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Author Topic: The last turkey  (Read 807 times)

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Offline florida

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The last turkey
« on: April 28, 2017, 02:29:59 pm »
The Last Turkey

I didn't become a serious hunter until I was about 40 when a friend invited me to go black powder hunting at his family camp in the Big Cypress Swamp. I didn't actually own a muzzle loader but in the next few weeks found a nice Thompson Center 54 caliber at a pawn shop for a reasonable price.  We went on our trip which involved a long boat ride and a swamp buggy journey.  I don't think I killed anything that trip but I didn't care, I was in the woods and that was all that mattered.

Jump forward a few years and I had started hanging out at the local gun store with a bunch of guys who lived and breathed hunting.  Naturally I came across some good deals on guns that I couldn't turn down. Doug, who owned the store, belonged to a hunting club that leased about 5,000 acres in south Lee County.  There were only 6 members and it was invitation only and only then when one of the members left. It was late Friday during turkey season when Doug asked me if I wanted to go turkey hunting that weekend. I had never been but that was all the more reason I wanted to go. I ran off home to beg Cathy for permission and in an hour was in Doug's truck headed south toward the land his hunt club leased.
I've recounted my first 2 years of turkey hunting elsewhere so won't tell that story again. The important thing was that I was in love with turkey hunting. You didn't sit still and wait for one to walk by, you called it to you and if you were lucky you got a shot at one. We were allowed 4 gobblers a year, 2 in the fall and 2 in the spring, but never hunted them in the fall since that was ambush hunting. We all loved the spring hunt when the big birds would talk back at you if you called them just right.


After hunting with Doug a few times and helping out on work details I was asked if I wanted to join the club as one of the guys was retiring and moving to NC. Of course I was all-in and in short order was one of the 6 Pack Hunt Club members.  Our leader was Mark, a benevolent dictator who didn't put up with any monkey business but was a great guy to hunt with. He had been a serious hunter since he was a young boy and had killed hundreds or deer, hogs and turkeys. If you hunted with him and a shot came up he always gave you the shot.


I was a novice turkey hunter so he took pity on me and took me to one of his special spots. It was there that I saw my first gobbler up close and learned some valuable lessons about "dumb birds." I didn't get a bird that year but I had a great time and learned a lot about hunting from Mark, mainly about courtesy and not being a game hog.

The next year I finally scored a Jake with a 6' beard and late in the season got a decent gobbler with a 9" beard. I hunted with Mark a few times calling for him until he got his first bird that year. We had an unspoken  rule that each hunter only shot one bird until everyone had one. Those who had a bird called and scouted for those who hadn't. Usually by the second week everyone had one turkey and from then on we hunted alone until we had our limit of two at which point we left our guns home and became callers again.  It was a great way to hunt and I learned a lot about life hunting turkeys.
The years rolled on, and development started making inroads on our leased property. First we lost our camp, then a piece here and there. Two of the members got discouraged and left and Doug rarely hunted with us anymore.  Eventually we were down to 435 acres and just Mark and I.  We pretty much quit hog hunting altogether since trespassers could get onto the property from 3 sides and hogs were easy to kill and so were the first to go.

That year we didn't go turkey hunting at all, we just lost heart. Mark had been a woodsman all his life and was always in charge of when and where we went. No matter how far off our normal track we got he always know right where we were. "Lost" wasn't part of his vocabulary.  But now, at 74, while still physically strong, he was starting to be forgetful and unsure.  When we were in the woods it was he who asked me where we had parked and where we were. I started worrying about letting him hunt alone for fear he would wander off in the wrong direction.


 We didn't hunt again the next year. We talked about it a few times but my heart wasn't in it and he didn't seem to care. Turkey season came and went with little more discussion. He became more and more forgetful and didn't drive much unless someone was with him. Spring came again and he called one day to tell me we needed to go turkey hunting. I tried to discourage him but he was bound and determined to go. I drug around like I was going to a funeral but was at his house at 4:30 AM opening day. I knew we had no chance to kill a bird, probably wouldn't even hear one. We drove in to within half a mile of where we planned to start, loaded up our gear and started walking.

In 20 minutes or so we came to the old buggy trail that marked the edge of our hunt. He turned left down a fence line with me dragging along behind thinking of nothing but being home in bed. We got to the end of the fence line and stood there waiting for the sun to start rising or a turkey to tree call.  A faint glimmer of light finally showed in the east and immediately Mark pulled out a box call and starting running off calls. I wanted to beat my head on tree. He called, and called and called some more only to stop and ask if I heard anything.

I wanted to yell, "No! Because there is nothing to hear! There are no turkeys here!"  Of course I didn't, I couldn't treat him like that, I just wanted to get this farce behind us.  But then, far away, I heard it, a faint gobble east of our position! I couldn't believe it! Mark couldn't hear it but I could and felt like lighting had shot through my body.  Suddenly I was ready to go! I told Mark to hurry and started back south along the fence line toward the old buggy trail. Once at the trail we turned east and hurried along for a thousand feet or so then turned north back into the woods parallel to our starting point.

