If there is one thing better than simply being awake at 5:30 in the morning, it is the propspect of ascending a 60 degree slope of loose dirt and rock for about 2000 feet at this ungodly hour. I am to “pack” the shotgun my guide has supplied me along the journey to the top of the mountain. But, as I quickly learn, “pack” does not simply mean carry. “Pack” also denotes that as I climb (slip, cuss, and fall), I had better damn well keep the business end of that thing pointed in any direction but at my guide, least I be left for dead in the aforementioned mountains. In lots of hunting magazines, you see hunters nestled down behind oversized camo blinds, sipping coffee, calmly luring in birds with calls suggesting the birds will soon be getting busy turkey-style. At first glance, it mayeven appear as a leisure sport. My guide does not come from this school of hunting. Up we go, with my guide taking every step with the precision calm of a man familiar with such terrain. Here I come behind, with all the grace of Tony “the Goose” Siragusa dancing with the stars. It is not pretty. Not only am i having more trouble staying upright than a certain Hilton heiress, the trouble is compounded by the fact that I cannot brace myself for falls, as the shotgun I am “packing” may inadvertantly point in an unacceptable direction. It is only later that I learn that UP is way better than DOWN. I am in reasonably good shape and can handle up as it is more a strength exercise than anything else. The way down is different. as it is more test of agility. Without jumping too far ahead, let me just say that some spills on the way down would have even garnered an OOOH from Kenny Blankenship himself. After the seeminly endless hike to the top, the “skill” element of the hunt began.
I am not involved in this element. This is where my seasoned guide begins to use the entire spectrum of calls available for luring in these beasts. There are mouth calls, diaphrams, scratching calls, and box calls, all of which, in the right hands, produce a varitable symphony of love turkeys cannot resist. In my hands, they are as useless as Helen Keller as a line judge (I apologize for a tennis refernence, but that is it). We do not even attempt for me to participate in this segment of the hunt. It is my job to wildly point in the direction from where I hear the gobbles coming in response to the calls. Most of the time, I have no clue as to which direction any particular sound came from. After several calls and responses, my guide takes us in a direction of a turkey. We go over a ridge so as to sneak up on the bird, out of its sight, and set up in a location where we can ambush the creature with copious amounts of 6 shot (industry term- I personally have no idea what it means). As we cross the ridge, my guide spots signs of Elk. Actually, what he calls “signs” i call “poop”. He does not hesitate to pick up the signs/poop and study its composition with the zeal of Encyclopeida Brown. I take his word on any conclusions he draws. We virtually crawl back over the ridge and pick a very good spot with which to “work this bird”. I heard that phrase used by some English college students down in Ft. Lauderdale a few years back, but I have a feeling it was in a different context. Anyways, we take our seats against adjoining trees, where our camo makes us invisible to turkeys, or so we hope. Turkeys have excellent vision and can pick up on contrasts much better than the human eye. This leads my guide to pointing out maybe I shouldn’t have worn long, white gym socks with my highwater camo pants. I wouldn’t go so far as to call my camo pants capri, but there wasn’t a huge selection at the pawn shop to accomodate my six ft four frame. I rationalize a turkey won’t be overly put out by my mistake and take aim at nothing in particular. The calls go out from my neighboring tree, and slowly but surely, the gobbles in response start to come closer and closer. It is at this time, I notice something out of the ordinary about 75 yards to my right. There is reflection of light from the now rising sun coming off what appears to be a shotgun barrell. Somehow, we were beaten to the most remote spot in the world by a fellow bird killer. I have no idea what time this gentleman started up the mountain side to get in that particular spot but I surmise homelife must not be the greatest for this fella and he was looking for any reason to get out and moving. We now must surrender the turkey we had been working over to our competitor and begin the descent down the mountain side. Halfway down, we hear a blast that signals the turkey we had worked ceased to be. Not to fear though, we had previously heard gobbles from the ridge across the holler. All that meant was a 2000 ft descent ass over elbows down the slope to be followed up with an equally exhausting 2000 ft hike back up the side across the creek.
