Calling to Roosts
The bundle was made of a green wool blanket I had sewn into a heavy cloak and inside it there was a hand-thrown mug with a broken handle. The broken handle was my handiwork, too. It was all wrapped up with a soft cotton rope. That rope made a fine handle. I held it in my left hand. The shotgun over my right shoulder was borrowed, but beautiful. A Weatherby from the 80's, just as old as I was, and if I was lucky I would shoot it at a turkey this dawn.
Mark Wesner has been teaching me the fine art of spring turkey hunting these past few weeks. He started with showing me calls and scouting farms for future hunts back in April. As the season approached we walked fields and called barred owls in the evening to see where the toms were roosting. Now that the season is here we are meeting before dawn to walk into the woods and edge of fields while the world is still dark. There we can hear the male turkeys gobble from their roosts and hope they fly down and come to our calls. Mark has a gorgeous turkey call a friend made him. He's a master caller and if I close my eyes I see a far hen strutting next to me and not a guy in full camo. That sounds like a joke, but it's really a bit of magic. How can some wood and chalk sound exactly like a bird?
We didn't get to take any shots at birds and the calls were not bringing in the boys. All three hunts this season had the toms leaving my calling and Marks for actual flocks of hens on another property we didn't have permission to hunt. But killing turkeys isn't the reason I get up early and go on these hunts. I get up because of the time travel.
I get to spend a quiet morning walking woodland paths, weapons over my shoulder, excitement in my belly. I get to listen to animals far away wake up and start their days. There are does in far fields, ravens and herons overhead, and foxes and groundhogs ambling about. Being quiet means stillness and nature finds you when you slow down enough around her. Mark taught me the difference between the calls of a wood thrush and a hermit thrush. He showed me the difference in coyote and fox scat. When the hunt is over in a spot he pulls out a large beloved Stanley Thermos and we drink coffee and listen to farmer's cows bellow in far fields while sharing stories of past hunts. It's all timeless, and magical, and wild and real.
Hunting has become my favorite outdoor pastime. When you hunt you are not observing nature, you are a part of it. You are learning but also participating in such a visceral way it excites mybody chemistry while calming me more than any zen retreat ever has. The meditation and energy waltz with you, and the stalking, the calling, the waiting.... it is everything that makes up all the other animal's lives in this world. The hope is for a large tom you can take home and enjoy with friends. A way to nourish yourself and others, both with calories and words, but the real adventure is walking paths with little bundles and loaded shotguns. That is what hunting is to me. It's little moments that don't make it into the campfire stories or third beers.
It is the sunrises. It is the friendships. It is the hope.