We walked to where I felt like we had to be within a couple hundred yards of the turkey and stopped. I took my backpack off to get a call out and told Mark to listen. Just to our left was a large palmetto hammock and to our right a small cypress head. I hit the call once and our world exploded!  We were right on top of the turkey and he was coming our way! I shoved Mark and told him to get down, turned around to look for a place to sit when, "Boom," Mark fired! I whipped back around to see a gobbler flopping 10 yards away! Things had happened so fast I had no idea what was going on. Mark ran over and picked up the turkey while I stood and stared. This didn't seem possible.
When things had calmed down a little Mark explained that when I pushed him he fell to the ground and hardly had his shotgun to his shoulder when two gobblers came around the palmettos. He said he could have gotten them both easily but as always didn't want to be greedy.  Upon closer examination his turkey weighed 15 pounds, a nice size for an Osceola, 1 1/8th spurs and a 12 1/2" beard!  It turned out to be the largest overall gobbler he had ever killed and he had been turkey hunting for almost 70 years.


 
March 7, 2007- Mark and his last turkey

At 6:30 AM, barely 30 minutes after it started, turkey season was over for us both. If anything I was happier then Mark and had no need to go after the other gobbler. This was better than killing one myself by far. I took the photo after we got back on the old buggy trail. You can see from the light that the sun still wasn't even over the trees and we were on the way home!
In so many ways this was the best turkey hunt of my life.  Mark had guided me to my first bird and I had the honor to guide him to his last. Life had come full circle and we had a storybook end.

This was Marks last turkey. We never even discussed going again. I think we both knew nothing could ever match that day. Over the next 7 years I watched Mark slowly deteriorate, mentally and physically.  He never lost his memory for our old hunts and except for forgetting a few minor details could talk for hours but had trouble remembering what day it was. Physically he constantly lost weight and strength until he only weighed about 90 pounds.  His voice was still strong but his body just couldn't carry on. I had a last visit with him in Hospice one night. He was not a soft man and didn't express his emotions freely but he  knew time was short and told me things he'd never said before. I kissed him on the cheek, hugged him, told him I loved him and left. He died a week later home in his own bed.

I keep the framed picture I took of him and his turkey that morning close by where I can see it and I relive the greatest hunt every day.
General contractor and carpenter for 40 years.

Offline Magicman

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2017, 06:15:47 pm »
That is a wonderful recount of yours and Mark's experiences together.  Cherish the memories.
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Offline florida

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2017, 08:41:49 am »
MM

Yes, I do. Even as I sit here now I look up at that photo on my wall and relive that morning. We had lots of other wonderful hunts together but for obvious reasons this one was the best. I drove past our old lease last week and was shocked to see 3 different housing developments on the property. It's sad but inevitable progress I suppose.
General contractor and carpenter for 40 years.

Offline samandothers

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2017, 09:40:59 am »
You told a wonderful story.  Thank you for sharing your experience.  Mark and you were great friends and he sounds like a great mentor.  Good times and great memories!

Offline sandhills

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2017, 12:06:42 pm »
Thank you

Offline Ron Scott

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2017, 12:18:15 pm »
Great story and a great hunt! Also know what you mean about losing good hunting lands to developments or change of ownerships.
~Ron

Offline WV Sawmiller

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2017, 12:51:13 pm »
   Great story. I know the memories mean a lot to both of you.

   My dad was raised north of you up in Dixie county and grew up on and around the Suannee River. I loved listening to my grandfather talking about growing up there and girdling cypress, gator hunting, hog raising, deer and turkey hunting, etc.

   I remember Dad's older brother talking about being a member of a hunting club up there long after he had retired. I knew he did not hunt so asked him about it and found he had joined the club because it gave him swamp cabbage cutting rights on the club land and that was well worth the fees for him.
Howard Green
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Offline florida

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2017, 04:36:40 pm »
Thank you all. I started writing down special experiences years ago for my family to read but in fact I'm the only one who reads them. They say the more years pass between an experience and writing about it the more fictionalizec the story becomes. We just can't trust our memories so for many years I kept a diary of our trips to the woods. It's amazing how different are my memories of events from what I wrote at the time.

WVS

Mark was a Florida cracker and his Dad was a pioneer. The stories he told of growing up out in the woods miles from civilization were amazing. No electric, no running water, just a pitcher pump and an outhouse. Mosquitoes bad enough that they could suffocate a cow to death. He had friends who were far older who would stop by and tell stories of how things were when times were tough. I wish I'd had a tape recorder.
General contractor and carpenter for 40 years.

Offline Stoneyacrefarm

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #8 on: May 18, 2017, 03:24:27 pm »
Florida,
Great story.
Keep writing them.
Perhaps a collection of short stories.

Offline florida

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2017, 07:23:24 am »
Stoneyacrefarms

Thanks! I'll do that. Not all my stories are about hunting but I've got a bunch. I enjoy remembering the good times and sometimes the bad as well!
General contractor and carpenter for 40 years.

Offline Chuck White

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #10 on: May 23, 2017, 07:46:08 am »
Florida;  That's a wonderful, and very heart-felt story, thank you for posting!
~Chuck~
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Offline thecfarm

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Re: The last turkey
« Reply #11 on: May 23, 2017, 09:41:55 pm »
Yes,a very nice memory.
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