It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when I was even poorer than I am now. Yeah, I was so poor I couldn’t afford to tie my own shoelaces. That is, if I had some shoelaces. Of course, poor is relative, my wife sure didn’t act as if we were poor, she sure could spend a bunch of money on stuff, but I was sure poor.
One Christmas she decided that we needed a new vacuum. Well, I guess that was all right , the old one was noisy and left a lot of dirt so you had to go over everything twice. So I joined Consumer Reports and got all the best info on vacuums, even submitted written reports to her. Then she went off an bought the most expensive thing on the market, just cause her oldest told her that it would last. Well, it did have a 15 year guarantee, or nearly that, but still, it left us without much cash.
All the kids had decided to stay home that Christmas, right up until the last minute, then suddenly they were all coming to our place . This thrilled the wife to death of course. Meant I would have to stay home and entertain them instead of running around with the boys. Then she said, how could anyone sleep on that old rickety mattress in the upstairs bedroom. I told her that if they wanted to come home they would have to sleep in what they used to sleep in. So she said all in a huff, well you go sleep in it then. After a miserable night, I told her to go buy a mattress. She had it delivered 15 minutes later. Come to find out, she’d already ordered it, knew that one night in that old bed alone would be enough for me. She was right.
The day the kids and families started showing up, she says, Come look at he washer, it screams and blows black smoke when I turn it on. Sure enough, when you turn the old thing on, it squeals like pig with his nose caught in the barn door and blows stinky black smoke. I call my buddy Ed to come look, he’s good with gadgets, he listens and looks and says I should put it out of its misery and go buy a new one.
Well, all this really put a kink in my turkey hunting. Course, I never been turkey hunting, just wanted to go real bad. I mean really bad. Bad enough that I was willing to spend a little money to make it happen. Like, I needed a shotgun, and some camos, and some boots and a decoy and all that tack that they advertise on TV.
Now I couldn’t afford any of it. Course, never could anyway, something like Christmas was always coming up. Like another kid, and car repairs, and another kid, and fix the roof, and another kid, and a vacuum for Christmas and maybe start on another kid. One of my smart mouth buddies says I should modify my night-time activity schedule a bit, but that’s the one thing that’s easier than trying to get money out of her.
So here I am stuck with no assets and Spring turkey season coming up. I been watching the hunting channel a bit. Those guys get a bird every time they go out. It’s got to be easy. Those big birds come strutting in every time they putt on a call ,and they are a huge target, gottta be easy to hit. Hate to admit to being a poor shot, but a huge bird and a shotgun should make it easy for me.
I’ve got a neighbor what hunts turkey a lot. He’s one of those suckers that likes to help people out. Belongs to some church that preaches help your neighbor and such stuff. Well good, I figure him to have a shotgun I can borrow too. I’ve been in his house and there’s guns in every corner. Since it only takes one bullet, I’d of bet that I could even borrow the shell.
Turns out I’m wrong. Sure enough, he is willing to take me turkey hunting, and he sure does have an old 12 gauge singe shot that I can borrow but I’m going to have to buy my own ammo. We set up a hunt for the first week-end in April. He’s got a farmer friend that lets him hunt the place for no fee, with lots of turkeys.. He gives me a DVD by some guy named Eye, and tells me to study it good and do everything that Eye tells me to. He tells me to buy some magnum ammo with small shot, the kind you shoot pheasants with and gives me a story about shooting the birds in the face. I figure he’s pulling my leg, taking me on a snipe hunt. I know all about snipe hunts. Been there once.
Time passes too fast to keep up with and suddenly it’s the day before turkey season. I bought a ten pack of magnum loads for the shotgun. I was only going to shoot one. I’d save the rest for later. If I was careful, I’d get ten years of hunting out of that one box. My buddy calls and says I should be ready to go at 4 in the morning. He says dress in camo. I explain that I haven’t got any camo. He says that’s OK, just come in the dullest, dirtiest clothes I own. He’s got a camo cover I can throw over me. That sounds good, I was afraid I was going to have to rush off to Walmart and buy a whole outfit. The wife would really howl about that.
When he shows up in the morning, he hands me the loaner shotgun. It says H&R or some such thing on the action, and it opens with a little lever on the top. It’s got a hammer just in front of the lever. It’s also got a barrel about a yard long but doesn’t weigh very much. I don’t see a recoil pad either. He chuckles and says I should hold it tight so it don’t kick much. Pulling my leg again. He makes another comment about shooting them in the face. He’s really on a roll, two leg pulls in a row.
