"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." - Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird"
I often hear from many of you out there who tell me that even though you are not hunters, you still read my somewhat meager offerings in this time slot. I am forever grateful for this. More than a little mystified, but grateful.
Those of you who are hunters already know we are on the cusp of that grand rite of spring: turkey season. Some of the Southern states have already started, and others will soon. Frankly, I have felt that if I see one more post on Facebook talking about "I can't wait" until the season comes, in I might explode.
This may have to do with my own progression as a turkey hunter. I mean, it will get here when it gets here, you know?
So right now all over much of America, many turkey hunters are scrambling about in the wee hours of the morning getting to their hunting spots and dueling with this grand game bird that possesses a brain roughly the size of a medium peanut. Yet the turkey routinely either outsmarts us or just plain eludes the hunter during the course of this foray, acted out daily over the course of the next two months. As each season approaches, I seem to see the whole dynamic between the turkey and the homo sapiens who pursue him a little differently.
Maybe I need to throw in a little background.
Not long after I started terrorizing the local woodland population of birds and mammals with a BB and pellet gun, my dad gave me "the speech." No, not that speech - the one all young boys used to get about what birds you could shoot and which ones are off limits. For my dad, what he considered pest birds were legal: starlings, house sparrows and maybe some blackbirds. All other songbirds were off limits.
So, of course, I promptly went out on the riverbank one day and tried an exceptionally long shot at an unfortunate catbird. Because I did not really want the shot to connect, it did - and holding that fallen catbird in my hand affected me deeply. I can remember admitting this heinous sin to my dad, fully expecting the wrath of God to fall upon my skinny little shoulders. Well, it didn't, and to this day the catbird is a special songbird to me.
Now I am not going to get too mushy here about killing game birds and animals. Those of you who have followed some of my ramblings know I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to shoot various animals. I make no apology for this; it is what hunters do. But sometimes I wonder if you could do a hunting version of the popular catch-and-release approach that many fishermen practice.
(Back in the day, it seems everything we caught went on the stringer. Old pictures I sometimes find reveal bass and bluegills and most anything else we caught went home with us and were released into Lake Crisco, meaning into hot grease. They were pretty tasty, too.)
Those of you who follow the call of the wild turkey in the spring woods know that is quite possible to call up a big gobbler and then at the last minute decide not to yank the trigger.
With all that goes into pursuing the wild turkey in the spring woods, why would one do this? Believe me, I have been there when, after about two or three weeks of early mornings and no sleep, you would do most anything to bring about the demise of a big reprobate gobbler. But if you think about it, if you find, call in and make close contact with a gobbler, well, you have done just about everything but pull the trigger on a shotgun and send him to his heavenly reward.
The turkey runs off after you say good morning to him, he lives for another day, and you can tell your buddies how you fooled him, but he did not ride back with you in the truck. (Warning: Most will not believe you.)
In what I consider the greatest work of American literature, "To Kill a Mockingbird," Harper Lee gave us that great quote seen above about shooting a mockingbird, and also "they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us." I love that.
Now don't worry, I'm going to keep on turkey hunting, and I'm going to shoot some turkeys if I get a chance. But sometime before the season is over, I may call one up, look him in the eye and just say "Boo!"
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at email@example.com.