Too Wet To Fish?

During our annual Brownspur spring Swimming Hole cleaning project, one of our usual co-workers opted out for the day, saying that he was going fishing with a friend. Since he is an accomplished fisherman, in addition to being a college engine-ear, we excused him enthusiastically, envisioning a fish-fry when we finished work that evening, knowing that Namby would return with full stringers and feed us bountifully.

Our efforts were interrupted after lunch by several hard showers. One might not think a shower would bother anyone in a Swimming Hole, but the cleaning-out stage involves pumping out the winter accumulation of water, minnows, tadpoles, crawdads, a snake or two, a few legless salamanders, couple of snapping turtles, and assorted other critters and trash you don’t care to swim with. When it showered, the pump would quit. Of course, the uninitiated might say, “Well, hold a tarp over the motor,” but standing beside a pond next to an 80-foot-tall cypress tree while lightning strikes around you is not recommended by the best authorities. Perhaps our absent engine-ear could have figured out a way to put up lightning rods, but the rest of us just retreated until it quit raining and waited until the motor dried out to try again.

When the mosquitoes came out in force at dusk, we went inside, leaving the Swimming Hole mostly pumped out, and chlorining the water left in the bottom to eliminate what critters that still survived. We could almost taste the fresh bass Namby would have for our supper, some char-broiled, some beer-battered and fried.

Sardines were as close as we came to a bass supper that night. Our engine-ear had returned bass-less and clean. “It was too wet to fish,” he explained, plugging in a movie.

Too wet to fish?

Lordee, some of the best luck I’ve ever had fishing was just before, during, and just after a shower! Dude and I tore up the bass on the Alligator Hole one evening toward the end of a six-inch rain. Filled up both stringers, and didn’t string a fish less than three pounds. Gary Dye and I got next to nekkid one morning on Christmas Tree Lake when it was raining hard, but the bass were on a feeding frenzy. We had so many big fish that he introduced me to “bass eyes” that night for supper, also known as “Arkansas lobster.” Using a sharp knife, he cut out a double-thumb-size piece of meat from right underneath the fish’s eye; I guess maybe “bass cheeks” would be a better description. He had a deep pot of lightly salted water boiling, and would stir those pieces into the pot, more or less poaching them. Drained and dipped in melted butter, they tasted better than lobster!

I’ve got an eight-pound plus bass on the wall that brother Beau netted for me one rainy morning, just as the Who Dat lure pulled out. Wind was blowing so hard the lake was white-capping, and raindrops stung like hailstones. Cal Ibele and I stayed out in the rain one morning on Chandelier Island and loaded the boat with speckled trout, when all the other skiffs had run for the cover of Uncle Tullier’s (“Too-yay”) boat, the “Captain Pete.” Now, I will admit to sitting with Dude on the porch of Guy Sharp’s cabin at Honey Island when it was raining so hard that our “Big O” lures floated well before they ever got down to the surface of the lake. In addition, the lightning was truly spectacular, which discouraged us from sitting on an open lake in a metal john boat. However, in our defense, we were able to troll from the truck, as the road went under water almost before we could pack up and get out of there. Didn’t catch anything, though.

Too wet to fish? We gave our resident engine-ear so much grief that the movie was forgotten. How could it be too wet to fish, if it hadn’t gotten to the point where his lure floated on each cast before it could get to the lake surface?

Turned out that what Namby actually meant to say was, that the turnrow they had to drive down to put their boat in the lake was too muddy to drive on. We could appreciate that, because we’d all had experience with folks driving down our own turnrows and cutting them up when they were too wet. However, one would think that an engine-ear would be more specific, considering the profession. I mean, when he’s designing a future bridge, is he going to say, “pour a little concrete in that hole, chunk some metal and wire in it while it’s wet, and prop some big long timbers on it when it’s dry.” Surely not!

However, seems like I recall that we crashed a billion-buck Mars spacecraft a couple of years ago because some of the engine-ears got confused between metric and American measurements, right? Maybe, in some circles, it was too wet to fish that day!


