BY BRUCE COCHRAN | ILLUSTRATION BY BRUCE COCHRAN
There are two types of turkey hunters; run-and-gun guys and sit-and-hope guys. Before I became a sit-and-hope guy, I was a run-and-gun guy; charging toward the first gobble I heard. But one year neither tactic worked. I’d tell you which season but…well…I don’t like to think about it. I had thoroughly scouted the area, heard several gobbles, and there was turkey sign everywhere.
With only four days to hunt, I spent the first three scrambling up and down the Ozark hills for turkeys that had apparently existed only in my imagination. Lots of running, no gunning. If the season had been a fight, the referee would’ve stopped it after day one.
The fourth morning I was still the No Turkey Poster Boy, so I visited a friend who ran cattle on his property. He spoke of turkeys in terms of acres, as in, “I saw about an acre of turkeys in my pasture this morning.” I began to breathe faster, and my palms got all sweaty. “They always show up in the afternoon and peck around in the cow sh*t to eat the corn that the cows hadn’t digested. You can hunt the pasture as long as there’s no cows around,” my friend said.
I keyed in on the word always. Why hadn’t I hunted here first? I could see myself posing for a selfie. Several selfies! Me in the standard successful turkey hunter pose; the one where you kneel down, spread the turkey out in front of you so his 10” beard and 2” spurs are plainly visible, then stick your hand under him to fan the tail out so it looks like you’re checking his prostate.
After choking down the smashed peanut butter and jelly sandwich in my vest pocket, I chose a tree near the edge of the pasture and sat with my back to it. Several nearby patties looked enticing …if you were a turkey. I wouldn’t even need decoys.
I amused myself while waiting for turkeys to show up by counting the ticks… apparently immune to gallons of Deet…crawling around on my clothing. I lost count after a dozen or so. There wasn’t much shooting time left when the turkeys finally started wandering out of the trees on the far side of the pasture, pecking kernels from the patties. I yelped a few times on my diaphragm call, and of course they ignored it. How do you call turkeys away from other turkeys?
When the birds were about 100 yards out I focused on three big longbeards. I didn’t need to look at my watch to know the afternoon light was fading fast. Resting my shotgun on my knees, I started shaking. Come on! Come on! Another 60 or 70 yards!
Suddenly all heads jerked up, and I heard several alarm putts. The turkeys…the whole acre of them… scattered, some running, others flying. What had I done to spook them? How could I have screwed up a slam-dunk like this?
When I unloaded my shotgun and got up I knew the answer; a fellow predator stood near the far edge of the pasture. Game over for both of us, me and the damn coyote.
As I hiked back to my truck in the darkness, I thought about what I’d tell my wife when I got home and she asked, “How was the turkey hunting, Dear?” All I could think of was, “The first three days I got a lot of exercise, but the fourth day just went all to s**t.”
On the way home I stopped at the “Eat Here And Get Gas” café for my daily cholesterol fix. The waitress could tell I was a turkey hunter by the defeated look on my face, my filthy camouflage coveralls, and the leftover smears of green and brown camo paint around my ears.
“Got your turkey yet?” she chirped. “My little girl shot two off the back porch this morning.” With elbows on the table, I put my head in my hands, and between sobs, ordered the default meal of hunters everywhere; the ever-present chicken fried steak.
As she left she said, “You got a tick crawling around in your beard.”