May 2007
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

I went turkey hunting yesterday and was confronted with the biggest turkey I have ever seen that wasn’t on the supper table. The hunt was setting up to be a textbook example of how to locate, approach, call and harvest a gobbler.

I heard this turkey gobble from his roost and, being familiar with the terrain, I mentally planned my approach as I was nearing the bird’s location. I eased into the timber as stealthily as any predator seen on TV. The tom was still gobbling as I set up to call him. I got out my slate call and stroked it for the most seductive yelp I could manage. It worked and the turkey came up the trail like he was on a rope. He approached me with nothing but love on his mind. He strutted, he spit and he drummed. This big ‘ol bird was in the bag!

As I watched him approach, I picked out the spot I wanted him to reach when I pulled the trigger. For the most effective and lethal shot, he had to pass a pine tree that was about ten yards in front of me. To the left of the tree was a small snag of youpon that slightly blocked the shot. As he stood in that exact spot and strutted, I was already guessing how long the beard was and how big his spurs were. I just needed for him to take one more step.

Sure, I had a pretty good shot where he was but why not wait for the perfect shot. The tree was fairly large and as he would break strut and start to walk past the tree and into the open, I would lean slightly to my right to be able to bring my 12 gauge to bear on his vitals. I leaned and waited. He never appeared.

Next he was back in the "slot" formed by the pine and the youpon. He strutted again and then gobbled and again moved toward the tree where I leaned and again he never passed the tree. Eventually, he got a disappointed look on his face as the hen he was courting never showed up and wandered off looking for companionship.

Try as I might, I couldn’t persuade him to come back. Although it was great fun and all aspects of the hunt had been carried out correctly, I hadn’t closed the deal; I wasn’t going home with a turkey. For the last two days I have thought and re-thought this hunt and how I should have taken the shot I was presented.

After what seems like a lifetime of "I should’ve…" I thought I had learned my lesson.

More than once I have been on a deer-hunting trip and passed on an animal that was legal game only to have it be the only opportunity I got. My brother and I drove all the way to San Antonio, Texas, one time in 1987 to go deer hunting and I passed on a couple of easy does because I didn’t want to ruin my chances on a good Texas whitetail buck only to come home empty handed. It’s a long way from Texas to Alabama with a two hundred dollar hunting license in your pocket and you never pulled a trigger.

The last time I went deer hunting I was hoping for a particular large deer that had been seen regularly on a certain food plot. I waited and waited while doe after doe came into the plot, fed and left. My brother and nephew both scored on does and I went home with nothing. That particular trip was two days of hard hunting and the three-hour ride home gave me plenty of time to think. I made up my mind then and there that I would never again say to myself, " I should have shot that (fill in the blank)."

This year I have done it twice. This past fall I got to go hunting at a pretty well known lodge in Alabama. It was a warm mid-December day and the deer were not moving. I was one of the few that weekend that even saw a deer. I had the chance to take a doe and did I shoot? Nooooooooo. I was waiting for a nice buck. All the way home from Aliceville I thought about that and said to myself that it would never happen again.

One time, when hunting here in Butler County I took a doe. A fellow hunter asked me if that was the first deer I saw and I said yes. He made the comment about shooting the first one I saw and I pointed out to him that I was going home with meat and he was going home with a clean gun.

Since yesterday’s event with the turkey, I have mentally revisited the situation a thousand times. Last night I "didn’t" shoot that gobbler forty or fifty times. I did live to regret it.

Usually, I tell myself that if you don’t shoot one then you don’t have to clean it. As I think back to that big ‘ol tom, that line of thought is starting to get weak. As I have said before, sometimes I think I’m crazy.

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