Prior to the June 2nd Grand Opening of the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum, President Billy Johnson, Sec/Treas Bob Neill, and Director Gaila Oliver were sort-of-frantically trying to get the correct names of the hundreds of antique fishing lures which had been collected to go in the special display case that used to be the old hardware store’s nut and bolt bin. Billy had the idea of cleaning out that pigeon-holed bin, painting it a light color, and using the holes for display of the lures.
The process was working thisaway: Gaila was writing Billy’s (the Fishing Expert) dictation of names and makers of the lures, then sending those in two pages to the next-door Museum Office where Uncle Bob was typing the labels and sending them back to be stuck under the correct holes to identify the artifacts. The Runner betwixt and between was Unc’s 8-year-old GrandBoy, Leiton Irwin.
Understand this was going on late Wednesday afternoon before the Grand Opening Friday morning. We’d all been working 15-hour days for a couple of weeks. Hard to concentrate, short tempers, senior moments — all were the Order of the Day.
When Expert Billy couldn’t come up with the names of a couple of lures, it delayed Gaila’s listing, and Leiton was right there ready to run that list to his Grunk (Granddaddy Uncle Bob, shortened), the boy waited while The Expert fussed about he couldn’t “remember nothing no more!” Then the youngster held out his hand and asked, “Can I see those?”
“Yeah, sure, Kid! Take the dang things!” Billy handed them over, hooks and all.
And the 8-year-old declared, ” This one’s a Crazy Crawler, by Heddon, and this one… is a Jitterbug, by Arbogast.” He handed the lures back to the nearly speechless Fishing Lure Expert.
Billy blinked and stuttered, “How did YOU know that, Boy??!!”
And Leiton pointed out innocently: “The name is stamped on the bottom of all these lures.”
Ahhh, Youth! We finished the rest of the exhibit in jig time! (Excuse the pun!)

How to Snag-Hook a Skunk!

It was a lovely clear early summer Friday afternoon, just right for an outdoor oriented family to visit their cabin on one of the River islands, catch a few white perch or bream, or maybe a bass or two. They had brought steaks to grill, as well as hot dogs and marshmallows for the kids around the campfire that night. No one else was on the 10,000 acre island, so they’d have it to themselves – perhaps even a little skinny-dipping expedition to the north rim while the two kids went for a bike ride on the woods roads, pedaling quietly to catch deer or wild turkeys off guard.

But first they drove the jeep up to the cabin to unload their gear for the weekend, arriving just in time to see the only other camp resident in sight disappear under their house – a skunk! The tin skirting around the dwelling had been pulled loose at one back corner for some needed plumbing repair during turkey season, and someone had neglected to nail it back securely.

The mother refused to enter the cabin knowing that a skunk was underneath it, and directed that the father rid her abode of such a mal-olfactoried occupant, as soon as possible if not sooner. The suggestion that they go fishing first was summarily dismissed, for “How will we know if he has left or not?”

The father put his thinking cap on. Hanging on one outside wall was his “doodle-socking” pole, a long stiff cane pole with about a foot of heavy line on the smaller end, to which an oversize Lucky 13 lure was attached. Inspiration hit!

Kneeling at the open corner where the tin skirting was askew, father and son were able with a flashlight to see the skunk grubbing about unconcernedly under the cabin. The father engaged the cooperation of his twelve-year-old boy in the venture, which would soon turn into an adventure. “I’m gonna back the Jeep up to this corner, while you take this pole and real easy maneuver the Lucky 13 to just the other side of the skunk. Then when I give the signal, you jerk the hooks into the skunk’s hide, and run hard as you can with that pole to the back of the Jeep and jump in. If you don’t ever give him any slack line, he won’t be able to spray, and we’ll just drag him out of camp aways to turn him aloose.”

Such an opportunity is seldom presented to an outdoorsy boy, so the kid was suitably enthusiastic, and began to slowly slide the Lucky 13 around behind the skunk, as his daddy backed the Jeep to the appointed spot, shifted it from reverse to first, revved the motor once, and nodded “Go!” to his son.

“Jerk!” and the little animal was snagged by the oversize hooks just behind the ears. As instructed, the boy jumped to his feet and ran for the back of the Jeep, keeping a tight line on the pole. The vehicle scratched off as the kid grabbed the bumper, and away they flew. As prophesied, the skunk wasn’t able to spray the camp, and was 100 yards down the road before he could even assess his situation.

Which he then did, and was infuriated. He knew exactly who was causing his pain and indignation, and intended to remedy the situation. When the father turned around to tell his son to pull the pole in and cut the line, he was amazed to see that the boy was frantically playing the skunk almost like he would a big bass, except trying to keep the skunk away from the bumper. The stout pole was BENT, and the little animal was angrily galloping behind the Jeep with the obvious intent of boarding the vehicle and exacting his revenge upon the occupants at close range! There was twelve feet of pole and another foot of line, but the skunk wearing the Lucky 13 was less than six feet from the bumper, and gaining!