We drive for about an hour and end up parked in a hay field that’s just growing new shoots. He leads me into some trees, telling me to step quietly and don’t talk, the turkeys are in those trees just in front of us. I learn later that he’s been in here the last few nights watching where the turkeys go to roost. Apparently it’s in the gigantic cottonwood about 100 feet tall just in front.
He sits me down in front of a thick old tamarack and throws a piece of burlap with leaves painted on it over me, leaves just my head and gun sticking out. He’s already told me I got to sit still with the gun up ready to shoot until the birds drop out the tree and he calls a tom over into range. He backs up about ten yards and sits behind another big bush. He points up into the big cottonwood and hushes me up with a finger to his mouth.
It’s dark as the inside of a cow, but gradually gets lighter. The stars slowly blink out and the sky starts to turn blue where it was black before. I can see the individual branches of the big cottonwood now standing stark against the brightening sky. I’m sitting bout 50 yards from the trunk of the tree and it’s lowest branches must be 30 yards long. The closest ones sure aren’t very far off. I make out some big black bumps on the branches as it gets lighter. Could be turkeys. My heart start to thump. I hear a couple little peeps from the tree and I see a head move. Now my heart really gets going.
‘Bout that time my friend calls from behind me. Just a couple of peeps, real quiet, almost sounds sleepy. Well, it woke somebody up. There was a great big gobble from deep in the tree. ‘Bout scared me to death. My heart about jumped out of my chest and I got suddenly all warm and sweaty.
My friend peeped again, but louder. There were answering peeps from the tree, with one loud and bossy, sounding like she got up on the wrong side of the bed. Then some wings flapped and a body hit the ground. It was the bossy one, I could tell because she let loose that cross sounding cluck again.
It was a lot lighter now. The turkeys were easy to see, most of them standing up and gawking around like a bunch of tourists. A few flapped their wings a little, I guess getting the night’s stiffness out. They all started talking like a bunch of chickens in a hen house. There were more gobbles, one even gobbled twice in a row. Soon as he did, my friend started talking up a storm. Sounded real sexy, ‘bout got me excited. ‘Course. I was already excited, the sweat was running into my eyes and making them sting. It was hard to resist wiping the sweat away but I didn’t dare move.
Turkeys started dropping out of the tree like ripe fruit falling to the ground. They just flapped almost straight down. The brush on the ground was thick enough that they just disappeared into it, I couldn’t see any except for a flash here and there. My friend was still talking sexy, getting a gobble now and then for his trouble. Must have worked, ‘cause suddenly there was a big tom in the little clearing my friend had parked me in front of. I mean big, beard dragging the ground. And he was coming my way, wings low and drumming, tail spread, head back, all fluffed out like a teenage boy showing his muscles for the girls.
I knew this was my chance. The gun was already pointing almost down his throat. I carefully cocked the hammer, waiting for him to gobble just as I did it. I thought that was right sneaky of me. He looked to be right at 30 yards away, perfect for a heart shot. I put the bead on his chest , he was facing me square, and I slapped the trigger. I read somewhere that Jack O’Conner used to do that, slap the trigger, so I slapped it. The old gun roared. I didn’t even feel the kick. The tom went over on his back, feathers flying all over the place. I got ‘im!!~Wow!
I jumped to my feet, remembering to pop the spent shell out of the barrel, and ran over to the bird. But he wasn’t there. Just a big pile of feathers. My friend came running over too. He gawked at the feather pile, then said I must have shot low. Low heck, I replied, I had that bead right on the tom’s breast. My friend looked stunned. Then he turned and walked back to the tamarack. He picked up the spent shell off the ground, glanced at the writing on the case, and said something about #2 shot. I protested, loudly, that of course I used #2 shot. No-one could expect #6 shot to kill a big bird like that! We are not on a snipe hunt!
My friend sighed and looked away, arms akimbo. He had that thousand yard stare that came on when somebody mentioned Viet Nam. I checked my eyes to make sure they hadn’t gone slanted. Didn’t want no trouble with this tough cookie. Well, so you didn’t watch that Ray Eye video after all, he asked?. I mumbled something about being too busy keeping the wife happy. Didn’t listen to what I said about head shooting either? I grunted something else about hunting snipe. A little bit of a smirk appeared at one corner of his mouth. I knew I had him. He was about to laugh. Don’t know what at, but I like the laugh a lot better than the stare.
