The Old Man
Gobble Gobble - Part 1
“I know,” said J.W. “You don’t have to. We’ve been huntin’ turkeys together for thirty years. You don’t have to say anything. I know when you give me that look... like you just got beat, J.W. I’m telling you the I’ve worked that bird every way you can work one... almost.”
“Almost?” asked the Old Man.
“Tomorrow morning we’re going to work that turkey... double-team him,” J.W. smiled at the Old Man. “You’re going to call him and he’s going to hit the ground gobblin’ his head off. I’m going to work my way around the backside of the bluff. I found a place... one place I can work him as he’s leaving you.”
The Old Man winked at this friend. “What happens if he comes to me?”
J.W. got serious again. “Kill him... but I promise you, old friend, he won’t.”
“Well,” smiled the Old Man, “that’s tomorrow; what about today?”
J.W. stood up and grabbed his shotgun from the back of the truck.
“He’s probably stiffened up a bit now. We’ll find your bird dead, I suspect.”
“You take one side of the tree line. I’ll take the other. We’ll walk it out like a quail hunt. O. K.?”
“Let’s go,” said J.W., and the two old friends walked slowly toward the wheat field a quarter mile away.
They stopped at the tree line where the Old Man had last seen his turkey enter the narrow band of trees. J.W. motioned with a gloved right hand indicating that he would cross to the other side. The Old Man nodded and watched as the big man moved silently through the trees, carefully placing his boots between fallen, noisy limbs. They slowly walked the tree line edges, peering closely into the brush for the wounded gobbler. A rabbit exploded from the Old Man’s feet, and he shouldered the shotgun instinctively before making an apologetic face at J.W. and continuing.
They had walked two hundred yards when the Old Man abruptly stopped. He saw the turkey’s head laying against a foot-high stump, and it body was hidden in a patch of tangled orchard grass. “Dead,” thought the Old Man as the dead turkey resurrected himself into the air toward the trees.
“J.W.!” the Old Man yelled, and he fired. The turkey hit the ground in a run as J.W. shot. The gobbler was rolling as Sam Kenton heard the big man working the pump gun. Twice more, J.W. fired, and the turkey was still flopping when the Old Man reached his friend, who had covered the last twenty yards like a sprinter, finally entering into hand-to-hand combat with the big bird. When the dust and feather settled, J.W. was sitting in a small patch of honeysuckle with the now still bird in his lap.
“That’s a good bird,” J.W. whispered.
“Don’t turn loose of him,” lectured the Old Man. “That bird’s part cat.... I recon he’s got three more lives to go. We’ve shot him six times. Never have I seen the likes of that.”
“You’re bleeding again,” smiled J.W.
“Yeah... that muzzle gun busted your mouth again.”
“Oh....“ The Old Man wiped the back of his hand across his now bloody lip and slowly lowered himself to the honeysuckle beside J.W. and the turkey.
“You know,” pondered the Old Man, “we work pretty good together.”
J.W. spit. “Ought to... after all these years. Here, take this bird... you carry him out. He’s your turkey. Mine’s a Communist.”
Just before daylight the next morning, the two old men walked without speaking, carefully dodging the frozen tire ruts in the farm road. They paused at the corner of a thicket, looking north toward the bluff. Their breaths hung fog-like in their faces, and above the distant tree line, the stars shined brilliantly in the blackened sky. J.W. pointed toward the bluff.
“He’ll be there, right where the big oak sticks out into the field.”
“Are you sure?” whispered the Old Man.
“Go ahead... owl him.”
“It’s a bit early, don’t ya think?”
J.W. smiled. “He’ll answer.”
The Old Man shoved his worn, felt hat back, and looked toward the bluff.
The gobble came from two hundred yards across the field, exactly from where J.W. described.
The Old Man smiled. “You really do know that bird, don’t you?”
“Yeah... Yeah, I know him. Eleven mornings worth... a hundred gobbles. Listen, Sam, you know me good. I don’t have to kill a turkey to have a successful hunt. I love to work a bird. That’s the pleasure. I don’t even mind getting beat by a turkey, but this bird... this is different. This is personal.”
