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Waking with the Turkeys

Posted 12/12/2013 8:14am by Julie Hurst / Roy Brubaker.

Either I've "gone native" or some latent family gene has begun to blossom in ways I would not have predicted. Soon after we moved to our farm I agreed, under the persuasive influence of both my sister and Roy, to get my hunting license.  All the men in my father's family were hunters and even though Roy's father did not hunt very much, Roy has been an avid hunter as long as I've known him.  I am familiar with all the arguments and protests about hunting because I used to make them. And like every "group" that I've ever been part of, there are many elements of the hunting culture I prefer to distance myself from. I am quite happy to only have three shells in my clip at once and to manually move them into the barrel. I've found that is more than enough to get the job done. I am a cautious hunter.  I have neither the skill nor drive of Katniss Everdeen. What I do love is being in the woods with all the required focus and attention of a predator. There is nothing quite like it.

On opening day we are up before five dressing in warm layers. We hunt with my family at a cabin in valley not too far from our farm. We always eat a big Pennsylvania breakfast; eggs over easy, fried potatoes, scrapple, and toast.  Both the banter, usually referring back to other year's hunts, and the well wishes begin as soon as the coffee is poured. It is not a leisurely affair however as we all hope to be in our stands by first light, usually around 6:30.

The feeling of being part of the woods begins as soon as the four wheelers are quieted and pre-dawn quiet walk begins. When I am finally in my stand and have situated my lunch bag and seat cushion, my breathing slows, calm descends, and the world slowly begins to wake up. Do I sit perfectly still for hours? Are you kidding! But I have learned to move my eyes more than my head; to tell the difference between a deer and a squirrel by just the sound of their movement.  I get out and walk around when I am cold or bored. And I've learned that animals behave with a similar mix of pre-meditated caution and blatant irrationality.  I've seen squirrels misjudge a jump and tumble to the ground.  Had deer walk within ten yards me, turn and look me in the eye before moving on. And then there are the turkeys.

Turkeys are amazingly confident birds. They are not stealthy creatures. They quarrel and scratch their way through the woods as though nothing in the wild world might be interested in having them for dinner. This a week after Thanksgiving. At dusk on opening day, I heard a large flock of them moving towards me up the mountain.  Sometimes deer move with the cacophony so I was trying to stay very alert. Just as they came into sight, the first one launched itself into a nearby tree.  Soon a few more were flailing into trees around me. Their flight appears desperate as though with only a song and prayer will they make it to their destination. I felt the urge to hoist them up; just land already and settle in for the night!  While watching their bedtime antics, as if to show off, a beautiful great horned owl silently glided in and perched on a tree beside me. She watched with haughty disdain her clumsy cousins bedtime routine, swiveled her head to stare me down, then flew silently and gracefully across the mountain.

Soon after the turkeys were settled in, I climbed out and headed down the dark mountain to the well-lit cabin in the valley where hunters and non-hunters would gather for dinner and an exchange of stories from our day.    

The next morning I returned to that same stand and just the trees emerged from shadow of night, the first turkey tumbled out his tree and grumbled at his clan to get moving. The trees dusted out their turkeys and off they went, greeting and scolding each other as they moved down the mountain for the days hunt.