Photos document a moment in time, but they only tell part of the story. Our hunting stories come to life every time we tell them, but no story is as vivid as the experience when it happened, and the words pale in comparison to the actual hunt. But for me, as with most hunters, the storytelling is part of what we love about hunting, along with the connection to nature that surrounds us.
Opening day for turkey hunting on private land in South Carolina started with the threat of powerful thunderstorms, but we decided to make the hour-and-a-half trek to our hunt club regardless, knowing that the weather often changes quickly. Quite sure that it would be a short hunt with the storm threat, we decided to sit together in a blind that we had originally set up for my husband, Trippett. Being a gentleman, he was good with letting me take the lead with the calling as we worked together to get the decoys set up and got ourselves situated so we could quiet down and listen for the sound we dream about hearing . . . gobble, gobble, gobble! Daybreak was a good 40 minutes away, and we sat quietly and waited for the forest to wake up. The skies cleared, the rain stopped pelting on our blind, and we were so happy we didn’t forgo the opening day hunt because of weather.
One of the things I love most about hunting is the spiritual connection I feel as I sit and wait. Day after day, we find ourselves exhausted from the constant stimulation we are exposed to, both physically and mentally. The opportunity to sit quietly and peacefully grounds me, and this is a spiritual break that I look forward to so much. Typically, I would be by myself, but today I shared this sanctuary with my hubby, who is not too proud to get comfortable and take a nap, knowing that I was on full alert watching for signs of turkeys. As for me, I soak it all in . . . every tree frog that croaks, every crow that caws, every owl that hoots, and every noise I can’t make out keeps me in the moment. This spiritual break is what I seek when I hunt. The big bird in the photo is very important, trust me, but bringing home my quarry is only a part of what compels me to hunt.
As I sat there in the darkness of the blind, armed with my favorite slate call, I gently sanded the surface of the slate and sat ready to respond to the sound of a gobble with a gentle “I’m over here, big boy.” And then it happened: a distinct gobble, and it sounded as if it came from right about where we thought the turkeys would be roosting over the swamp. Being in a blind can muffle a call, so I made sure my soft yelps would be audible, but not overly anxious-sounding, as it was still a bit early. Over the next 30 or so minutes, I decided to get a little more aggressive, as the sound of the turkey’s gobble was not getting closer. I picked up my box call and let out a series of confident yelps, thinking this would get the tom juiced up and hopefully curious enough to come looking for me.
Patience is the most important virtue when turkey hunting. Just when you think nothing is going to happen and you are sure no birds are going to show up, they do in an instant. Not one bird, but two birds were approaching our decoys.
“Birds!” I excitedly whispered. I could clearly tell which turkey was the dominant tom, as this bird was in full strut. I focused on his blue head, nervous about how much cover was between the birds and our blind, and hoping I could make a clean shot. My hubby had his hands over his ears and was in the back of the blind, unable to see anything that was going on. For what seemed to be an eternity, I lined up my shot . . . bang!
“Bird down!” I said. The second bird was shocked by the sound of the shot, and he immediately started to run, and then paused for a moment. I handed my gun to Trippett and said, “There’s another bird—take the shot!” I moved quickly and ducked as he lined up what was about a 50-yard shot at the second bird, and down went the tom. What a hunt!
Thrilled beyond words, we gathered our composure and got out of the blind to take a look at the birds. We set up a cell phone “selfie” with the timer so that we could show off our birds together. After basking in the glory that we both got longbeards on opening day, we decided to clean the birds at our camp, since it was too far to drive home and clean them there. Typically, I like to pluck the feathers, but the time constraints required us to skin the birds instead. I convinced my husband that we would be taking the legs and thighs in addition to the breasts. Many people are not aware of the beautiful meat that is on a wild turkey’s leg. I promise you it is not tough meat. It will fall off the bone if it is slow cooked, and then you can feed up to four or five people with two turkey legs!
First, we weighed the birds, but we only had deer scales, so we are not sure of their accuracy. My turkey was the larger one, weighing 24 pounds, but did not have large spurs. But he sported two beards, with the longer measuring 9½ inches. Trippett’s turkey was smaller, weighing 19 pounds, but had a 10-inch beard and slightly longer spurs. Both were beautiful birds! Once we got everything cleaned up, we removed the turkeys’ fans and beards.
With my spirit renewed, we left the hunt with a feeling of pride. I try to take spiritual breaks as often as I can, and it does not always involve hunting. Sometimes it is a just a walk on the beach, a quiet boat ride through the inlet, or taking photos of God’s beautiful creation. Nature always seems to be involved in these peaceful moments though—that is for certain!
As Written for Waccamaw Outdoor Magazine, May 2018 Issue