The father put the pedal to the metal, but it was still another quarter mile before the skunk tired of the chase and dropped back a little. In the excitement, the son had dropped the pocketknife with which to cut the line, so Dad yelled to just chunk the entire rig overboard, and they sped away, the mad skunk still in pursuit.

So, if you see a skunk wearing an oversize Lucky 13… now you know!

Disrespectful Juveniles!

Couple of weekends ago, I was struck by how disrespectful some of the younger generation have become these days. Seems like when I was growing up, children were to perhaps be seen but not heard, right? Happened thisaway.

I was carrying on a light conversation with an older, mature adult, though to be honest about it, we were doing so at some distance between us, yet our discourse was extremely friendly. As I was sitting there, here comes this gang – only word that fits here, in this situation – of juveniles, about fifteen of them. They crowded in betwixt me and the other adult, with no regard for manners. I lost sight of the object of my conversation – well, actually, our conversation ceased – as they approached where I sat, milling about and gawking at me, though I certainly didn’t want their attention, and tried to make that plain by totally ignoring them.

You cannot ignore youngsters like those. They kept coming closer and closer, at times breaking into a run, rather like they were competing with each other to see who could best disrupt my pleasant morning. I caught brief glimpses of my former conversant, but was unable to attract his attention, with this gang now strutting about, flexing their muscles as if trying to impress any maidens they might imagine would be looking their way, occasionally breaking into macho posturing amongst themselves. Rudeness personified! What mothers might have raised youngsters as ill-mannered as these?

I cast my gaze down into my lap in an effort to have them bypass me. Oh, don’t misunderstand me here: I was not atall afraid of these juveniles; they didn’t scare me. I just chose not to dignify their conduct by deigning to acknowledge their presence. Sometimes rude youngsters will go off and leave you alone, if you refrain from letting them know that they have succeeded in antagonizing you.

Alas, it was not to be. They crowded even closer. Fifteen of them within fifteen feet of me, milling about, getting in the way, now and again making rude noises while watching intently for any reaction from me.

Okay, my instincts began to say: you want a rumble, I’ll give you one. I had managed to get my hand on my weapon unseen as they approached. Now I eased the safety off and tried to pick out the biggest one, who would probably be the leader. He did it for me, marching right up into my face, coming eyeball to eyeball with me. If it had been raining, we’d have been under the same umbrella – shoot, almost under the same hat brim, if it was a Stetson!

He may have seen my gun, being that close. It should have frightened him, but he didn’t act thataway. He uttered a series of crudities, shook his head uncivilly, and began to stalk away as if he was actually somewhat disgusted with MY behavior!

This was too much. My adult conversant was forgotten as my hand tightened on the gun, safety off, to teach this juvenile a lesson he’d never forget!

Then reason prevailed: there’s a law against that, whether I agreed with it or not! As Betsy has warned me before, “They’ll put you under the jail, if you shoot him!”

I didn’t do it. I let him, I let them all walk away. I endured their uncouth, vulgar display and rose above it, though my trigger finger itched. Still itches, when I think about it. It’s itching now!

Some laws I disagree with, in certain circumstances. In this case, I really think I would have been justified in shooting that gang leader. Used to be, in this country, that the law wasn’t concerned with killing juvenile delinquents like that. The laws protecting these types have been passed relatively recently, and the “He needed killing” defense used to be enough! I say, we ought to go back to those old days.

Besides, those young gobblers taste better than the older birds. Much tenderer.

The young gobblers – “Jakes” or “Blue Johns,” we call them – stayed around me for at least 20 minutes, while the one big gobbler refused to come quite into range, strutting and pirouetting in a clearing about fifty yards away. Wouldn’t have made much difference if he had been forty yards – I couldn’t move to get my gun on him with all those Jakes around me, anyway. And I sure couldn’t call, maybe give him a whine and cluck.

He knew where I was exactly. He sent the youngsters in to check me out, while he remained just out of range. They done it to me again, I thought as I left the woods at noon.

We Brake For Buzzards & Turkeys

Heading down for south Mississippi recently, and initially got excited when I glimpsed a flock of large black birds on the side of the road up ahead. It was still turkey season, and I began to think whether I could get to my shotgun without stopping the car. The car just ahead of me was showing no signs of slowing, though, so I reached toward the back seat to get my hand on the gun. At 60 mph, I figured the turkeys to run off the side of the road down by the little creek when the car in front flushed them, and maybe I could pull off, sprint down on my side of the creek, and get a shot.

