Success in the Turkey Woods

We’re all familiar with the saying, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts.”  As we grow old, and hopefully wiser, we learn the sentiment in ways a younger person can’t possibly understand. However, we still long for the sweetness of reaching the destination regardless of age.  Otherwise, why even begin or bother with the journey?

Unfortunately, the destination never seems to be an end within itself.  There is that one brief, satisfying moment when everything comes together once you arrive.  That moment is sweet.  Revel in it while you can because tomorrow you won’t be satisfied with it.  There is a portion of the human condition that leaves us always wanting a little more; a few extra days of vacation, a little bigger house or nicer car, or, as in my case, a more expensive shotgun, a new outboard motor for my boat, a comfortable truck or SUV to pull it with, and more money to travel to hunt and fish in exotic locations with my wife.

Yes, to hunt and fish with my wife.  My beautiful, honest-to-goodness sexy, wonderful wife, who no doubt loves me very much and revels in the same activities I enjoy.  A Proverbs 31 woman, no less!  Being blessed with her, how dare I ask for more?

After all, in June of 2016 I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer after having lost my first wife to brain cancer 2 months prior.  Here I am 2 years later, in remission, with a decent retirement, and a wonderful new wife…wanting just a little more.  It seems remaining on the green side should be enough without the benefit of all the other blessings.  And what blessings they are!  What have I done to deserve all of this?  I ask that question in a good way.

And yet, I’d like a little more…

Does wanting a little more mean I haven’t learned to be content with what I have?  I’m not sure.

I seriously desired to guide Mary to her first spring gobbler this season.  We hunted long and hard in Georgia.  We came oh, so close!  She set her sights on bagging a big gobbler and wouldn’t settle for a jake.  She woke at 4:00 AM, brewed coffee and made delicious sandwiches for our lunches.  Some days we hunted from daylight until the birds roosted in the evening.  She never complained about anything except the cold and very little about that.

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Teaching Mary How to Shoot

We wanted to go to our beloved hunting camp to hunt gobblers in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia and Virginia.  We had to wait until the last week of the West Virginia season because of doctor appointments and the chemo I still receive every 2 weeks.

The first morning we hunted in WV we heard some hens early but no gobblers.  Finally, on a ridge a hollow or 2 over, we heard a gobbler sound off.  When we arrived back at the Sequoia, we realized we had parked just up the hill from an old logging road that snaked in the direction the turkey had gobbled.  The first hollow had an old clear cut that had grown up so that the understory was clear.  There was deer sign and turkey scratchings on the road under the grand, old grape vines that had grown up with the trees as they matured.  The road ended in the head of the next hollow in an old-growth stand of mature hardwoods.  This was a great place to take a deer stand in the fall, I thought, as I began to clear a place for Mary and me to sit while I attempted to call in the tom we had heard earlier.

She walked several yards away to find a level spot so she could relieve herself before the long sit.  I was just settling in when a bobcat popped up out of the hollow not 20 yards away.  This was a big fellow, silently slinking toward us.  The bobcat immediately saw Mary, who was bent over with her bare, shapely butt pointed directly at him.  I expected the bobcat to run the instant he saw Mary, but he crouched and his tail began to twitch.

Perhaps Mary’s pale rump looked to the bobcat like the hind end of a whitetail with its white under markings.  Had Mary stood up, I’m certain the bobcat would have realized his mistake and taken off.  But she was having trouble finding the toilet paper in her pants pocket that was now piled around her ankles and she remained bent over.

There’s a part of me that was tempted to watch to see what the bobcat would do next.  I was carrying a camera to video our hunt.  I wondered if I could film the cat stalking toward Mary, and scare it off just before it jumped on her rump and sunk its fangs into the back of her neck.  I’m glad I didn’t think of selling the video and using the money to buy that new outboard motor I wanted.  I may have waited a little longer, maybe too long.

I stood up and whispered, “Get!”  The bobcat shifted its crouch in my direction.  I raised my shotgun and clicked off the safety, looking at the now wide-eyed bobcat down the barrel of my Remington 1100.  Clad in camo from head to foot, the bobcat had a hard time making out what I was.  The first bound took it 20 yards down the mountain away from us.  The second bound you could hardly hear and nothing after that.  In less than 2 seconds it was if the bobcat was never there.

