The Best Camouflage

“There’s turkeys on the hill.”

The words snapped my attention from an article I needed to finish; predatory adrenaline propelled me up from my desk. I grabbed the old Stevens 20-gauge single-barrel shotgun from its storage place along with three, number six magnum shells, and hustled outside.

My wife stood on the porch and with practiced ease pointed a finger at one ear then up the hill behind the house–just like an Army Ranger on point.

“Toms?”  I mouthed.

A head nod.  Multiple gobbles from the dark, thick timber punctuated the gesture.  My eyes lanced into the cover, alert for the smallest movement–a head bob or a wing flutter.  Nothing.  I slinked around the house and joined our narrow, serpentine private dirt driveway where it hugs the hillside just below the timber.

Turkeys are large birds. “Dinosaurs” I call them, and when they move through heavy cover, the “stomp,” “crunch,” and “snap” from their immense feet is unmistakable.  My ears told me the dinosaurs were close.

A suspicious tom

Where, oh where, can my turkey be?

In the next ten seconds my mind grappled with multiple ideas how best to put the zap on the Pleistocene throwbacks.  No good options appeared.  I stood in the open.  The turkeys held the high ground secure behind elderberry thickets and spruce saplings.  You’re screwed, dude, flashed through my brain.

A flicker caught my eye.  One turkey (a whole gang were there) had slipped through a sunlit patch between some trees.  Not enough for a good look, but enough.  I knew where they were, and more important, where they were headed.

I began the stalk.  One slow, near agonized step at a time I advanced five yards and stopped.  Now what?  There I stood in the bright sun, more prominent than if you took Mount Everest and planted it smack in Kansas.  To the left and ten feet forward, a ponderosa pine’s shadow lay across the road and beckoned.  How many times had I almost tripped over deer in the forest as they stood stone still in a shade patch?  I became a deer.  Again, on tenterhooks, I inched my way to the welcome shadows.

Ninja This

Meanwhile, as I put on a Ninja clinic, the birds had meandered diagonal down hill toward my position.  I waited.  And waited.  Foot clomps–up and away, into the forest.  They made me, I just knew it.

In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought, determined to see this circus through to the predictable end.  I just knew they’d wander off, and then, ego in hand, I’d sulk back to my desk and relive the failure for the next week.

The battle is joined

Then a wonderful thing happened, a wonderful, brilliant, awful thing happened.  One bird made a mistake.  It stepped a few yards away from its gang and began a slow, careful walk downhill.

I caught movement.  Now the biggest question popped to mind: tom or hen turkey?  Spring turkey season is a challenge in these parts.  In the fall, you can take either gender with any legal hunting weapon (shotgun, rifle, bow, etc.), but not spring.  Spring is toms only, shotgun only.  You look your thanksgiving dinner square in the eye, mano e turkey.

Old school scatter gun

The Stevens Model 97 had cost a song off the used gun rack at a local emporium years ago.  A simple gun, almost arcane: single shot, exposed hammer, and one forlorn gold bead at the twenty-six inch barrel’s end.  Although stone-age simple, it had one standout feature: the tightest modified choke I’d ever used.  The thing slung pellets more like rifle bullets, and it had accounted for many a grouse and rabbit who had felt immune to its sting over forty yards away.

Somehow, the turkey sensed it, or at least I imagined it sensed the gun’s envelope, and it hung up–fifty plus yards out.  Defeat opened its mighty jaws, ready to devour my hopes.  Then the bird made another mistake.  What are the odds?  It took more cautious steps downhill, right to the forty yard line and into the sunlight.  Even better, it had a bright red and blue head and a beard dangled from a jet black chest.  Then it–he–gobbled.  Tom, tom, tom!  Incipient despair turned unbridled optimism.

The General says…

Just one more problem, he looked right at me.  Yeah sure, I had the shade, but otherwise I looked just like what you’d expect: a gangly monkey in tennis shoes with a shotgun at port arms.

General George Patton once remarked a poor plan executed with speed and aggression right now beats an excellent plan executed later.  I put my faith in old Blood and Guts, eased the Stevens to my shoulder, and with bead trained on turkey noggin, cocked the lone hammer.

Until you see the whites of their eyes

Why don’t they line up like this?

Mr. Tom Turkey froze.  The hammer’s “click” had become a thunderous “clack” which seemed to echo across the entire state.  Black, avian eyes sent a message to clever avian brain, What is a monkey doing in the open with that long stick, and what does “click” mean?

BOOM!  The lone hammer dropped on the lone primer and copper plated shot riddled the tom’s breast, neck, and head.  He flopped and flapped down the hill onto the road.  Special delivery for Mongo!

A word about turkeys.  They are tough.  They make Navy SEALs look effete.  Kevlar is nothing compared to turkey feathers.  I’ve lost track as to how many have taken a solid, righteous shot and still walked, or even flew, a hundred yards or more away (hours long search ensues).  I paid the insurance, as Peter Capstick would put it, and sorted Mr. Tom out with a second shot.  When I got to him, I thanked him for his efforts (you do thank your game animals, don’t you?), tagged him, and carried him to the house with the usual mixed elation and melancholy I get with every harvested animal.  Elation at a job well done and melancholy at taking a life so I could eat.

Fred Bear, the famous bow hunter, had it right.  The best camouflage is standing still.

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