Eventually, we did make it up the other side and engaged in a Marco Polo game for turkeys that proved fruitless for several hours. As the noon hour approached, just about all hope was lost on taking a turkey that day. The fact that my guide continued to work turkeys well into the morning made me question the necessity of being the first thing awake in the woods. Obviously, turkeys had the entire days available to be called. But, he is the expert and I am simply the bruised butt flatlander trying not to blow off anything important as I stumble around Leslie County. As we work our way around yet another ridge, a call generates a response from a turkey that I estimate to be anywhere from 50 yards to 40 miles away. But, given my guides smile, I become assured its closer to the former. We take our spots. I, go to a tree which the guide designates and drop (now more gingerly) to my butt with my barrell point towards a slight ridge 25 yards below me. My guide has set me up perfectly. He is behind me drawing the turkey right into my path. I hear him rustle the dry leaves on the ground above me and it is always followed by the sounds of a horny turkey making his way up the mountainside. It is now game time. The spot I have set up on has a wonderful panoramic viewing area. There is little brush in my way for any shot should this bird foolishly make himself available. I have not fired many guns in my life, but i have the experience of many hours of Duck Dunt on NES. I fear, should i miss this turkey, a dog popping up and laughing at me. More rustling from the guide, more rustling in the leaves below me. No more calls, no more gobbles. This turkey means business. Finally, at 25 yards away, I see tail feathers just above the little ridge. This is the equivalent of the boobie shirts you see at Keeneland during the spring meet- this turkey wants attention. But unlike the low cut tops at Keeneland, this set of tailfeathers has called the safety to be released on my gun (well, i could go into a certain euphamism about how the shirts at Keeneland…ah, nevermind). Then, a second later the head comes up over the ridge. HOT DAMN ITS A TURKEY!!!
Now, my heart is pounding. It is kill or be killed time. Well, maybe not BE killed time, but I don’t know much about turkeys. The turkey is in the far left of my panoramic view. I aim in tight, it continues to the left. Now, all this has encomassed maybe 2 seconds. As i go to take the final aim, a stupid sapling get in the way of the barrell of my gun. What the hell!!!! I can no longer aim at this turkey in a correct fashion as this baby tree won’t allow it. I have to make a decision: do I let this turkey live, or do I lean out a little farther, removing the butt of my gun from the secure shoulder from which it has been resting. I do not know a lot about how shotguns kick. I do know that they do kick. I do distinctly remember my guide telling me, at some point in the darkness of the 5 oclock hour, to aim with the gun firmly secured in my hands, resting the end on my shoulder, with the sight placed on the turkey’s neck. Well, I can adequately do all these except the shoulder thingy. What the hell, this turkey has to die right? I lean out, the turkey comes right into the sight, and I pull the trigger. OWWWWWWWW!!!! You’d think the adrenaline of my first shot at a live turkey would make the kick seem nonexistent. Not so, my friend. It kicked like a certain Carlos Norris, Texas Ranger, and I was very much aware of how not good my bicep was feeling. But, in other news, I saw what I had been dreaming to see. A turkey pop in the air and some feathers spastically flailing. At the sound of the shot, my guide, whose vantage point did not afford him a view of either myself or the turkey shouted to go after him. First thing, pick up my gun which had dropped post trigger squeeze. Next, I approach the ridge 25 yards away where this turkey had put his head just a little too far up. Well, over said ridge was even more mountain, and with mountains come severe slopes. My poor turkey was now about 150 yards away, ricocheting off trees like a bloody pinball. The chase was on and by the end, my movement down the slope was not much less painful than the turkeys. Luckily, he fell into a very small catch basin at what appeared to be a cave entrance. Had he not dropped in there, he may have made it all the way to bottom. I jumped in the whole, finished him off with Sweet Chin Music, and thus fulfilled the goal of killing myself a turkey.
My guide made it down the slope, high fived me, and gave me a sling to toss my conquered foe into. It was a proud march down the side of the mountain, with my explanation of my kill (sans dropping my gun) becoming the stuff of legends. It also occurred to me at this time, I had no idea where the truck we had came in was parked and was even more convinced concerning the value of a guide familiar with being in the woods. But no matter, I had me a turkey. The smile on my face was ear to ear and i have the pictures to prove it. Turns out it was a good sized turkey with all the trophy values one likes to see in such a bird. But now a new problem arose, what the hell do you do with a turkey once you shoot it? (pt 3 to follow)