"Cod, don't move — that turkey is standing down there right where you were sitting."
I glance over at my hunting buddy Randal. I am standing close to him but not facing downhill as he is. I'm a little skeptical because I figure Randal might be messing with me, but I don't want to turn my head and look if the turkey is indeed close. I take a slow step backward behind a screen of brush and hope I am hidden from the alleged gobbler.
I watch Randal's face as he stares downhill, and when he grimaces, I know the turkey is gone. We had been working on this turkey for the past two hours, and I was about done in. I had just now extracted myself from the place I had been sitting, and the hillside location plus the awkward position I was forced to sit in while calling to this turkey was near torture. After I could stand it no more, I dragged myself upright and walked uphill to where my buddy was located. After a few minutes of hushed conversation, he told me the turkey was checking out the place where I had been sitting for so long.
That, my friends, is turkey hunting.
And turkey hunting has been the basis for a friendship with hunting partners from West Virginia and Georgia for the past 43 years. Well, some of us think it is 43 years — it could be 41, and I will try to explain.
You see, a few years ago we lost our leader of the group: George "Tomcat" Dooley from Ellijay, Georgia. Tomcat organized joint turkey hunts between the two states and was the official keeper of all records — who attended what year, who brought in gobblers, who missed and so forth. Since he has passed on, no one really knows for sure exactly how things started and who did what, kind of like things disappear into the mist of time in ancient history.
Randall and I make our way up the hill and start the long walk toward the truck. This is Monday of the third week of the spring turkey hunting season, and even though we had been thoroughly hoodooed by this turkey, I didn't feel too bad. However, I knew I would definitely be thinking about some form of physical therapy by the end of the week.
Back at camp, we find out no one else has scored either, but such information does not hinder Mike Cline from Georgia or Walt Shupe from West Virginia from whipping up a big breakfast. (Or is it brunch at this point?) Bacon and eggs, some delicious sausage Mike has brought from Georgia, biscuits, apple butter and jelly plus other breakfast treats are on the menu. While we gorge, a full report from each turkey hunting team is given. Everyone agrees that although no one gave a turkey a ride home in his truck, everyone heard and saw turkeys, so prospects for the week look bright.
After eating, most of the crowd slips away for a much-needed nap.
On Tuesday, Mike Cooper and Randal are paired up, and they get on a gobbler near one of our favorite places — the "Tater Patch." Mike scores on this turkey, and we are all glad somebody broke the ice. I am not the least bit jealous of Mike bringing in a gobbler, of course. (Well, maybe just a little.)
The back porch session held every evening before supper is especially rowdy this time. Everyone speculates how Mike and Randall actually downed this turkey, and the razzing, as always, is fast and furious. Did this turkey have some sort of vision and hearing impairment, or was he not exactly the smartest turkey in the neighborhood?
By Wednesday, two things are apparent to me. One is that the turkeys are not nearly as chatty as they were on Monday, with some of them being downright standoffish and others acting as if they owe you money. They are not cooperating at all. The other thing I notice is my ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound has somehow diminished. The hills are steeper, if that is possible, and it is entirely feasible I am just not as mad at these turkeys as in the past. I even think about mentioning something about staying in bed one morning, but my foolish pride and the scorn I know would be heaped upon me keeps me from doing so.
By Thursday, the turkeys are doing no better in the conversation department, and I know John from the Georgia delegation is thinking about leaving early. Rain is being predicted, the turkeys are acting stupid and in truth John needs to get home and attend to a doctor visit related to his recent surgery. After he mentions he may want to leave today, the other Georgia boys say they will join him and leave as well.
I am a little sad for the party to break up early, but I know John needs to get home so I don't say much, just the usual guy stuff such as "Well, it's about time you left" and "You've been here too long anyway." That sort of thing.
Hurried goodbyes are said in the driveway, and I stand and listen as their trucks roll downhill and out the road leading into camp. Everyone claims we will do it again next year, and I believe that, but you cannot help but think about how the constraints of time, age and our frailties as human beings can get in the way of such plans.
Number 44 next year? I hope so as I listen till I can't hear trucks anymore and think, "If Tomcat was here, he could sort all this out."
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.