We spent the next hour looking for the tom. There were all kinds of tracks and piles of old poop here and there. It was clear there had been lots of turkeys in this tree. There were so many tracks that we couldn’t follow the ones the tom made for much more than 6 feet. There wasn’t any blood trail either. My friend explained that the thick feathers cushion the strike of the shot. Even heavy shot doesn’t penetrate much. He talked like his advice hadn’t penetrated my hard head either. Maybe I was too much like the tom, all puffed up and proud. I wondered what he was talking about. I couldn’t see any feathers when I looked down.
I whined and wimped a bit more just to get him in good humor. Pretty soon he was grinning, talking about missing today just meant another chance tomorrow. He dropped me off at the house, told me to go watch that Eye video, go buy some #6 shells and be ready for another try in the morning. He was always a sucker for a whiney story.
Sure ‘enuff, come dark-thirty of the morning we are back in front of that tree. Or one just like it. This time he led me real quiet-like well inside the spreading branches of that huge tree. It was blacker than the inside of a cow. We crept to a bit of an opening, he had me lie down, then threw a camo cover over me. He had explained the night before that we would go early, get under the tree so we could see the birds right above us and wait for them to fly down. He told me I wasn’t to shoot a tom in the tree, t’wasn’t sporting. He would go sit on the other side of the tree, behind the 6 foot thick trunk, and call the tom down right on top of me. I wondered why he wanted to be on the other side of the tree when all the action would be on my side.
We had quite a long wait. Those birds were really zonked out when we snuck in. I swore I could hear them snoring. The ground got pretty hard and cold. It was hard to hold still, but after a while it started to get light. The nearest branch was about twenty feet above me. It was about 50 feet long and big around as a barrel near the trunk. As it got lighter I could see big black blobs higher up. They gradually turned into turkeys. There was one straight above me high in the tree. I started to wonder how early in the morning turkeys pooped.
The lighter it got, the more turkeys I saw. The darnn tree was full of them. I looked carefull at each one, trying to tell which was a tom and which a hen. They all looked like hens to me. A few of them started to move about, rustling feathers and craning heads. One or two peeped. I couldn’t see a beard or a fan tail in the bunch. They were all hens! Disgusting!
I threw off the camo, got up and walked over to the tree. My friend was on the other side. I could see that he was getting ready to call, he had his famous box call in hand. Don’t bother, I told him out loud, they’re all hens. No point whispering, wasn’t a tom in the bunch. He jerked around and stared at me, mouth open, then whirled around and pointed soundlessly into the tree. I looked up. There was a big ol’ tom standing on a limb, eyes bugged out and beak open, staring straight at us. He looked dumbfounded. Above him and behind him and all around him were more birds, all staring at me. Suddenly a big hen let out a cackle, I guess it was an alarm cackle, ‘cause every one of those big birds took of into the blue like the RAF and the Germans are coming. It made a hell of a racket. It was like a covey of quail with birds going every which direction but them as big as bombers.
It was then that my friend started laughing. He lay back against the trunk of that big tree and laughed. Then he fell over on his side and laughed. Then he rolled up on his knees with his face in the leaves and beat the ground with a fist and laughed. He tried to get up, laughing, and fell over backwards, laughing. He rolled from side to side laughing. He laughed so hard that the tears poured out of his eyes and ran down his dirty face. He laughed so hard that he got spasms at the corners of his mouth and had to hold his cheeks in. Served him right, laughing like that. I hoped the spasm hurt good.. Didn’t make any difference, he laughed until he was out of breath that he couldn’t laugh any more and all he could do was gasp for breath and giggle.
I was insulted! Incensed! Him laughing like that. What was so funny anyway? I guess I looked pouty, cause he started laughing again. He laughed all the way to the truck and all the way home. When he dumped me off, he put his hand on my shoulder, opened his mouth to start to say something and burst out laughing again. He was still laughing when he drove away.
TO TELL THE TRUTH- everything is true, except the names and location have been changed. The shooter is a neighbor, I was the friend, except the beginning of the story. The poor, the vacuum, the mattress and the dryer all happened to me, and other than the poor, all in the same month. I laughed so hard it really did hurt. I laughed for a week. The next time I saw the guy in church the next Sunday, I burst out laughing again. His face still gets red every time I mention it. This is really funny, because this guy is a great duck and goose hunter and a fantastic shot. That’s what makes it so funny, even the experienced can flub at times. DOC WHITE