The Old Man

Friday, September 22, 2017

Gobble now – Part 1

The Old Man stepped across the fallen log and carefully placed his boot in the worn deer trail. Straddling the log, he lowered himself to a sitting position. His eyes searched above him to the trees on the bluff, systematically checking the leafless limbs for an out-of-place blackened form. The first light of the morning helped to silhouette the twisted limbs against the gray-black sky. The Old Man listened intently, and somewhere off to his right, the first bird broke the silence of the day... a cardinal, the Old Man reckoned. Ten minutes later the woods became alive; twenty different songbirds were calling within earshot of the Old Man.

Finally, the Old Man tilted his head backwards and offered a barred owl call to the bluff above him. The volume of the owl call shattered the challenges of the songbirds and, as in direct competition with the owl, a wild turkey responded so intensely that the Old Man thought he felt the gobble vibrate the hollow log beneath him.

Sam Kenton’s heart quickened its pace, as he marked the direction of the gobble. He waited, and hooted once more, just to be sure. The gobbler’s voice exploded from the bluff. The Old Man grimaced. He was too close to move again, and yet far enough away that his soft calls might not be heard. Easing his left leg over the log, the Old Man settled to the ground with his back against the fallen tree. He waited five minutes before placing the diaphragm in his mouth and offering a soft tree call. Nothing. He called softly again but with ta bit more volume. Immediately, the turkey double gobbled from the bluff above him. The Old Man smiled, tucking the call against his cheek with his tongue. He brought his knees up I front of hm and rested the double-gun between them, pointing in the direction of the turkey.

Ten minutes later the Old Man cackled. The gobbler went berserk. He double-gobbled. He triple-gobbled. The Old Man pulled back the hammers on the old muzzle loader with an arthritic thumb, and as he rested his wrinkled cheek against the stock, the turkey came out of the tree. He gobbled eight times in the first thirty seconds, each time telling the Old Man of his beeline course to the fallen log. Sam Kenton’s finger was on the front trigger; his eyes focused on the small ridge twenty yards in front of him. Two minutes went by in total silence. He suddenly noticed movement directly to his right. The Old Man stained to see without moving his head. Three mature gobblers were in full strut at the edge of a winter wheat field thirty yards from his right shoulder. He wanted to turn his head to see the spectacle in the field better, but he knew the result of any movement at all. The Old Man caught quickened flashed of red, white, and bronzed-black amid the drumming train noises of the three birds. They strutted down the edge of the field past the sight of the Old Man’s aching eyes. He let them pass until their strutting noises had faded from his ears, and then in one fluid motion, he turned the old gun toward the field. He froze again and clucked. They gobbled and turned walking purposefully back toward the Old Man.

A brush pile bordered a portion of the field, and amidst its tangled limbs there was one hole the size of a large basketball. The gobblers hung up behind the pile and would come no further.

“Putt!” came the call from behind the pile and suddenly there was a gobbler head in the hole. The Old Man fired. Two turkeys exploded from the brush pile gaining altitude across the field. The Old Man stood to see above the hanging white smoke as the third turkey found flight, struggling to climb inches above ground. Sam Kenton fired again, knocking the gobbler onto the ground. The big bird rolled and was flying again. The Old Man lowered the shotgun, watching helplessly as the dead turkey flew across the field toward a distant tree line. The Old Man slowly reloaded and headed back toward the truck. He reckoned he’d talk this one over with J. W. before making any hasty moves.

J. W. was sitting on the tailgate of the truck when the Old Man returned. “Wanna buy a shotgun?” asked the Old Man.

J. W. smiled. “What’s wrong, Sam? Won’t that muzzle gun kill’em?”

“Yeah,” said the Old Man, as he seated himself beside his friend. “It kill’em, but they fly off after you kill ’em.”

J. W. got serious. His voice lowered as if speaking privately in a crowd. “You shoot one?”

“Yea... gave him both barrels and he flew off toward that tree line that cuts through the winter wheat field. I hit him hard both times.

J. W. pulled out a fresh can of Copenhagen, opened his pocketknife, and expertly ran the tip of the blade under the lid.

“Want a hit?”

The Old Man ran his fingers across his mouth. “No... lip’s sore enough.”

J. W. looked at the Old Man.

“Noticed right off. Look’s like you’ve been in a bar fight. There’s blood all over your mouth, in case you are interested.”

The Old Man looked at the blood on his fingers.

“First shot, I was in a bad position... had to turn with my shoulder against a log... kicks more that way.”

“Yeah... Yeah,” agreed J. W. “Kick your eye teeth out.”

“You work anything?” asked the Old Man.

J. W. spit. “Uh... huh. The Communist... I worked the Communist turkey again. The no good Communist funny boy who doesn’t like hens. I’m tellin’ ya, Sam, that turkey has disrupted my life. I hear him gobbling in my sleep or when I’m working. Anytime I’m not supposed to be thinking turkey,

I hear him gobbling in the back of my mind. I’ve worked him ten days now. It’s always the same. I call... he gobbles. He makes you think he’s ready to come. He’ll gobble every time you call, but when he comes out of the tree, he’ll gobble his fool head off going exactly away from you. He’s a Communist plant, I tell you... yeah... the Communists dropped him amongst all our fine American turkeys to train’em not to come to us. He needs killin’, Sam, and I’m gonna give him a face full of sixes... if for no other reason that I can get some sleep.” J. W. spit again in disgust. “Communist turkey.”

The Old Man looked quizzically at J. W.

“Don’t look at me like that, Sam Kenton. Ain’t no hens with him. That’s not the problem.”

Sam laughed and his lip hurt. “I didn’t say a thing!”

(to be continued)