A Turkey Hunter's First Shot
A newbie goes into the spring woods after a turkey and finds out what it means to take a bird
So, we wait. The woods go quiet. No rustles. No gobbles. The turkeys are “henned up.” Which is to say, we are basically sitting there, merely feet away, waiting for the birds to stop having sex. It is an awkward time.
After a while, we break for breakfast, Walea’s frustration showing. He knows failing is part of the sport, the bitter that deepens the sweet. And yet, he is determined to try again.
Having given up on the original target, he says, “I’ll try him another time. He outsmarted us today.” We head to a second location. Walea knows of another gobbler down the road. Knows too that the day is getting hot and the hens weary. Walea is hoping the gobbler still has a little desire left in him. Enough to leave the shady pines and venture into the path. (Forget chickens, we know exactly why turkeys cross the road.)
We have just sat down, backs to trees, when Walea hears the turkey in question. He calls to him. A simple howdy, nothing complex. The gobbler wastes no time. He calls back, strutting as he does, the palms vibrating as he makes his way into the clearing. Walea tells me to ready the gun.
Seconds later, the gobbler emerges, plump and eager, his feathers fanned and iridescent in the sunlight. He runs toward our call, toward what he believes to be impending delight, and it is then, at Walea’s urging, that I pull the trigger.
“You did it! Perfect! Way to go, girl!” Walea shouts, leaping up and rushing to the bird, now thrashing around in the dirt, death throe muscle spasms, Walea assures me.
“It was a clean hit,” he says proudly. “Just perfect.”
Walea turns to look at me, grinning like he’s Oprah and he’s just given me a Chrysler. I am not grinning. I am, in fact, sobbing. Sobbing like he’s Oprah and I’m James Frey.
“I feel horrible,” I choke out. “I don’t even kill spiders in my house!”
Walea’s face falls. He comes over, gives me a tight hug. Then he looks me in the eye and says, “That gobbler was going to die anyway. And in a brutal way.” I nod slowly, not really buying it, convinced I have failed some moral test, that God will hold me accountable in the end, that no number of hours volunteering at the food bank will erase the fact that I took the life from this gorgeous bird, which I tricked, and which, for some unknown, self-sabotaging reason in my head, I named.
“I was calling him Fernando,” I wail.
Walea looks at me with pity. He takes a deep breath, finds my eye again, and says softly, “I’ve cried too.”
And that is the thing about real hunters. Real hunters love the animals they kill. It is not about trophies, or ego, or dominance. For real hunters, the life they take is already a part of them, and when they take that life, they do so with reverence and awe and the understanding that being struck down cleanly, without pain or suffering, is a far better end than any creature usually has the privilege of meeting.
“These gorgeous birds are my life,” Walea explains. “I like to make sure they get the deaths they deserve.”