Almost always after killing a wild turkey, I whisper: "Thanks."
Sometimes I'm alone; sometimes I'm with a buddy. I'm moved. I'm grateful. My hands are almost always shaking, even after all these years. It never gets old. I'm forever amazed I got to do it one more time. And I'm thankful.
What you say after killing wild game matters because . . .
A young hunter or someone new to the hunting tradition is watching your actions, trying to fit in and figure out the deal. They regard you as a mentor whether you know that or not. Be an example.
A landowner gave you permission to hunt their land. Somebody told you where you'd find action.
Your state's wildlife management department, along with pro-hunting conservation groups such as the National Wild Turkey Federation, have worked long and hard to give you such an opportunity.
Family. Friends. All played a part in this.
Yep, it's easy to be cynical these days. It's even easier to think you earned it on your own. But you didn't. You had help.
Hunting – for wild turkeys, deer, ducks and whatever else – is almost always a "we" deal.
Kill what you were hunting? Tag or limit out? Congratulations.
Now take a second. Look up at the big blue sky, the red and yellow woods and green fields around you. Stop. Look. Listen. Whisper a few words.
Smile at your best buddy next to you. Smile to yourself.
Look down at the greatest gamebird on the planet – and give thanks.
Steve Hickoff is Realtree.com's editorial director and turkey hunting editor. He’s been beaten by more birds than he can remember. Still he kills enough to eat well, and fool with beards, spurs and fans until the next season. Pennsylvania born and raised, Maine is his home base now. A full-time outdoor communicator with a couple university writing degrees, he chases spring gobblers and fall flocks around the country.