The birds went for Plan B, instead. I braked and began to pull off, checking the rearview mirror to be sure no one was coming, but the big birds stood their ground until the last moment, then flushed across the road just in front of the leading car, some of them flying. One didn’t make it. The front bumper caught the bird and flung it into the corner of the passenger windshield. At 60 mph, the bird visibly splattered. The car swerved, almost veering into the ditch, before the driver regained control and pulled off the road.

Turkey shooting was forgotten in my concern for the other driver, who burst from the car as I pulled up behind her. It was a lady, and she bent over and threw up right in the road. Close calls do that, sometime. I got out to help, if I could.

GAG!!!! Those big black birds were not wild turkeys; they were buzzards!

Freshly-splattered buzzard is not something you want to sniff up close and personal!

I whipped out my bandana handkerchief for the teary-eyed lady, and gently guided her upwind of the stinking vehicle, then stepped closer (still upwind!) to inspect the damage. One headlight was broken out, and the windshield was cracked pretty good, though it didn’t presently distort the driver-side vision yet. I reported the damage to the lady, who by now had recovered enough to talk.

“If the windshield isn’t cracked all the way across, then what’s that streaked all the way over to the driver’s side?” she asked, pointing.

“Ma’am, that’s the insides of the buzzard you hit,” I declared.

“Buzzards! I thought those were wild turkeys!” she exclaimed.

Well, so had I, but I had an excuse. I’m from the Mississippi Delta, and we ain’t had buzzards to speak of since the cows left the Delta in the late sixties, when all the pasture land went to row crops. You just about have to leave the Delta to see a buzzard. Not that seeing a buzzard, especially close-up and freshly splattered, is something worth your leaving the Delta for, if you want my opinion.

An older friend of mine used to have an expression describing someone who was extremely depressed: “You look like you been whupped with a buzzard gut!” John Allen was a pilot, and claimed he had once experienced a mid-air collision with a buzzard, which ended up in the cockpit, as splattered as the one this lady had collided with. He said he had to sell the plane, because he never got the smell out. He was right on both counts.

The lady was recovered now, and went to get back in the car, which was still sitting on the side of the road with the door open. She got to the door, and gagged, turning away as she slammed it shut. She moved upwind again, fighting for control. I got a fresh whiff and declared, “Ma’am, why don’t you let me drive you home, and send someone to tow your car to where they can wash it for you?” I had seen from her tag that she lived in the county. She shook her head.

“No, I’ll drive it on home. I was in a hurry. My kids are with the babysitter and my husband won’t be home until late this afternoon. Surely, when I get on the road, that smell will dissipate. Thanks for stopping to help. If you’ll give me your name and address, I can mail your handkerchief back after I wash it.” I said she could have it, ‘cause I didn’t want it back. She nodded, and bravely walked to the car. It’s a good thing she still had the bandana. She opened the door, reached in for her purse, jumped back, and bent over to upchuck in the road again. I moved her upwind once more and took the bandana down to the creek to rinse it out. When I returned, she had a plan.

Grimly, she took a bottle of cologne from her purse and sprayed it onto the bandana, then folded it into a bandit-like mask and knotted it behind her neck, pulling it up over her nose and mouth. She looked like Butch Cassidy at the train robbery.

Last I saw her, she was driving over the hill, windshield sprayer and wipers going full-blast. I hope she got home okay. I bet she sold that car!

How To Stop A Turkey From Charging

As the old joke goes, you take away his credit card, of course.

That never worked for me, I was thinking as turkey season rolls around again. One of the reasons I have to take a box of shotgun shells with me on a weekend turkey hunt, is for self defense. Many times, wild turkeys get so close to me that a hand grenade would be a better weapon.

Why not shoot them when they’re farther away? Good question.

I’m not the type turkey hunter who holds with rifles, which are illegal in many states now anyway, praise the Lord. Therefore, a gobbler has got to be within shotgun range before I take a whack at him, or inside forty yards. That’s a long shot, and not advisable, for ethical reasons, so thirty yards is what I consider optimum. Then, you remember what President Andy Jackson said at the Battle of New Orleans: “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!” Of course, he was shooting Brits, not turkeys, but the principle is the same: Closer is better, at least until they get within bayonet range.

