For the spring turkey hunter, a year can be compressed into roughly three months of time well spent, with the remainder wasted – or at the very least compromised – by acts of necessity. Traveling along a linear path, time is wholly independent and egalitarian for all in its path. Seconds become minutes, which become hours, turning to days. Months become years. The allotment of time for us is uncertain and seems to pass exponentially faster as we age. On this linear continuum, we are only given so many springs until inevitability is no longer a state of denial. Roscoe Reems once told me a man can only learn so much in a lifetime by killing two turkeys a year. A deacon in the polytheistic religion of turkey hunting, Roscoe understood experience precedes wisdom – the former a latticework of interaction garnered over a finite span.
© Ryan Orndorff illustration
By this reckoning alone, wanderlust is a requisite for the turkey hunter. I grew up under the roof of a call maker, imprinting at a young age with localized hunting being the norm, until my concentric sphere expanded with a driver’s license and the freedom of youth. Sorties to the neighboring states of Tennessee, South Carolina, and Alabama proved a gateway to future Kerouacian junkets in pursuit of an endless spring. The obsessive and the manic have as much of a place here as Taylor Swift at the Country Music Awards, for if the only motivation is rendering entertainment from feather piles and notched tags, then the spirit of the game is already lost.
You wake up at 4 a.m. in the parking lot of a Walmart in a small Kentucky town. The forecast at home called for heavy rain over the next two days, but the weatherman said the front would not push past Knoxville, so after dinner the decision is made to drive five hours north. The concern with last-minute trips so early in the season is that impulse tends to efface common sense and before you know it, you’re part of a Jerry Clower story. Arriving in Kentucky around 1 a.m., something is painfully amiss. While the shotgun never leaves the truck this time of year, nor does the turkey vest, a duffle bag full of camouflage clothing that would keep the Goodwill in Mumford, Alabama, busy for the better part of deer season is conspicuously absent. The good news is forty dollars at a 24-hour Kentucky Walmart will get you a pair of camouflage jeans, one longsleeve camo t-shirt – and a rain poncho since the weatherman lied and it’s raining in Kentucky, too.
© James Buice photo
Clad in freshly procured duds, and popping bug-green Nike sneakers, the search begins on a large tract of unfamiliar national forest. Miles later and long into the afternoon, a solitary gobble hangs in the air, then drifts off as if it never was. Back to an oak tree, the drumming of an approaching gobbler, and a brilliant red head contrasting the prosaic landscape of early spring, all work to slow the evolution of present to future. The smell of sulphur and sound of great wings beating the forest floor signal the end of a hunt – and you forget about the clock for a moment.
You wake up in a rest area somewhere between Missouri and Montana, hard to say exactly where. Fourteen hours into a twenty-two-hour drive, a jackalope hopping across the road signals, it is time to pull over and sleep for a few hours. April has all but slipped away under a veil of blooming dogwoods, wild azaleas, and over a thousand miles behind the windshield. Almost a full month into a season that began in the swamps of southern Florida, and things are beginning to slow down to a manageable pace. Turkey season so often begins as a tremolo of softened lines, a menagerie of faces and feathers and places undivided. It is now, alone in the cab of a pickup truck, as these memories diverge and you force a timeline to play out.
© Bill Konway photo
The silhouette of an Osceola gobbler skulking around a palmetto thicket veiled in the dawn mist. That sneaky old gobbler on a piece of national forest land in Alabama, and another in Mississippi, made you feel like you had begun to figure it all out – until you were all but blanked in Texas . . . Texas! An evening hunt with dad where a hen stepped over his feet, and the stories on the ride home that you’ve heard a hundred times and will miss when they are no longer told. The sunrise in Nebraska that turned the prairie into a golden sheet of grass and the three specks on the horizon that became a symphony of gobbling at 10 yards.
You wake up in your own bed at four in the morning and realize time has caught up. In the corner of the room stands a shotgun beside a pair of worn leather boots, and a turkey call carried for over three decades in the woods. Time and miles have passed over each of these, a rich patina that cannot be counterfeited and are as honest as the memories they hold.
This is the lullaby of a turkey hunter.