It Would Be Hilarious If It Didn’t Hurt So Much

Posted on June 7, 2011

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Focus

“I then heard what only one who haunts the wilderness will hear: the peculiar pompous sounds that a gobbler makes while strutting on the limb on which he has roosted.”
– Archibald Rutledge

No other predator in the animal kingdom displays more focus during an actual hunt than does the cat. Lion, tiger, puma, cougar, bobcat all the way down the line to the common household feline. Observing their calculated, slow and methodical movements; the long, patient duration of watchful waiting despite minimal concealment, they still go unnoticed. Eyes are riveted directly onto the target, muscles tensed and ready, yet, not even a whisker moves until its time to strike.

Granted, this behavioral trait is inherent to the whole cat race, an important asset necessary to fuel an empty tank, and one in which the hunter of wild turkeys would boded well to emulate. No other wild game sees quite as well or as far as a turkey, especially one that believes he has been singled out to grace someone’s dinner table.

Now it may seem like a simple exercise, to sit quietly upon the forest floor with your back against a stout tree and remain motionless, but for those of us that hunt this grand bird, we know otherwise. It’s painstaking. The act requires nerves of steel, mind over matter and a great determination despite the temporary pain and beguiling temptation to relax cramped muscles.

This is exactly the self-imposed position I found myself in twenty-minutes prior to shooting light one fine early spring morning. It was the end of the first week of what had proven thus far to be, a very frustrating turkey season. The morning prior I’d discovered the location where at least a half-dozen gobbling males were roosting. After careful scrutiny, I found a small window of opportunity that might well put me in position to capitalize come next morning. The covert exercise would require me to sneak in under the cover of darkness, be as quiet as a church mouse, get seated and patiently wait without alerting the slumbering birds that danger was close at hand. My temporary vestibule on the outskirts of the turkey’s bedroom was nothing more than a pencil thin birch tree against which I placed my back, a pine sapling and skunk cabbage that grew in a great clump around the two trees.

My assault position was simple, left knee up for a solid gun rest, right leg down and curled in a 45-degree angle to the opposing limb, gun butt on shoulder with my eyes riveted on the only opening. If any of the birds were to pitch down in my direction, this would be their landing strip, if indeed the turkeys were actually in the trees.

When it comes to hunting it really is the unknown that provides us with the necessary excitement, drama and fascination that keeps us coming back. No hunter I know wants a sure thing; they desire a sporting hunt that requires stealth, intellect, prowess and every now and then, a bit of good fortune. And fortuitous for me on this glad morning, the first of several gobbles resounded from those very trees.

My heart began to pound like the drums of battle; my mouth suddenly became as dry as Mr. Bean’s humor as I listened to turkey talk, the likes I’d never heard before. One after another, sometimes simultaneously gobbles echoed in the early morning air from several nearby trees; the way it sounded it was as if I was in the midst of hundreds of birds.

“Composure Bernier,” I told myself. “You’ve just come off a month of photographing multiple turkeys in every possible behavioral situation, just calm down and focus.” With that self-imposed lecture, I drew the gun butt even tighter to my shoulder. Not knowing how long before the birds would begin to descend from their night time lair, and being oblivious as to what they could and could not see from their perch, I dared not move or even twitch. This immobility proved to be more daunting as the minutes clicked by; my right leg had fallen asleep.

Fortunately for me the leg did not cause any discomfort, in fact, there was no feeling what-so- ever as I attempted to wiggle my toes. Once again I gave myself another silent speech, “Forget about the leg, these birds are about to hit the ground and you have but a small window of opportunity if you’re going to succeed.”

Given the fact that I still had two unfilled tags, and that I’d never shot a bird coming off the roost before, I had determined that if this plan worked, the first legal bird to hit the ground was going to get the business end of my 870.

The first bird off the roost – a handsome Jake

I watched him effortlessly sail down, as silent as a stealth bomber from the tree to my immediate right. His feet gently hit the ground in a graceful landing not 15-yards from where I sat. I don’t pretend to know what goes through the mind of a wild turkey, and certainly not one that had just gotten out of bed. My supposition was it would be just another day as usual, eat, chase non-receptive hens, hassle mature gobblers and whatever other mischievous antics an adolescent bird can find to do.

But that was not to be his lot today, for today, five-seconds after landing his life would be demanded of him and with the pull of the trigger, the bird flopped to the ground. Now my plan was to shuck the spent shell, remain motionless and hope another bird flies down to present a shot.
All was going well when the bird that was supposed to be now dead, didn’t realize he was. He made an attempt to get up only to fall back down. He then rose yet again, which prompted me to abort my original plan and go to the bird before he escaped.

This is where the story gets ugly (for me) and funny (for you.)

Do you remember me telling you that my right leg had fallen asleep? Well if you didn’t, don’t feel bad, neither did I, at least not at that moment. I was so focused on the bird that I completely forgot there was absolutely no feeling in my lower right extremity. As I pushed up on my left leg, automatically shifting all of my weight onto the right leg to begin my sprint to the prize, my leg crumbled badly twisting the ankle quickly uniting my face with Terra Ferma; in a phrase, I fell flat on my face! Now tell me, who on this man’s planet forgets that their leg is asleep, anybody besides me?

“If it didn’t hurt so much it would be hilarious.”

America’s funniest home videos has nothing on me; anyone watching this performance would have been on their back with all fours in the air laughing uncontrollably without the slightest bit of encouragement from me.
When I finally regained feeling in my leg and was able to get to my knees, the circus act that hasn’t a tent big enough to house was all for naught as the bird was dead…probably died as a result of laughter more than the effects of my shot.

After regaining my composure, I hobbled over to recover my prize, one that truly proved to be much more significant then even I could have imagined. Never let it be said that hunting turkeys isn’t dangerous. After more than four decades of tramping untold miles in the wilderness after whitetails, under every conceivable condition, I’ve never sustained an injury, however, by simply sitting on my ‘gluteus maxi mus’ in the turkey woods I severely sprain my ankle…go figure. Good thing that I wasn’t hunting lions, tigers or bears, ‘Oh My’ – who knows what might have happened.

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Posted in: Turkey