With the Brits, Andy had his troops hidden behind cotton bales, or some such battlements, and they had their guns to their shoulders, ready to fire. With wild turkeys, hunters seldom keep their guns shouldered for the whole morning, unless they hear an approaching bird gobble. Being mostly deaf, I hardly ever hear it thunder, much less hear a turkey gobble. Therefore, of probably 400 turkeys I have fired at, probably 350 of them never made a sound, at least as far as I knew of. They just appeared, sticking their old red head out from behind a tree trunk 25 yards away, and me with my gun across my lap, or lying on the ground by my left hand, since I shoot from the left shoulder.

The guy who thinks he can draw on a turkey (as in “fast draw,” or “even break,” gunfighter style) is a guy who buys his turkey dinners at the grocery store. Your option, when a gobbler appears like this at 25 yards, is to wait until his head goes behind a tree in his approach, then swing your gun into action before he steps out.

Most of the time, remember, the hunter has been sitting there, camouflaged, patiently calling like a hen who would like for a big strong gobbler to come make love to her. That’s why the gobbler’s head turns red, much like a human man in the same circumstances has a blood rush. He expects to see a hen as he approaches, ready for some action, all worked up, and then – bingo! He sees movement!

And he charges, one thought in mind! LOVE!!!!

Please don’t misunderstand me: I have never had a gobbler make love to me. That is a great reason to carry a shotgun to the woods, actually, to keep that from happening.

What I’m trying to explain is the reason turkeys frequently charge me, and I firmly believe that my deafness is a major factor in my hunting experience. Other hunters don’t seem to have the problem, or maybe just don’t admit it.

My favorite shotgun, French Gun, had the stock broken when I swung it at a charging turkey I had already fired one shot at before he got within bayonet range – too close for a second shot! That was not the first turkey I had clubbed with that gun, nor was it the last for its successor, SouthPow, the left-handed 870 Remington. I actually had one gobbler run inside the little screen of branches I had stuck into the ground around me to camouflage my movements. As far as I know, he is still going, somewhere. It’s somewhat embarrassing to have a turkey close enough to touch and come away empty-handed.

Adam and Zac Whaley once had a turkey gobbler nicknamed Fast Eddie that close. Fast Eddie had a technique of slipping up behind a hunter, then sprinting around the tree they were blinded against, circling their blind within bad-breath-detecting range, and exiting around the other side of the tree before a shot had been fired. It brings to mind the custom some Indian tribes had of “coup-counting.” A warrior was had up for exceptional bravery when he rode into battle armed with, instead of a bow and arrow, a piece of 2X4, and could ride up close enough to a foe to touch him with the board, and still get away. I have always wondered if turkeys have the same sort of honor society. If so, there’s a whole room full of trophies devoted to those toms who have counted Neill coups!

I don’t mind. I’ve gotten my share, if I never get another one. And I’ve developed my own defense: I charge them right back! At the shot, I’m jumping to my feet and going after the gobbler, four more shells in the gun, and a bayonet when I run out of shells!

So if you ever read the headline, “Man Killed by Turkey,” well, now you know!

Short-Tree Turkeys!

I was out in south central Texas last month, and a companion suggested that we might want to take off from business one morning and go wild turkey hunting. We had seen a lot of game in the area where we were staying, and I had no doubt that there were turkeys around, since there were so many deer. Inquiries amongst the natives proved we were right in our expectations. We were staying out in the country anyway, so we made plans to try it the last morning.

Alas, the last morning was just like the other three — bad foggy. An unusual weather system had settled in, and the fog was solid each day until at least ten. In my experience, turkeys don’t come down off the roost until fog lifts, so we never went out. But on the way home, I began to wonder: in country like we had been in, where do wild turkeys roost?

Obviously, in trees. Yet the trees we had seen in this country were no more than eight or ten feet high, looked like. I’m used to trees which are at least fifty feet high being typical turkey roosting trees. Of course, if there ain’t a fifty-foot tree available, I had sense enough to realize that a Texas wild turkey wasn’t going to walk to the Mississippi River to roost each evening. So, they have to roost in lower trees. That being the case, maybe we should have gone hunting that morning anyway, since we might could have snuck up and got a shot at a covey rise if we could have located some turkeys roosting somewhere.