The Old Man laughed in a whisper. “I know... he’s a Communist.”
J.W. smiled. “You give me twenty minutes to work my way to the bluff. There’s a deer trail that leads down behind that turkey, above the creek. You work him from the field side... O. K.?”
The Old Man nodded, “twenty minutes.” J.W. took off and Sam Kenton watched as his friend’s form disappeared across the field.
In twenty minutes, the Old Man slowly made his way to the bluff. He stalked to within fifty yards of the marked gobble and set up. He tree called. The turkey gobbled. He clucked, and the turkey gobbled. He yelped, and the Communist went crazy. The Old Man cackled and the big bird double-gobbled. He answered the Old Man eighteen times, and Sam Kenton would have bet his old truck the bird was going to pitch off in his lap. But, J.W. was right. The turkey flew down and from the sound of his gobbles, headed directly away from the Old Man. Sam Kenton laid down his gun in his lap and listened. It was a fine morning, he reckoned.
J.W. heard the turkey hit the ground forty yards in front of him. He could hear the Old Man calling above him and the turkey’s answers. The brush was so thick in front of him he could not see the bird, but he waited with his shotgun ready. Suddenly, the turkey was there or part of him was there. J.W. saw one leg and part of the breast through a tangle of dead limbs. Moving the call into position, J.W. clucked one time very softly, and he watched as the one leg moved toward him, exposing the full breast and its magnificent beard. The turkey was now twenty yards away, but its head was hidden behind the brush. He gobbled defiantly at the Old Man above him, and J.W. was whispering silently to his gunstock.
“Bend over... peck something... show me your head... all birds peck the ground... show me your head....”
And suddenly, J.W. noticed his barrel shaking wildly.
“Stop that... quit shaking, you old fool,” he coached himself. “Get calm... shoot him.... No, don’t body shoot him. You’ll lose him... wait... peck something.”
And the bird was moving. The gobbler turned. J.W. watched through the hole in the brush as the black body walked away.
“Shoot! No... yeah... no. Do not body shoot that turkey... wait... he’s going to the deer trail and coming back. No, he’s not. You’re going to lose him if you don’t shoot now... wait... wait....”
And the turkey walked behind a tree. J.W. quickly moved the barrel to the deer trail off to his right, just on the other side of the tree.
“Come on... come on....”
And the turkey was there, in full view on the deer trail. The gobbler stopped, looking straight at J.W. Quickly, the large black bird jerked his head up.
The Old Man heard the blast of J.W.’s shotgun. It thundered under him and settled over the creek bottom below. The thunder crashed again and again once more. J.W.’s voice echoed from the bluff.” Gobble now, you Communist bag of feathers!”
There was a crashing below him. The Old Man ran to the edge of the bluff just in time to see the turkey and J.W. disappear off the deer trail toward the rolling creek below. Sam Kenton stumbled down the hill toward the trail and peeked over. J.W. was half way down the bluff holding the massive gobbler by the neck.
“What are you doing?” yelled the Old Man.
J.W. was laughing. “He went to flopping and flopped himself right over the side. I was afraid he’d flop plum down to the creek and I’d lose him!”
The Old Man leaned against a nearby white oak and looked out over the creek bottom below. J.W. threw the turkey over his back, grabbed his freshly scarred shotgun, and started the steep ascent toward the Old Man. At the top, he stopped just short of the trail, and the Old Man held out his hand. J.W. grabbed Sam Kenton’s wrist and the Old Man pulled him over the top.
“We need to remember these days. They will not last too long... you know....”
J.W. laid the turkey in the trail and smoothed a patch of ruffled feathers. He sat comfortably in the leaves and dug out his snuff.
“We do work good together.”
A kingfisher screamed on the creek below, and for the next two hours, two old men sat cross-legged in a deer trail remembering brief days that had only lasted thirty years.