Mary whispered to me as she pulled up her pants, “What was that?”

“Oh, nothing,” I replied whispering back, “just me saving your life.”

“You have that writer’s mind,” she said when she sat back down beside me.  “You never cease to amaze me with what you’re thinking.”

No turkey, but the encounter with the bobcat made the hunt memorable and a blessing.

The next morning we planned to drive and call along the 27 miles of forest road 55 that follows the ridge that divides West Virginia and Virginia.  I had spent the money for both our licenses for WV and VA.  We were legal regardless of which side of the road we encountered a turkey.

No doubt this road was heavily hunted.  Would hunters have chased all the gobblers away from the road this late in the season?  The question was answered the second place I got out of the car to call.  I was positioning the call in the roof of my mouth when a gobbler sounded off on his own.  He was close.  We chose a giant oak to sit against not 30 yards from the car.

He answered my first call.  A couple minutes later he called again, unmistakably closer. This was too easy, but as experienced turkey hunters know, sometimes it happens that way.

Mary already had the 20 ga. Beretta on her knee.  “I see him,” she whispered.  “A couple more steps to clear that tree.”

The regal, old gobbler stepped into clear view for an instant before disappearing behind another giant oak.  I expected him to come into view from behind the tree momentarily.  Instead, I heard wings flapping and saw a turkey sailing away from us.  Neither of us had done more than blink.  He shouldn’t have been able to make us out sitting motionless, clad in camo from our toes to the top of our face-masked heads.  Like my friend Jimmy Whatley likes to say, “A wily old gobbler can see you blink and hear you think.”

These birds were not dumb hicks.  They were wise mountain sages worthy of all the respect we could give them.  No turkey, but what an exciting encounter and a blessing!

Turkeys may have been the main attraction, but the plethora of birds that were migrating north this time of year were a close second.  Some of the birds we saw and many we photographed included:  Indigo Bunting, Gold Finch, Chestnut Sided Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Blackburnian Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Magnolia Warbler (or perhaps Canada Warbler), Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbird, Dark-eyed Junco, Wood Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Chickadee, White-breasted Nuthatch, Blue jay, Crow, American Robin, Starlings, Field Sparrow, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Phoebe, Pileated Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Ruffed Grouse, Northern Flicker, Northern Cardinal, Mallard Duck, Wood Duck, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, of course the Wild Turkey and others.

A close third to the birds were wildflowers.  I am not as good at identifying wildflowers as I am birds, but I do appreciate them.  One of the best days we had in the woods I didn’t hear a turkey, although Mary did way, way down in a several mile long hollow.  On that day we walked down a ridge that ran to the upper lake of the Bath County Pumped Storage Facility.  The upper lake covers 256 acres and can fluctuate as much as 106 feet during operation.  The wildflowers in and along the openings created by the wildlife service on the ridge were awe-inspiring.   It was a several mile long walk.  I was concerned about the walk back up the ridge.  I still have a partially collapsed lung and neuropathy, a side effect from the chemo.  But by taking it slow and enjoying the birds and the wildflowers along the way, it made for a memorable, wonderful day.  My health has forced me to slow down and smell the roses, so to speak, something I didn’t often do before.  I was totally wiped out after our walk down and the climb back up that long ridge, but the beauty we encountered had Mary and I pumped for days.  No turkey, but the encounter with the wildflowers made it memorable and a blessing.

Can anyone help me identify these wildflowers?

No, my health doesn’t allow me to do all the things I did before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy life just as much as ever.

I wouldn’t turn down a more expensive shotgun, a new outboard motor for my boat, a comfortable truck or SUV to pull it with, and more money to travel to hunt and fish in exotic locations with my wife.  But none of that keeps me from enjoying every moment I have on the green side immensely, or enjoying my wonderful, beautiful wife, and the time outdoors we have together, even if we didn’t get a turkey.

As a matter of fact, even though we didn’t get one, I would say that Mary and I have had great success in the turkey woods this spring.

I’m a blessed man and I’m aware of it in the moment.  Who could ask for more?

….and yet I do.

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