Come to think of it, I have had one experience with turkeys roosting in low trees, but I flat didn’t expect it. Ronny James and I were hunting together that morning, and we eased in behind Dub’s House to the east side of that big brushy draw where my deer stand was located. I had seen turkeys there a lot during deer season, so I figured to leave Ronny on the east side calling, and I’d ease down the draw a quarter mile, and set up close to the canebrake.

In the pre-dawn darkness, I found the big sweetgum tree I had picked out for Ronny to blind in against, and tried to point out the features of the land. When he was settled in against the sweetgum, I pointed west. “I’d gonna slip down into the draw and go about a quarter, then cross onto that other ridge,” I explained. “If you shoot, I’ll come to you. Otherwise, I’ll be back about noon, okay?”

“Don’t you think it’s be better for you to slip down the side of the ridge, rather than going down into the bottom of the draw?” he asked. “It’s beginning to lighten up, and you might flush a gobbler away from us going thataway.”

I smiled my superior smile, from many more years of turkey hunting and hundreds more shells fired at gobblers than my old college roomie. “Naw. Turkeys like big trees to roost in, and there ain’t anything but ironwood thickets in the bottom of this brushy draw. That’ll give me cover to get to the other ridge.”

He shrugged, and I waved and eased down into the draw, then cut left and headed into the brush. Ironwoods grow in clumps, all twisty and not more than eight or ten feet tall, never more than as thick around as your upper arm. I wasn’t more than fifty yards into the thicket when the B-52 bombers struck.

At least that’s what I assumed they were, although I never stopped to consider why a B-52 raid had been ordered on my deer stand territory. When those big bombers hit, no one stops to think atall — you just run!

Running in the darkness through an ironwood thicket in complete panic ain’t as easy as you might assume. I bounced off springy branches, tripped over shoots, lost my lucky hunting hat, my cushion, call, shells, headnet, thermos, everything but my gun, which I knew I’d need when the bombing stopped.

Ronny said later that there must have been two dozen wild turkeys roosted in that ironwood thicket, and they flushed and flapped and floundered through the dark for five minutes before I finally came sprinting out and fell across the ridgeline. He said it wasn’t light enough for him to see if the close ones were legal.

Funny, he never heard the B-52s atall.

Pore As Job’s Turkey!

As is usual in many years, the early season turkeys were still flocked up, big gobblers with big gobblers, hens with hens, and young gobblers (“jakes”) with jakes. Yet every now and then, you get dealt a good hand.

I could hear the flock coming long before I saw them, and knew they were coming my way, so I didn’t call again, just got ready. They hove into view, but just as I had surmised from their calls, it was a flock of all hens, scratching through the leaves under the pecan trees on my ridge. I sat still as they worked closer and closer; I’m not sure what they had been feeding on the night before, but that flock actually got close enough for me to hear – excuse me – some of them, ah…breaking wind. I remember years ago reading about scientists being concerned about flatulence in cattle making holes in the ozone layer, or something like that. Those scientists would REALLY get worried if they knew that wild turkey hens have the same problem!

Then I noticed a much-darker bird toward the back of the flock, on the far side of it. Of all the luck, there was a gobbler with this flock of hens! My gun was across my lap, and I eased my thumb onto the safety.

The gobbler topped the ridge, and I could see a long beard; but this turkey had a peculiar gait: he seemed to be bobbing up and down. Well, I get accused of bouncing around a little when I’m singing, so maybe this tom was humming a tune as he fed: “Turkey In The Straw,” or more likely, “Just Before The Battle, Mother.” My gun was ready for action just as soon as I could get a clear shot within range.

Then the hens cleared out slightly between me and him, and I got a clear look that dumbfounded me: this gobbler had only one leg! He was hopping on one foot, balancing himself with the other wing, just like it was a crutch!

I watched with growing interest and sympathy, my gun forgotten. The old boy, for he was an older gobbler, by the length of his beard, was getting along very well with his handicap. He’d use his beak to sweep away leaves that he normally would have scratched away, then peck up the pecans or paw-paw seeds in a circle around where he stood, then he’d hop to another spot and work it over. The hens seemed to watch over him without being overly motherly, but it was obvious that a couple of hens were acting as lookouts in case some predator might be following the flock.

