This hunt started well before dawn. My alarm went off at 4AM, and within twenty minutes I was covered from head to toe in borrowed camouflage. I had never gone turkey hunting before, and it could not be more opposite from the upland pheasant hunting I took part in this past fall. Pheasant hunting is a chatty jaunt through the woods in bright orange with a happy spaniel flushing explosions of feathers in your face. You point a shotgun and take home dinner. But turkeys are clever, sly, and can see you move your hand to scratch your face from fifty yards away. You need to become part of the landscape to hunt them, and trick them with calls and decoys. If you're lucky a Jake or a Tom come into your line of fire and you get a chance.
So my friend and mentor, Steve, was with me. He leant me an automatic 12-gauge and his hunting clothes. He would show me what to do, how to act, and how a hunt should go. The plan was to sit still, call in some birds, and see what happens/hopefully shoot them. So in the black of an old farm pasture we set up our blind by a fallen log near an old property-line hedgerow. I sat like a toddler in a car seat while he set up the decoys at the base of the field, just 25 yards away. After a few minutes of his gadget calls we heard gobbles. (What a rush!)
After an hour of zen-monk stillness paired with turkey calling, Steve called in two jakes and a hen. I could see them 300 yards away and my heart stopped. My already numb butt shot up into me with pain. I barely moved. Steve got out a slate call and mocked the hen's sharp chirp and like as if we just advertised free turkey-orgies the two Jakes ran right too us. The saw the decoys and fluffed up into their strut. They looked wonderful, like cardboard Thanksgiving decorations taped to elementary school walls. Steve told me to take my shot soon as I was ready. The moment could not have been more perfect. The shot, a gift from New York herself, and two birds dancing not an end zone away. I sucked in all the air in Washington County, pointed my shotgun, and fired...
And I missed. I missed all three shots. At point-blank range I did nothing more than scare them. Truth is, I totally misunderstood how to aim a shotgun after months without practice. I was aiming too high. Following the advice to "look at the bead" at the end of the gun, I aimed true, but you're supposed to only see that bead on your site. I could see my whole barrel when I fired. I didn't realize that bead was the ONLY thing I should see. I shot feet over their head into the hill behind them. It was all my novice stupidity. I completely ruined the hunt for Steve, who was beyond polite and an amazing sport, but I was crushed. I wanted to make him proud. Instead I made noise pollution.
It could have been a perfect story, a beautiful meal, a wonderful moment. Instead we watched all three silly birds scuttle unharmed up the hill away from us. Not a tragedy, not by a long shot, but not a proud moment either. I will try again this month if I am given the chance.
Maybe I'll be hungry for turkey after I eat up all this crow.