Two of my favorite days of the year are the first and last days of turkey season. I await opening day with the eager anticipation a kid associates with Christmas. A month later, after too many early morning risings coupled with too many evenings staying in the woods until pitch dark hoping to roost a bird, I'm a sleep-deprived, semi-brain-dead zombie who can't quite and yet can't wait to quit. The last day brings some of the same joy, albeit relief, associated with the first.
Countless other hunters, members of what Tom Kelly (a wonderful writer on all things connected with turkey hunting) calls the "Tenth Legion," go through much the same kind of existence for the month of April. They can't wait for the season to open and then they can't wait for it to close.
In my case, it's worse than a month. Already I've been to Florida, and trips to Texas, North Carolina and South Dakota lie in the offing. We will be well into May before I manage to escape from the ritual of spring's greening-up time.
Don't ask me to explain why turkey hunting holds me and millions of others in such thrall. It is one of those things better experienced than explained in print. About all I can say is that I lost a corner of my sporting soul to America's big game bird the first time I went turkey hunting decades ago, and the passage of time, which is supposed to mellow a fellow, has in no way dulled my edge when it comes to being in the spring woods.
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To hear a majestic gobbler give voice somewhere along a high ridge of big pines or deep down in a hardwood slough is to be a witness to sheer magic. I'm pretty sure the ground doesn't shake with a lordly longbeard gobbles at 40 yards, but it feels like an earthquake and rest assured, my knees shake. I've been privileged to know the experience hundreds of times, and you might think that would make a difference.
Let a gobbler strut within gun range and my nerves will be out of kilter, my heart racing, my adrenalin run amok and all thoughts of anything else vanish. That's probably why I somehow manage to miss a turkey about once every two seasons. Mind you, I don't know any dedicated turkey hunter with many years of experience who hasn't missed. When someone says "I've never missed a turkey," he has just revealed one of two things. Either he is an individual who plays fast and loose with the truth and has no business handling the Sunday church collection plate, or else he just hasn't hunted them much.
Turkeys can haunt your dreams and dog your waking hours, but it's a wonderful kind of misery. It seems like words beginning with "mis" are inextricably linked to the sport. Not only misery but miscues, mishaps, mistakes, marvelously misspent day, misconceptions and the bugaboo of misses enter into the equation. Call me a glutton for punishment, because there's nothing like the mystique and mesmerism of turkey hunting.
If you don't hunt the big birds, maybe you would be advised not to start. Most folks will judge you to be a saner person, and your Aprils won't be filled with a mixture of anxiety and amazement, anguish and awe.
I'm hopelessly and helplessly lost, just like countless others, and what a wonderful situation it is.
I probably won't sleep well Monday night, but rest assured -- come daylight on Tuesday I'll greet the glories of an April dawn and hope against hope to work a bird or two. Should Dame Fortune see fit to make me a favored stepchild, I might even put a tag on the leg of a gobbler. If so, that's grand. If not, so what? I'll greet the day in the woods on the next day and for many more to come.
So will my brethren addicted to the lure and lore of the longbeard. But don't feel sorry for us. We are the most fortunate of souls. April 1 may be All Fools' Day, but for the turkey hunter it means the time for tomfoolery.
As today's column suggests, the time is at hand for making final preparations for the opening of turkey season -- patterning one's gun, making sure you have all the necessary accessories, getting turkey tags and the like. Beyond that, it's a fine time to be working the shallows for bass or crappie, and warming weather means fine trout fishing in the mountains just a couple of hours away.