The “Y” junction in the ridge trail is a place of many memories, some of them bad, but it is a location to which unbreakable bonds link my soul. I have spent hours here in the heat with sweat pooling in my eyes as I picked blackberries. And it was here three years ago in an awful April that I missed tagging out by only a few gobbler steps on the third morning of that bitter but ironically successful season.
I had listened from a safe distance as that bird gobbled his way along the trail and had taken position behind a log in the vines and brush along the edge of the thicket on the east side of the trail. Rather than go out the right spur of the “Y”, the bird had wandered left out the long ridge. He answered my call and came back, pausing 45 yards off. I could have taken the shot then but saw no need to since it was likely he would come on in. I was immobile and had the advantage of a ghillie jacket and full face hood. But he did not come on along the trail. Instead he had angled off into the right side thicket.
Morning after morning I had numbly gone forth to that spot and to other places, often hearing that third morning turkey but never seeing him. On the season’s final morning another big gobbler had claimed a few feet of ground at the White Gate and defended it to the death. I had seen that bird after filling my first tag 24 hours before the incident at the “Y”.
Rather than the bird against which we scheme, we often kill the one destiny sends to us. A turkey season is the search for such a bird — or two — of destiny.
Now three years on find me again at the Y behind the same log this 2nd day of May on which I am exactly seventy years and eleven months old and in my third epilogue season. I am here because yesterday I heard a gobbler walk this same ground the one had walked three years ago. There is turkey sign in the trails — excrement and broken egg shells from robbed nests, but no birds sounding near the junction. That’s often the way it is, that we set up where birds were yesterday.
Overhead in the trees I see a bright red bird, but it is not a familiar cardinal. This bird has a smooth head, not the parrot-like dome of our state bird. Seeing a Summer tanager always brings memories of Springdale and the pair of special birds that nested one summer in the sugar maple in our old front yard—a tree I had to cut down myself to enable the movers to cart our house away to its new location on Owl Hollow.
Then there are two clear but distant gobbles from the right western spur of the Y directly to my front. I yelp with the Lynch paddle box call in reply but the bird does not answer. He is too far away to have interest in me.
“He’s probably right in the road,” I say to myself. “But so far away he’s not coming here, so I must go to him.”
I can see far out the straight stretch of trail splitting the weedy ridge. The bird is beyond the curvature of the land and I know I can approach several hundred yards nearer to him. The move is a risky one because he may be moving fast enough toward me that we encounter each other at long distance. When I have gained significant ground I go off trail and sit behind a log.
He gobbles again, far enough ahead around bends in the trail and woods along it that I know I can move forward safely. When I reach a point where the trail slants upward and curves slightly right forty yards ahead, I go off trail to the right again and sit in the weeds and briars. There is no good-sized tree to break my outline or to get behind for concealment. I will have to depend on my camouflage clothing and the facial hood to conceal me until I have a shot. There is a locust sapling in front handy for resting the heavy Remington 11-87 12 bore to cover the area where the gobbler will appear if he comes on down the ridge trail to me. When in position I do a carefully counted 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 yelps on the Lynch, and he answers with a single gobble. I send him another seven and he makes an immediate reply. I see motion and a spot of blue and white in the trail where it slants up and right. He’s coming! He stops and gobbles. He wants the “hen” he has heard to answer him, but I cannot risk that. He has too direct a line of sight to me and he is not yet as much in the clear and close as I want him.
Then there is that dreaded alarm “Kuk”! He has sensed that something is amiss. Maybe the morning sun has glinted on the bright blue finish of the Remington and spooked him! I realize the poor choice I have made in position as his head, which is all I have really seen of him through the thin ground cover and briars, begins to move off back the way he has come. I don’t like the shot but I have to take it. The Remington roars and the head immediately disappears but there is one convulsive roll of a body above the cover where his head had been. He is indeed down and I photograph him with the gun and call where he lies even before the inevitable flop.
I have tagged out with a nine-inch beard, 22-pound gobbler. Now I can move on with other things, and as Simon Peter told his fellow disciples in John 21:3, “I go a fishing.” The reverberation of the shot may mark the end of an era. Last Christmas I acquired a new shotgun, a 12 gauge autoloader with 3.5 chamber and camo finish. I got it mostly to use as a heavy duty waterfowl gun but it is a lighter burden to tote than the ponderous old Remington.
I don’t believe my gobbler is yesterday’s bird that drew me to the Y junction this morning on which I turn seventy years and eleven months old, but he is the bird that destiny sent me and I am grateful that he will join other gobblers of destiny in the gallery of my heart.