The crippled gobbler wasn’t as well filled-out as one would expect in a woods rich with mast, but he wasn’t as proverbially “Pore as Job’s Turkey,” though he’d had a dose of Job’s Luck. What had gotten the other leg? Now he was close enough for me to see that it was missing from the drumstick down, not just the foot. Did a wolf or bobcat ambush the tom, chomping down on a leg, only to have the gobbler wrench free, leaving just enough for the predator to fix turkey-foot soup? Had a nervous hunter called up the tom, then shot low? Maybe he had stepped into the steel jaws of a set trap, and had twisted his leg off to escape. Whatever, it had obviously healed over, for the gobbler was healthy, and the wingtip he used as a crutch was worn down from long use.

Twice in my life I have gone into the turkey woods on crutches, and a couple of other times with a walking cane. Twice I have been faced with the prospect of never walking again. It was with a growing admiration that I watched this gobbler hobble within gun range. The old boy was staying with the hens for company, because another gobbler would have made short work of him in a fight. If you’ve never heard a wild turkey fight, it’s a loud scrap: a dozen other males gather around and cheer for their favorite while a couple of toms go after it hammer and tongs! Any country boy who has been flounced by a turkey can testify to the power of their wings, spurs, and beaks. One can hear a wild turkey fight a quarter mile away in the woods.

The one-legged gobbler hopped out from behind a big pecan tree, 25 yards away. I never raised my gun. This turkey was too good a man for me to mess with him. He fed on across the ridge with the hens, and once stood erect to flap and half-gobble.

I saluted him, too. I hope Job’s Turkey lives to be 105!

Setting Up (Or Down) For Turkeys

Here it is turkey season once again, the humbling season for most good hunters, sometimes with aforethought. After a half-century of hunting wild turkeys, I’m going to have to change my techniques. I think I’ve got to learn to set down to shoot turkeys.

Understand that wild turkeys DO something to your old Uncle Bob! I have fired well over a thousand rounds of shotgun shells at turkeys in my time, which averages out firing over 20 rounds a year at turkeys. While I have killed close to 250 gobblers, the average of four shells per turkey is somewhat misleading, for I really have at times killed a turkey with a single shot, like you see on TV. Plus, there have been several times when I killed two birds with one shot, unintentionally. Not that I haven’t tried to do that on purpose, it just hasn’t ever worked when I wanted it to. Anyhoo, my average is closer to six shots per turkey than four shots, and there were several years when I actually averaged over seven shells for each gobbler I brought home.

Point here is, I knew when I went to the woods that if I got a shot at a gobbler, it invariably would not be a fatal encounter unless the tom could be kept in gun range for another volley. Therefore, my set-up technique involved leaning against a big tree or large log that protected my backside (turkeys have a history of ambushing me!), sticking up a few paw-paw branches in front of me to break my outline, and removing any obstacles to foot-racing from the immediate area. I am not a hurdler. Matter of fact, the paw-paw branch blind needs to be light enough to run through with ease.

When the turkey is called into range (and closer is better, for me) I wait until he goes behind a tree within 25 yards before raising my gun, and when I do pull the trigger from that sitting position, I charge! Going from a sitting position to a dead run, with a pump shotgun at port arms, requires a great deal of supple effort and coordination.

I recall one Opening Weekend when it snowed six inches the night before and our camouflage jumpsuits stood out like sore thumbs, so we all took bedsheets to the woods as camo, tucked over us like barber cloths as we sat against our trees. I called up seven gobblers together that morning, who all took turns strutting and gobbling as they approached from a half-mile away. I was shaking like a leaf by the time they got within range, then I shot, jumped up, and charged. The bedsheet wound itself around my legs within two steps, and not only did I not get a single turkey, I broke an antique turkey call Mr. Floyd Hughes had given Big Robert years before.

Several years I have gone to the turkey woods with a wounded knee, which seriously limits one’s ability to rise charging with the initial shot. Once I crippled a big gobbler just enough that he couldn’t quite get out of gun range, despite my jumping up, shooting, falling down routine. That one took about nine shots, I believe.

There was one gobbler whom I caught a glimpse of in full strut as he approached through a deep draw. I lost sight of him, but had my gun up and ready when suddenly his old red head stuck up from the edge of the draw, like a submarine periscope. I dropped the barrel a couple of inches and fired, just as he ducked back down. My shot hit the ground and the brink of that draw exploded like a claymore mine. As usual, I was charging as I pumped, and when I hit the edge of the draw, the gobbler was still crouched down, eyes closed, completely untouched by number six shot, though obviously shell-shocked. It still took me seven shots to collect him!

