June 2006
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

I found myself in a unique situation on the last day of turkey season this year. This particular season is one that I will long remember in that I harvested my very first turkey that I called in by myself.

I killed my first turkey last season and that was very special. I have taken a trophy deer and harvested many does through out the years, but the turkey I got this year was different. I am not a very good deer hunter. I go out and read the wind, check the weather, find out what phase the moon is in and do all the things that you are supposed to do; and if I go out on a day that should be perfect, I see nothing. This doesn’t take away from the fun; it just makes it a little frustrating. When I do finally take a deer it seems like the old saying, a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while. The high point is that taking a deer is always special and is a moment to remember whether it’s a doe or a buck.

Last spring I was fortunate enough to harvest my first turkey and that was something. I went with a good friend and he called for me. To make a long story short, he worked the gobbler for forty-five minutes and the gobbler was taken. I got to see the tom strut and drum and do all of the things you read about in the magazines and see on the hunting videos, and that really the way it is if you have never seen one of them. The most special part of taking that turkey was that my father was an avid turkey hunter in his youth and I felt a special bond with him even now some nineteen years after his death. What made it even better was that I harvested this turkey with his old shotgun. I remember thinking to myself as I looked down the barrel of that old Winchester for Dad to help me shoot straight. When that shotgun roared to life and the bird went down, I told Dad that the old girl had done it again.

Dad bought the shotgun when I was a kid. We were living in Wyoming and he bought it to go pheasant hunting. It was the shotgun I remember him carrying through those Nebraska wheat fields while I played bird dog. It was the shotgun I used to dove hunt with in Baldwin County and was told that I would never be able to hit a dove with a full choke shotgun. They were wrong. The first deer I ever shot with a shotgun was the old model 1200. In April of 2005, I added that turkey to the list of firsts for this old gun.

When that gobbler walked within range this year and the trusty old firearm put him down, it was a major first for me. All my deer have been a matter of being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. I was fortunate enough to go with a skilful turkey hunter to take my first gobbler. While I don’t discount luck with this year’s turkey, it still made me feel good that he came within range because I had caused him to come to me.

Now it is common knowledge that while turkeys are masters of survival and have eyesight that a jet pilot would be envious of, they ain’t real bright. I once asked a seasoned turkey hunter how long after you shot at a gobbler (and missed) it would take before he was "huntable" again. He told me that the bird would forget about his brush with death in a few days and you could go back in there and get another crack at him. My dad used to tell me that turkeys wake up in a new world every day. Folks, we aren’t talking brain surgeons here. Don’t think that I feel like they don’t deserve respect and admiration for their wiliness, the way they are tuned in to their environment and, as I said, their ability to survive in a world where every predator wakes up with turkey dinner on their mind.

This turkey that I somehow managed to call into gun range had to be either the dumbest turkey on the planet or the unluckiest. I don’t brag on myself at all, so don’t believe for a second that I consider myself skilful and have found the secret to turkey hunting. I know luck when I see it and trust me, I’d rather be lucky than good any day of the week.

The best thing about this turkey season happened on the last day.

I managed to get my 11-year-old daughter out of bed at 4:30 in the morning and take her hunting. I desperately wanted for her to hear a gobbler open up at sunrise because this is a sound you will never forget. Everyone ought to get up one morning in the spring and go to the woods and hear it whether you turkey hunt or not.

Unfortunately that morning was silent. As the forest began to wake up, my daughter and I were walking through the woods dressed in full camo, her holding my hand as she always has since she could walk and we were hunting together. I had my daughter in my left hand and the old Winchester in my right and I remembered the snow covered wheat fields of Nebraska and Wyoming as Dad and I pursued ring neck pheasants. I remembered hunting with Dad as he carried the same shotgun; and here I was with my child doing the same thing. Another first for the old 12 gauge and me.

It was an eerie feeling. It made me think of all those fishing and hunting trips my brother and I made with Dad and how he always taught us to appreciate just being there. As we continued through the woods, I remembered thinking that when I get to see Dad in heaven that I will have to tell him about this moment because he would really enjoy hearing about it, and I remember thinking that I hope it’s a lot like this in the afterlife. If it is, I won’t have to tell Dad about it because he was there with us in those woods of Covington County and it was his heaven. Every time I head out into the field I think about how much luckier I am than someone that never had the chance to go hunting or fishing.

Thanks Dad.

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.