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AP file photo by Kathy Willens / Turkey hunting has been the basis of a friendship between a group of men from Georgia and West Virginia for more than four decades, writes outdoors columnist Larry Case.

"If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." — Anonymous

Part of me wanted to keep going. Part of me said: "What the heck are you trying to prove? Stop and take a break, you dummy!" I looked up the hill, and Mike had somehow gotten 40 yards in front of me. I could not figure out how that happened, and it bothered me.

Heart pounding, I caught up with him but did not get too close. I didn't want him to hear me straining for breath for a few minutes, which I am sure he did anyway.

The hillside we were on was steep as a horse's face, typical for southern West Virginia, and I had to brace myself a little to stand there and take in all the oxygen I could. We were trying to get to a turkey who (up until then) had been gobbling his fool head off. Now that we were in his neighborhood, he had of course developed lockjaw. This part of the Appalachian chain is rough, steep and not for the faint of heart. (I am not saying anything about age.)

All in all, this was just a typical day during the week of the Georgia and West Virginia spring turkey hunting extravaganza.

Some of you who follow "The Trail Less Traveled" regularly will remember that for more than 40 years, residents of the mountains of northwest Georgia have traveled to the equally vertically challenged hills of West Virginia. Turkey hunting has been the basis for a friendship with hunting partners from the two states for the past 43 years. Well, some of us think it is 43 years. We are not sure, 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. Not long after Tomcat left us, we lost another charter member of this group known as the "Cod Squad": Jason "Doc" Dover. To say that Doc was a colorful character and irreplaceable in our group would be the understatement of the year.

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Photo contributed by Larry Case / Mike Cooper, right, listens while Jason Cooper calls the birds during a recent turkey hunt in West Virginia. A decades-old gathering in which turkey hunters from the Mountain State welcome friends from Georgia each spring was called off in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the reunion resumed this year.

Last year, 2020 brought all the coronavirus craziness, and the annual rendezvous of turkey hunters was canceled for the first time since it started all those decades ago. Jason Cooper, Mike Cooper and I held an abbreviated get-together of the West Virginia contingency to keep it alive, but it definitely was not the same.

So last week everyone was glad to have a session with old friends. It was a good week, but the only problem was longtime "Cod Squad" member Randall Hensley didn't make the trip this year because of health reasons. The full roster for 2021 was Woodrow Brogan, Jason Cooper, Mike Cooper, Walt Shupe and me from West Virginia, with John Aikin and Larry Etheridge making the drive up to represent Georgia. (Oh yeah, almost forgot: Callie the semi-retired pointer dog was there.)

Many turkey hunters are reporting this year that gobblers are acting even more squirrelly than usual, and our luck was no different. Turkeys would gobble some on the roost (maybe), then fly down and become tight-lipped, perhaps not saying anything the rest of the day. We kept at it every day, though.

A turkey was missed on Monday (name withheld to protect fragile egos), but Walt bagged a big gobbler hunting by himself on Wednesday. In the traditional fashion for this group, because Walt was alone with no witnesses, there was all manner of questioning about how the turkey was actually taken, the IQ and eyesight of the gobbler was questioned and so forth. All of this is done at the nightly debriefing sessions on the back porch. It is a tough crowd and, like the mountains, not for the faint of heart.

Like always, I am amazed when it slips by so quickly. It seems we arrive and move into the cabin and have a whole week before us, and then before you know it Saturday morning comes and there is a mad scramble to pack up and the Georgia boys are drifting down the driveway for the ride home.

Randall, I know that we will see you next year, so get ready to climb those hills in Lick Creek. Tomcat would want to see us hit the 50-year mark.

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Contributed photo / Larry Case

"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at larryocase3@gmail.com.

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