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours working on the lawn mower, and noticed that my knees just don’t have the suppleness left to quickly charge turkeys after the shot. Numerous cartilage and ligament tears, operations, busted kneecaps, a broken thighbone and perhaps even old age, Lyme Disease, and the Greenhouse Effect have all taken their toll. Rising is an effort, even done slowly. There’s no question that I’m going to have to change my turkey hunting techniques.

Or my ammo: are claymores legal? What about blookers? Maybe I can hire an assistant to chase for me. Or take in an apprentice who wants to learn from The Master!

The Gun May Be Just An Excuse To Be In The Woods!

A friend who ain’t from Down Heah told me he’d gone turkey hunting all by his lonesome recently, his first time to try wild turkeys. Where he’s from, they might have lots of turkeys, if turkeys ate rocks and sand, and roosted on cacti, but you know what Big Bumpy used to say about if: “If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his behind.” Bill didn’t have any luck with turkeys, but he observed, “It was sure nice to be out there in the woods before daylight, to hear the birds wake up, owls hooting, and woodpeckers pecking. Good to be in God’s Great Outdoors!”

I have written often that the gun in hand is merely an excuse to be in the woods, for many hunters. Scotty Tabb was telling me about his last week’s hunt, when a baby bobcat stalked up on his turkey decoy, and Robert Dean once wrote about a hawk attacking his fake hen. Son Adam came in excited after one whole morning in a deer stand, and couldn’t wait to tell me: “I saw a flying squirrel!” The first panther I ever saw was before good daylight when I was headed toward a gobbling turkey on Montgomery Island, and another was on Woodstock Island as I sat in a deer stand in a snowstorm. On none of those occasions did the hunter score that day; nor did he care. But we’ll always remember those events.

The only big-time big-snake duel I ever witnessed was on a turkey hunt, when two large moccasins were, essentially, arm-wrestling for the favor of a lady cottonmouth awaiting the winner. Weird! The only reason I bring that up is that the last couple of stories on snakes generated a lot of feedback, and I need to say first that the Texas Rattler Round-up lasts more than one day, and second, that a young man sent me pictures of a north Mississippi Moccasin Round-up in which they killed 280 vipers over a weekend. That discourages new turkey hunters!

One morning I was sitting against one of those huge pecan trees behind Dub’s House on Woodstock, and heard something approaching in the dry leaves behind me. Thinking “Turkey Gobbler!” I eased my head around the tree, French Gun ready, to see a large copperhead snake coming through the woods lickety-split. Well, as lickety-split as a snake can go, anyway. He went right by my tree and down across the draw, leaving me wondering what the heck was chasing him. That thought ruined the rest of my weekend hunt!

Betsy had a red fox jump over a log almost into her lap once on a deer hunt, and another time watched a bobcat wash itself and curl up for a nap almost under her stand. I spent all one morning in a turkey blind watching a momma squirrel moving her brood of about five teentsie (what do you call a baby squirrel: a kit?) young’uns from a tree about ten yards to my right to a new den tree about thirty yards to my left. Her path took her less than ten feet from me, and if a turkey gobbler had strutted up, I would not have dared shoot, for fear of disturbing her.

Big Robert was about as serious a hunter as I’ve ever known, but one afternoon when I eased up to where he sat on a log ostensibly calling turkeys, he grinned at my low whistle and beckoned me to come in quietly, indicating he was watching game. When I crawled to his log, he pointed out two raccoons on a big sycamore limb. “They’ve been making love all afternoon,” he whispered. “I feel almost guilty for watching!” Had he seen a turkey, or even looked for one? No.

In almost that same spot a year or so later, I sat in the Hammer Stand and observed as fine a job of coaching as I’ll ever see: a momma bobcat positioned her half-grown kitten on a log ten yards behind me, then circled and bounced a big canecutter rabbit out of a brushtop. The rabbit went straight to the log, and the kitten jumped it gamely, getting a mouthful of rabbit head, but the bunny was bigger than the bobcat! It was a classic fight to the finish, but the little cat won!

Hunting deer one afternoon, I was privileged to watch a coyote hide in a clump of grass with just the end of his tail sticking out. A hawk had been circling the open field for some time, and the coyote began twitching the end of his tail as the big bird got closer. Sure enough, the hawk made a dive for what it must have assumed was a rat or rabbit, and the coyote just barely mistimed his own jump, missing a planned hawk supper, except for a few breast feathers that drifted down.

Yeah, Bill is right. It’s good to be out in God’s Great Outdoors. Don’t let the gun slow you down!