A Perfect Morning By Steve Sunderland

 

On this morning, as is all too often the case, my focus was on going to work and putting in yet another long day, waiting for the weekend and an opportunity to get back to the turkey woods. However, this morning would end up to be different than my typical work day routine. Upon arriving at the job I found out it was slow, and I could leave if I so desired. My thought process and focus immediately changed to turkey hunting. It was 7:00am and if everything works out right I should be in the woods by 8:00. I’ll still have four good turkey hunting hours left.

Well, not only did things work out right, it was a damn near perfect morning, and one of those rare times when you swear the hunt was scripted.

I rush home, throw on my camo, grab a cup of coffee and my shotgun, and I’m on my way. I know right where I want to go. At 7:40 I arrive at the place I want to hunt. A place I’ve just got a hunch about today. Dad and I had hunted around here before. It’s been years ago since we were in here together but it still seems like yesterday to me. I round the last turn on an old dirt road before the pull off where I want to park the truck. As I round the turn I’m caught off guard a bit. There’s a few turkey standing right in the spot I want to park in. They see me at the same time I see them and they take off running. “Damn it” they’re not supposed to be there “now what?” As they’re running away I notice one of them has a beard. I hurry to put the truck in reverse and start backing up the road where I just came from, thinking about how I just scared a gobbler away that I could be hunting. Maybe I can get into the woods and get in front of them. It’s worth a shot right? After backing up the road 100 yards or so I find a place I can pull off. I park the truck, grab my shotgun and start to head into the woods. The only thing standing in the way of me possibly getting in front of these birds is a whole side hill full of mountain laurel. No big deal. Yeah right!! I start into the tick infested labyrinth. Right away it starts grabbing at everything on me. High stepping and pushing through the entanglement, a path that looks like it leads to a way across the top only leads to a deeper thicker hell. Ahh the Pennsylvania mountain laurel. After 300 yards or so, and what seems like an hour, I emerge into a small clearing. I take a minute to catch my breath, then reach in my pocket for a call. I let out a few soft yelps. I wait….. nothing. I do it again, this time louder….. again nothing. I’m not surprised by this. I’m not really expecting to hear anything anyway. I slow my pace down and decide to start moving toward the bottom. Down through a small ravine with some decent cover, where I can stay hidden. I plan to just move slowly through, keeping my ears open. My thoughts start slowing down a bit too.  It’s just nice to get out in the woods. I walk for a little while and then find a nice big red oak tree sit against and take a little break. Sitting there, I look around. This morning is perfect. Temperature is approaching 40 degrees, the sun is shining and there’s not a cloud in the sky. The dogwood blossoms are in full bloom, ferns are starting to pop up from the forest floor and the mayapples are up in full force. As I sit here taking all of this in, decompressing a bit from a busy life and just relaxing, the sun warming my clothes comforts me to the point I can no longer take and I doze off.

A big crow sitting in the tree above me decides to blow off some steam and I snap back to life, listening for the possible gobble response in its wake….. again nothing. It’s time to move on. I continue on down the ravine at a slow pace, listening to every sound the woods are making, looking at old scrapes on the ground and rubs on the trees from the rut days of the past fall. I decide to stop and give out a few yelps again. This time though is different. My yelps are answered by this thunderous gobble that shakes the ground under me!! My heart rate instantly doubles, and I feel the chill of his answer!!  “Wow” “he’s pretty close”. Maybe 60 – 70 yards out. Suddenly I’m looking around, trying to decide where to set up. I’m not in an ideal spot. I’m still inside some decent cover, shooting lanes and visibility are sparse. Then before I can make a decision, the Tom does it for me. The monster thunders again and he’s closing the gap. I have no choice but to sit down a tree right where I’m at. I pull my face mask up and sit so that my gun is shouldered and pointing down toward the oncoming gobbler and my body is facing forward. I can swing from full left, to the center of my body if need be. He’ll show up somewhere within that quadrant. I’m sure of it because it sounds like he’s coming on a rope.

In my mind a good 20 – 30 minutes has gone by since I’ve heard that tom gobble. In reality it was probably more like 10 minutes. No more calling for me at this point either. Not yet. He knows where I am. Suddenly the silence of the woods is broken. I hear the leaves rustling!! The noise however is coming from almost directly over my right shoulder. My heart sank. “No way, it can’t be” I slowly turn my head in the direction of the sound. “Please be a squirrel, a deer, anything but…..”. My worst fear is recognized when I see that bird approaching me from my right side. Gun still shouldered and pointed in the opposite direction. This turkey had circled me and was coming in from the exact opposite side from where he last gobbled. “I’m done for!” The gig is up. I’m not getting a shot!! I stop the panic and quickly scan the terrain in front of him. He’s coming fast, almost running. I suddenly see a small window of opportunity. There’s a small autumn olive bush and a stump. That bird is getting ready to cross behind them!! Just before he starts to go behind the bush I slowly start my barrel in motion toward the bird. I’ve got to swing this thing almost 180 degrees from where it’s currently pointed, without being seen.  Now this tank of a turkey emerges from behind the bush, then from behind the stump in the blink of an eye. My shotgun is still in motion. At this point I can see that he sees me moving. His demeanor suddenly changes. It’s got to happen now!!! Just then my barrel reaches the front of his head and chest area. I’m not even down on the gun or the beads. I pull the trigger…..  he’s down!! Wings flopping, legs kicking!!  I can’t believe I just pulled this off. I don’t even jump up right away. I’m just sitting there in awe of what just played out in front of me, and how fast it happened. That bird lay on the ground now. A mere 10 yards in front of me. All I can do is just sit there and laugh. “That was awesome!!”

After a few minutes of taking this all in, I jump to my feet. I walk over to where the bird lay. It flogs its wings for the last time. The adrenaline is still coursing through my body. I take a moment as I always do and thank God for the amazing creature that lay at my feet and for the food it will provide my family and the people I’ll share it with. I also thank him for the opportunity and the ability to be able to do this. Then my attention shifts. I talk to my dad. Although my dad hasn’t physically been with us for 23 years, I can feel his presence around me when I enter the woods, and I know he’s with me this morning because he wouldn’t have missed this for the world. I can still see him getting up from the base of the tree after the shot, walking over to that gobbler lying on the ground, not saying a word. He’d pull his face mask up, still donning that heavy buck beard and that half smile on his face he used to do. Then quietly he’d say “nice job buddy”…………”Thanks dad!”  Thanks for showing me how to do this. Thanks for teaching me how to hunt and fish and respect the outdoors. I miss that man but I smile because I know he’d be proud.

With my bird now tagged and dressed, I sling him up over my shoulder and start the hike back to the truck, that smile still on my face. The only thing I can think at this point is “that was a perfect morning!”