Saturday, May 7, 2011


It was the perfect hunt. Everything went for us as if written in a script. All of it, beautiful and exciting: the pre-dawn drive to the forest-edged field, the hike across the navy blue world of moors and scruff, soldiering uphill with a shotgun over your shoulder, the forced silence of stalking prey. Hunting is a feral hope. You go out with a prayer and you come home blessed or forsaken. It's the closest to the Old Testament I ever really get.

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenna...what a guy your Steve sounds like. Your hunt was only a failure in bringing home a turkey dinner. Never forget the fun and the rush that you had when those two turkeys came running. The next time, you won't miss!! And, I surely hope there is a next time!! Great day it sounds like to me11

May 7, 2011 at 9:32 PM  
Blogger Debi said...

Don't sweat it Jenna. I bet if you asked nearly any hunter, they'd tell you that their first hunt wasn't all that different from your own. A combination of newness and nerves has a way of setting things askew. Things will go better next time.

How'd your day at the farmer's market go?

May 7, 2011 at 9:38 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Lots of seasoned hunters shoot and miss. You win some and lose some. Great story though. :)

May 7, 2011 at 9:45 PM  
Blogger Paula said...

Ah, but now that you've embarrassed yourself with your friend, and outed yourself with all us strangers, you'll never do that again. You'll remember to aim with the bead and you'll do yourself proud.

I sure hope Steve gives you a second chance.

May 7, 2011 at 9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved the story. Only Jenna can tell a "failure" story with such eloquence that we enjoy it anyway. I truly felt your excitement and your disappointment and embarrassment. Steve sounds like a real sport and I bet you'll get another chance. All teachers expect students to fail at things sometimes. It's gonna happen.

May 7, 2011 at 10:17 PM  
Blogger K. Jean said...

That's why they call it hunting (and not shooting, or bagging)! Same with fishing, not catching! :) At least you got to see them in a beautiful strut - isn't it such a neat thing to be so close to them and feel that rush? Better luck next time and now you know more of what to expect. Hunting is a ton of fun but this is why we keep animals on a farm - a sure dinner!

May 7, 2011 at 10:44 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The thing of it is you know what you did wrong, and have therefore have learned an important lesson. That with the experience of turkey hunting itself makes the day an entire success. As Jean said, even the most experience come home empty handed. :)

May 7, 2011 at 11:00 PM  
Blogger Robbie Grey said...

Even if you did not bag a bird, it was an excellent tale. This was a learning experience, simple as that. Next time will be different.

May 7, 2011 at 11:14 PM  
Blogger KiwiGirl said...

Hunting sounds just like fishing - you never know if you're going to have a meal or just a nice walk in the boonies at the end of the day. Our duck shooting season started yesterday, and I have heard shotguns singing away most of today, down the back of the paddock next to us.

May 8, 2011 at 12:01 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

Love your honesty about mistakes. If you don't get one this spring there is always fall. I've had both spring and fall birds and I think the fall birds taste better. They've been eating all summer rather than acting like teenage boys with raging hormones watching cheerleading practice.

May 8, 2011 at 7:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We've got gobblers running all over our place and it makes my trigger-finger itchy. I've gone deer hunting w/ Husband several times, but we never get anything when I'm around so I continue to just wave and watch the toms dance off after the girls. . .

May 8, 2011 at 8:06 AM  
Blogger asddfkjd said...

I went turkey hunting years ago with a friend who is into it big-time (she and her husband travel to Texas to bowhunt turkeys and I think they're trying to get like the grand slam of turkey hunting where you get all five wild breeds in one trip or something like that?). Anyways, the blind where we sat was really too tall for us to see over and so we had to kneel. For hours. Until our knees were screaming. She finally whispered to ask me how I was doing and I had to respond that I was in agony. And then we both ended up honking with laughter and rolling around in the leaves. Needless to say we never saw even the faintest hint of a turkey. So, no worries! I think everybody has had the unsuccessful, empty-handed hunting day!

May 8, 2011 at 8:43 AM  
Blogger mdoe37 said...

Ok -- I'm back in and I'll fess up. I'm an experienced shotgunner, although not a real experienced hunter. Drew blood, but no dice -- 8 inch beard at 27 yards. I opted for a 20 gauge pump, rather than my semi-auto 12 gauge. Went back and patterned the gun, I probably need to find a tighter choke and 6 shot in the ammo.

To quote an acquaintance of mine, if you got everything you aimed at, it would be called shooting, not hunting.

May 8, 2011 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Greentwinsmummy said...

Oh Jenna I was thrilled to read this post! I had my first go at clay shooting today, up till now I hadnt so much as held a gun. I just blogged about it,what an amazing experiance.Reading of a *bead* just wouldnt have meant anything yesterday ha, but oh today yes today!
I hit 8 out of 10 clays, to put it mildly I was rather pleased, and rather hooked........


May 8, 2011 at 4:34 PM  
Blogger Kimberlie Ott said...

Even in the 80's game Oregon Trail, I would miss...........your doin good to be up at that hour :) Go again, enjoy it and take a pad to sit on :) it's cold at o dot 30 !!! :)

May 8, 2011 at 10:24 PM  
Blogger kylieps said...

What a great experience- and I think your friend Steve may be the best part of your hunt- what a pal! keep on with it and you'll get your turkey yet. Some hunters just brought us a bird off our land, and I think I have to agree with Doglady- I like the Fall birds better. Good luck next time!

May 14, 2011 at 1:47 PM  

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