March 2010
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

In my family, we are genetically hard-wired for two addictions, fishing and turkey hunting. This trait may be more dominant in some of us, but I think we all have the tendency. I myself am totally addicted to turkey hunting while my daughter can’t live without reeling in a fish every so often and during the winter regularly suffers from what I call "strike withdrawal." By that I mean, the suffering coming from not feeling the strike of a fish on a lure for a long time. My poor dad suffered from both.

Dad did all of his turkey hunting as a boy in the woods and swamps of Washington County, Fla., and talked lovingly of it the rest of his life. He held my brother and I in awe as he related stories of birds hunted and killed in those woods. He never failed to remind us they did not hunt those birds for beards or spurs; they hunted them because they were hungry. I would almost assume, during those days, hunting seasons were treated more like suggestions than absolute law.

Dad told us one about a cousin of his who happened to be out squirrel hunting one day and came upon a turkey roosted up in the nosebleed section of a longleaf pine. Now, never mind the fact that if this cousin was squirrel hunting and came upon a turkey, it was a very good chance both seasons did not coincide.

Back in those days, they took a wide variety of ammunition so they would be ready for any game animal they came across and this is where his cousin made a mistake. He was squirrel hunting with a shotgun and was using number six shot, which was their preferred size shot for squirrels. He failed to take a few shells of number fours just in case he ran across a turkey. We can only hope he thought about this as he gazed at the turkey way up in the pine tree.

After a few minutes of trying to decide whether or not he wanted to take this turkey home, he decided this was too good of gift to pass up. Apparently, they stared at each other long enough for the cousin to shoulder his shotgun and blaze away at the bird. Several shots later, the turkey finally tumbled out of the tree weighing considerably more than before the shooting started. Dad said he used most, if not all, of his number six shells to bring down the bird. I personally use number sixes to hunt turkeys because my gun patterns with them the best and I have killed turkeys at 42 steps. Back then, maybe shot shells were less powerful or that turkey was so high up in the tree they had lost most of their punch by the time the pellets hit him.

You will notice I have avoided commenting on the fact this turkey was shot on the roost. I will now address that by reminding you these were the days when folks were hungry in post depression pre-World War II Florida and an empty belly has no room for sportsmanship.

The turkey was now down and in the bag. I guess the cousin knew it was going to be a devil to clean and eat carrying the load of shot that had just been deposited in the carcass, so he went by "Aunt Minnie’s," my dad’s grandmother and made her a gift of a nice fat turkey. At first she was tickled to death….at first.

Dad said he would never forget her sitting in the kitchen with a kerosene lantern, a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers picking shot out of the breast of the turkey. The cousin had been well below the bird and firing up into the breast and pretty much made mincemeat of him. When she got done, he said, although they had a bowl full of lead shot, they ended up not being able to eat the meat and had to feed it to the dogs and they weren’t real happy either. She never took him up on an offer for free meat again.

The point to all of this is that the cousin was, I believe, genetically incapable of walking away from that turkey, he had to shoot it. I wonder if there is a support group out there for those of us who just go bonkers at the sound of a gobbling turkey?

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