Case: New hunter offers fresh perspective this spring

AP file photo by Keith Srakocic / A wild tom turkey fanning his tail and puffing out body feathers as he approaches a hen is one of the classic sights of early spring.
AP file photo by Keith Srakocic / A wild tom turkey fanning his tail and puffing out body feathers as he approaches a hen is one of the classic sights of early spring.

Have I told you this before? Here we are in early spring, maybe the most glorious time of year. The leaves are busting out, the birds are doing their best with singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" on bright mornings, and everything is fresh and new. We cast off the doldrums of winter and welcome this shining time of year.

On top of all this (you knew I was getting to this, didn't you?) the spring turkey season is either in full swing or about to start wherever you are in the Southeast. In my neck of the woods, Virginia started about a week ago; West Virginia starts Monday.

I think many times I have revealed to you that while I have lived the lifestyle of a turkey hunter now for more than 40 years (could it be 50?), I cannot fib to myself and must say that sometimes I do dread it.

Dread spring turkey season? How can that be? Larry, say that it isn't so!

Well, the plain truth is — and dedicated turkey hunters may admit it to you — if you hunt a lot, it can be just plain hard. Hard as in morning after morning of getting up before any self-respecting chicken would get out of bed and make coffee. Spring hunters want to be in their listening place when the gobblers wake up, blink a couple times and begin the business of telling the world they are here.

Now let's be clear. I love turkey hunting. Plain and simple. What I don't like lately is the getting up out of a perfectly good bed and going in search of an egotistical bird that sometimes acts like he owes you money.

Got it? OK, we continue.

I also think I have told you in the past that I often can be found in a wonderful, Shangri-La type of place in Craig County, Virginia, about a good stone's throw from the West Virginia line. Paint Bank is a tiny hamlet nestled between Peters Mountain and Potts Mountain on the Virginia and West-by-God-Virginia border. Potts Creek flows down the middle of a beautiful valley that lies between these two rugged mountain ranges.

It is a wild and beautiful place that I am forever conflicted about. You want to tell people about it so they may enjoy it, but you don't want too many pilgrims coming here. I haven't figured out how to do this yet and may never find a way.

Enter Potts Creek Outfitters. It's here among all the Paint Bank attractions, which include world-class accommodations: the Depot Lodge, Lemon Hotel, several nice cabins, glamping (you know, camping out but in a luxurious tent with all the glamorous amenities) and many more. There is a nice restaurant with a swinging bridge (it takes too long to explain, you'll just have to go see it) and a country store.

All of this and more in a gorgeous setting that includes buffalo — American bison — watching you lazily as you drive up the valley and gawk at them. (That's right, kids, buffalo right here in Virginia and West Virginia.) This whole operation is centered on several hundred acres, much of it surrounded by U.S. National Forest. As you might suspect, there is a plethora (that means a lot) of critters here, including whitetail deer and a bunch of wild turkeys.

OK, so now that I have mentioned the turkey thing, you know why I am in Paint Bank. Potts Creek Outfitters runs a hunting and fishing outfitting business here. They offer bow hunting for the deer in the fall (with all this land, yes, they grow some big bucks) and they do spring gobbler hunts. The cool thing here is, situated as Potts Creek Outfitters is on the border area, they offer hunts in both Virginia and West Virginia. This amounts to a long season span for both deer and turkeys.

  photo  Photo contributed by Larry Case / Caleb Kushner from Washington, D.C., shows off the turkey he took while hunting with Potts Creek Outfitters out of Paint Bank, Va.

So your humble outdoors scribe is here to help out with guiding during the spring turkey season, and this led me to meeting a young man named Caleb Kushner. Caleb came to Potts Creek Outfitters to sample the turkey hunting and fly fishing in Potts Creek (really big trout, by the way). Caleb is from Maryland, now living in Washington, D.C., and is in the real estate business.

Caleb drew me as his guide, and we took off in the pre-dawn darkness. I had a spot picked out, but you really just never know with turkeys. John Hudson, one of the guides at Potts Creek, was in this spot the day before and heard nothing, zip.

Remember how I told you turkeys will sometimes treat you like they owe you money?

Caleb and I exit the truck to start our walk to the blind we will use, and I am lugging way too much gear (as usual). We hear resounding gobbles around us, and I know this is a good sign. We get situated in the blind, and I do my best to give Caleb a crash course of mounting and aiming the shotgun on a turkey. For a second, I am hit with the enormity of it all. There are only about a zillion things that can go wrong when you are zeroing in on a gobbler (turkey hunters know what I am talking about), but Caleb seems to take it all in and appears confident. If anything, he shows more confidence than me.

I pull a brand new call from my vest and don't like the sound of it from the beginning, but the important thing is three (three!) big gobblers located to our front do. We see them coming from afar, and as usual it takes (it seems) forever for them to get to us. Then just when they get into range, the turkeys bunch up too close and I caution Caleb to wait for the shot. At the last minute, a hen turkey comes out of nowhere very close to us, and I am afraid she is going to sound the alarm and ruin it all. A few seconds later, the Beretta shotgun speaks and Caleb's first turkey is down for the count.


After the shot and the celebrating, the adrenaline starts to subside and I have a little revelation that I should have already noticed. I saw some of this grand spring morning, and all of the dozens of things that make turkey hunting what it is, through the eyes of a brand new turkey hunter.

Caleb got to see a big part of this wonderful game in a short time. The anticipation of walking to our spot in the dark, the world waking up all around us as song birds, crows and then turkeys bring in the new day. Big, puffed-up gobblers coming toward us with that pompous walk. Will they come in range? How do they not hear my heart pounding?

I saw it all again through the eyes of a new hunter.

It was wonderful. I'm really looking forward to this turkey season.

"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at

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