Hope was something I hadn’t dared to feel lately. I’d gotten rear-ended at a stoplight six weeks earlier, and my neck was jacked up – not at all ideal for looking around or shooting.
But here I was in the primo position for our hunting party. Brothers Evan and Kurt had stuck me at the base of a three-trunked oak tree, right in front of the decoys (including the giggle-inducing plastic tom mounting a plastic hen).
Evan and Kurt were in a pop-up blind behind and uphill from me, and Hank was further down the draw, downhill from me. I tucked into the tree as tightly as I could, my back against one trunk. I rested my gun on one of the other trunks to avoid strain. If I saw a tom, I’d need him to turn away momentarily so I could position my gun without being seen, then shoot when he reappeared.
Yeah, right – as if any pre-hunt fantasy ever comes true.
Oddly enough, though, that was exactly what happened. Not long after the birds had all left the roost, I saw a head pop up at the edge of a drop-off below me. A tom’s head.
I reined in my pounding heart and dropped my eyelids, willing myself to disappear in the background. When he dropped below the edge again, I raised my gun and positioned it to where I predicted he’d pop back up.
Then I heard the unmistakable sound of someone loading his gun in the popup blind behind me. WTF! Had they not seen me raise my gun? Did they not know a bird was near?
Then came the shot.
I twisted out of my lair in time to see a tom running off, and a hen lingering, uncertain for a moment, before she decided she’d better leave too.
I guess a tom had come in from the left and Evan or Kurt had taken the shot. This was, of course, fine. When we hunt together, the rule is if you see a shot, take the shot – don’t pass up on something good in hopes that another shooter might get something.
Evan trotted off in the direction of the fleeing tom, doing his due diligence.
“Why didn’t you shoot?” Kurt asked.
“You didn’t see him?”
“Yeah, I saw a tom down there and was waiting for him to pop back up.”
“You didn’t see the one that was right there?”
Kurt pointed to a spot that was maybe 15 feet from where I’d sat. Behind me. I’d’ve had to pull a Linda Blair to see that bird.
“Dude, that was behind me!”
“You didn’t see him walking up the hill right in front of you?”
He pointed again, and I went back to my spot in the three-trunked tree and figured it out. To my left was a large fallen tree. Beyond that, the ground had sloped downward. The tom had walked up the hill on my left, less than 10 yards from me, obscured from my view by that tree. Then he stopped behind me and put on a little show, fanning his tail feathers and puffing up his chest feathers for all to see.
All except me.
Kurt laid it all out. When I’d raised my gun and aimed it where I’d seen the other bird, the old gobbler thought to himself, “This doesn’t seem like a good situation,” and he started moving away from me.
That was when Evan realized his gun wasn’t loaded, so he loaded it and took a shot at the departing tom.
One of them probably could’ve taken the perfect shot at the strutting bird without hitting me, but my ears would’ve taken a beating, so I was glad they hadn’t.
We stayed put there for a little while longer as Evan looked for the bird, then decided to try another piece of property. But you just don’t get two chances like that in one day.
Well, I don’t, anyway.
Turkeys 1, Holly 0.
Holly A. Heyser is the editor of California Waterfowl Magazine. A hunter, forager, writer and photographer, she lives in Sacramento, California. You can see more of her work at hollyheyser.com.