and thank God for His provision and our harvest of His creature. The turkey certainly was a beautiful bird. We admired his spurs and beard, and were so thankful for the several tasty meals and many priceless memories he would provide. This was Charis’ first time hunting, and it was my first time harvesting an animal while accompanied by another woman. To spend this moment after the harvest with my best friend, my sister in Christ, was simply a surreal experience. Women hunters rock!
"Well, time to pack up and move out," I said as I pocketed my call and the spent shell casing. Charis offered to carry the gun, so I braced the turkey over my shoulder and began our hike out of the creek bottoms. Wow! That twenty cumbersome pounds of game seemed to grow to fifty pretty quickly, but it was still a piece of cake compared to an elk.
My watch read 9:05 when we got back home. The hunt seemed to last a lot longer than it actually had, probably because of all the excitement. I thought my dad already left for work, but we knocked on their door anyway to check. My parents were both home and were thrilled. Dad playfully teased me for my luck and habit of "shopping" instead of hunting.
"What do you do, Simba [my nickname]? Just place a checkmark beside ‘Trophy Gobbler’ on some magical list, and trounce out to the woods for an hour or two?" I reminded Dad of the nice jake he took earlier that week. Returning the teasing, I asked him why it took him two weeks to harvest it. Dad knows better than anyone else that sometimes the hunts I participate in can be downright uneventful, but he definitely lets me know when I’ve been blessed. And on those times I am successful, Dad inevitably reaps the benefits. Of course I relentlessly remind him about this every time he enjoys a steak from my elk or deer.
We took a few rounds of photographs and then Charis and I went to check in our turkey at the check station. Hungry and in a hurry, we didn’t bother to change clothes. A little mud never hurt anyone, right? When we pulled up to the store, I went in and enquired as to where one would bring a turkey to have it checked in. I brought the turkey in to the back of the store, past several hunters who were enjoying breakfast. They didn’t say anything to us, but they studied our get-up and harvest intently. As I cut the tag from the turkey’s leg and put him on the scale, it was obvious that Charis and I weren’t a sight these hunters saw everyday. Two girls in their twenties whose news of the day was that their turkey weighed in at 20 pounds with a 9.5 inch beard. I guess it was a bit different. The keen observer I am, I barely missed this amusing scene unfolding before us; my stomach growls were drowning out my thoughts.
I hurriedly started my truck and went to the most elegant restaurant around—okay, the closest—Burger King. An elderly man who sat alone at a booth asked me if we had been out in the woods. I smiled and answered. He mused that there was no better way to spend a Saturday morning in early spring than by hunting. We agreed. So true. There are few things more enjoyable than spending a morning hunting in the outdoors where God has so plainly revealed His majesty and awesome power.
Charis and I made good time on our way home. I even made a pit-stop to show our harvest to my "adopted great aunt" who used to hunt with her family on the land adjacent to ours when she was little. My sweet Dad had boiling water waiting when we returned. I invited Charis to join in the dirty work and to help me pluck the bird, and she was glad to do so. But it was soon apparent that the sight of a half-plucked turkey and the smell of warm, wet fowl wasn’t her cup of tea. I understood and told her I’d finish up and it would only take a few more minutes. Still, Charis persisted and helped to pluck until the last feather was cleaned from the turkey. We laughed as we took out pellets from the skin and tried to glorify the task at hand. Plucking turkeys, of course, is not a coat-and-tie affair, but it is part of a hunter’s life and it has to be done. One thing’s for sure: with all this turkey cleaning experience, our future husbands will be blessed.
All jokes aside, that Saturday morning was unforgettable. Two friends facilitating and encouraging one another’s walk with Christ in modern society while enjoying the timberland and its wildlife—it doesn’t get better than that. I’ll always remember what Charis said that morning.
"You know what?" Charis asked me. She continued without pausing. "I decided not to tell you this before because I didn’t want to freak you out, but I really had a feeling about this morning. I cannot explain it, but I just knew something good, something awesome, was going to happen!" None other than our God orchestrated this hunt for us. We might be merely two young women, but put us together with friendship, cooperation, planning, and dedication, and give us knowledge of the woodlands and turkey biology, a familiar weapon, and God’s grace, and the result is one amazing trophy memory. I’d say that is the Saturday morning harvest of a lifetime.
Some things we just do not have words to explain adequately, but we see God’s beautiful work in them nonetheless. What is better than your first hunting experience? Sharing someone else’s first hunting experience with them. What’s more memorable than a hunt you can cherish? A hunt cherished forever by the person you accompanied on their very first hunt. I pray that all of you might have such an experience one day, and remember it for the rest of your life. May each of your Saturday mornings be filled with the echoing gobble of a turkey in the spring, the sighting of a newborn fawn in the summer, the resounding bugle of an elk in the autumn, or the quiet solitude of the brown bear in the coldest months of the year. Take time to document your hunting memories for yourself, for your children, and for your grandchildren.
© August 2005
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