It was probably the spring of 1993 when I started my turkey hunting career. I was fresh out of college, newly-married, and working for Headline News in Atlanta. I'd been born-and-raised an upland and waterfowl hunter, but turkeys were just starting to grow in numbers (and in popularity) in the Midwest.
In the South though, they were already an industry unto themselves. I can fondly remember dragging my sweet and tolerant yet befuddled new bride to "Turkeyrama," a hugely redneck sports show for all things longbeard. It might've been at that show that I picked up The Turkey Hunter's Bible, by John E. Phillips. It was a tome I read from cover to cover, parsing each sentence for enlightenment. Booksmart and oblivious to reality, I set out with some ragged camo, a newly-purchased Winchester 1300 NWTF edition, and a few calls.
I had scouted the Redlands WMA a few weeks prior, and I had this sprawling tract of land to myself, since my "weekends" from the news biz were Tuesday and Wednesday. I stumbled to my appointed pine tree and set up shop in the waning minutes of darkness.
Figuring that louder was better (a trait not uncommon among most men of that age), I reached for the noisiest yelper I could find -- a handmade contraption that consisted of a cut-up 35mm film canister (try finding one of those these days) with a piece of stretched Trojan condom that served as the reed. I let out about five or six terrible yelps and waited.
But not for long. Within 15 seconds, a group of 20 birds emerged from the piney woods about 200 yards away on a hill right in front of me, and they were headed my way! In another 15 seconds (I was too paralyzed to make anymore calls) they were within gun range. Shaking more than I thought possible, I raised my gun and took my first turkey. It was a jake with a four-inch beard, but I couldn't be happier. Every hunter has those kinds of days every once in awhile -- where everything aligns just right and you can do no wrong. Hell, on the way back to my truck, bird slung over my shoulder, I flushed one of Georgia's few covies of public land wild quail. As a 24-year-old, it made me cocky. This turkey hunting business was easy.
It took me another three seasons to kill my second bird, so I can thank Mr. Tom for teaching me a thing or two about humility and patience. That's part of the enjoyment of turkey hunting -- even if the birds aren't cooperating, it's a great way to see the world wake up around you -- something most people never bother to savor. And those slow times sitting under a tree give you a chance to remember all the good times. I'm no longer a jake these days, but I've got two young kids eager to sit in the woods with me and hopefully we'll make some more memories.