Okay, I know it’s the middle of winter, but this spring-like weather has me thinking about turkey hunting. Not in the way one might suspect, either. When it comes to preseason turkey cogitation, I’m not apt to sigh wistfully, dust off my box call and sit around catatonically clucking and yelping.
There’s something strange about a springtime turkey season, something that leaves me feeling weird. Maybe that’s the reason I don’t do a lot of turkey hunting.
Don’t get me wrong. I wholeheartedly agree the pursuit of this noble bird is a worthy, challenging and exciting pastime. I just can’t get over how it makes me feel a little eerie (and leery) doing it in the spring.
Maybe I just somehow don’t feel quite “natural” toting a shotgun in March or April. I’m one of those who feel more comfortable with a fishing rod in my hand when the leaf buds begin to open. I also prefer sauntering along a beaten path looking at songbirds and wildflowers that time of year.
That’s it in a nutshell, I suspect. The beaten path. A trail I don’t particularly like to veer from when the weather starts to warm. You see, there are other critters besides turkeys stirring.
For example, if I’m squirrel hunting in December or January, sitting quietly with my back against a comfortable tree, an unseen rustle in the dry leaves conjures up images of such innocuous creatures as squirrels, chipmunks, or mice. The same rustling in the spring spells S-N-A-K-E. Forget the fact that snakes seldom make noise, even in dry leaves. It’s just that I know they are active in springtime and quite likely to be encountered in places conducive to turkey hunting. Not that I fear snakes particularly. I just prefer knowing exactly where they are and would rather be in an upright position when I encounter one. It’s difficult to run or leap 10 feet into the air while sitting flat on your butt with your knees tucked under your chin.
A friend of mine from Mississippi once chose as a turkey blind a big hole in the ground conveniently left for him by a huge uprooted oak tree. He hopped into the hole one morning in the predawn darkness and, as he descended, his flashlight beam lit upon a coiled cottonmouth nestled at the bottom. That morning, he explained, he perfected a new track-and-field event he calls an “unjump.” He simply stopped in midair, reversed direction and leapt backward out of the hole, feet never touching the ground or the snake.
Sounds unbelievable, I know, but I bought the story. Snakes can motivate human activities that defy logic, reason and gravity. I’ve “unjumped” a time or two myself.
A fellow outdoor writer once wrote that springtime turkey hunting, for him, is a “pure, magical experience.” I agree. The magic involves every living and nonliving thing within range of one’s sensory perception changing from its original form into a snake. That includes everything from tiny lizards that dart across the top of your boots to native azaleas that brush their leaves lightly against your earlobe in a morning breeze.
I experienced this “magic” once while trying to photograph a big gobbler it had taken my partner the better part of an hour to call in. As I was about to trigger my camera, a 12-inch sprig of wild fennel somehow worked its way up the leg of my pants, turning itself into something virulently venomous and scaly. When the brushy little twig passed the top of my sock and touched naked flesh, I squealed loudly and depressed the shutter button, causing the Nikon’s auto-wind to go off like a Thompson submachine gun. I wound up with 34 wonderful photos of blurred treetops and two pictures of what I took to be a turkey’s rear end getting smaller and smaller as it fled the scene.
“I can’t believe you did that,” my buddy later said. “I had no idea you had that much fear in you. Why, I’ve been huntin’ with you in bear country and you never batted an eye. What gives?”
“My friend,” I replied, “ask me again after a bear runs up my britches’ leg!.”
Let’s go fishing.