A couple of years ago, my soon to be brother-in-law (who, for the sake of this story, I’ll now refer to as Jerome) took me turkey hunting. He’d been asking if I wanted to go and, not having much of an excuse and hoping for an experience, I said sure.
Now, here’s a thing about me: I’m not much of a hunter. For perspective, when I was little—say, nine or ten—my brother and I begged our Mom if we could attempt to bag some squirrels with a BB gun. They were rampant in our yard, and her thinking we wouldn’t get anywhere near one, she gave us the go ahead. I won’t go in to detail about what happened next, but know things didn’t end well for one unfortunate squirrel. Or my brother, who I had shamelessly abandoned as our stern next door neighbor approached us to see what we were doing (we tracked the squirrel to his yard). It all still bothers me to this day. It was also my only prior hunting experience. Nevertheless, I thought I’d give it another shot.
We met at his house early in the morning one weekend (which also happened to be the last day of turkey season). I slapped on some extra camouflaged clothes he had, all of it a size too big, and we jumped in the car and took off.
The sun rose.
Fast forward a few hours and we found ourselves driving down a forgotten road, wondering where all the turkeys had been. We’d spent a full morning roaming fields and we hadn’t even pulled the trigger once. In fact, our biggest rush had been seeing a turkey in the distance, only to realize it wasn’t a turkey at all but really just a mound of dirt. Was this all our hunting experience was going to be?
We pulled into a dirt parking lot. Within an hour the turkey season would close. Which meant we had two choices. One, keep going. Stay positive. Give it our all until there wasn’t any time left on the clock, like a couple of five-year-olds playing basketball until the final buzzer even though they were losing seventy-eight to zero. Or two, pack it in. Tired and defeated, we chose option two. One more hour wouldn’t do us any good. Not at this rate any way. Not in our current mental state. We’d just chalk it up to what it was—rotten luck and some really convincing dirt—and try to do better next time. But then, just as we were about to take off, a car pulled up next to us.
He began talking to Jerome. I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but the manner in which they were speaking suggested something of a rapport. I even began to question whether they knew each other prior to this. Maybe they shot pool together on weekends or got into some trouble back in Mrs. Clancy’s class in third grade. Maybe they met at a Green Day concert. Or maybe—and this was a stretch—they didn’t know each other at all.
As it turns out they didn’t know each other at all. The man was just enjoying the last day of turkey season with his son, who was in the passenger seat, and thought he’d tell us about some turkeys they saw earlier in the day (I guess it looked like we could use the help). Said he could show us where they were if we liked? “Hell yeah!” we said. Or at least Jerome did. I was still having a hard time believing those two didn’t at least play in a bowling league together.
The four of us got out of our cars. The man with a shotgun. Jerome with a shotgun. The man’s 12-year-old son with a shotgun. Me with binoculars.
Now, I’m pretty comfortable not being the manliest of men in a group. But there’s something about being the only guy hunting in a group without a gun, especially when one of those guys isn’t old enough to ride a go-cart by himself and your holding binoculars, that really makes you question what kind of man you are. To be fair though, there was a reason I was without a gun. I didn’t have a license. And if you got caught carrying a gun without such a credential, well, it was punishable by death. Most likely. However, if we got close enough to shoot a turkey, Jerome said he’d pass me his gun and I’d take the shot anyway.
With our man-hierarchy clearly established—random guy, Jerome, 12-year-old, flower on the side of the road, me—we took off into the woods. We walked a good half mile before coming to a stop. From here we would go our separate ways. The man told us about two options, both of which had turkeys, one being as close to a sure thing as possible. Being the class act that he was—or seeing us as a couple of guys who could use a win—the man let us choose. He and his son would take the option we didn’t want. Needless to say, we took the sure thing. We very much could use the win.
He said there were a couple of turkeys just minutes away. However, after walking just minutes we were no better off than we had been before. If anything, things were getting worse. Not only had we not seen a turkey, but we hadn’t even seen a convincing mound of dirt. Nevertheless, we pushed on. Surely the man knew what he was talking about and wasn’t just messing with us for giggles, seeing us as a couple of saps who probably got mustard on their shirt when they ate a hot dog. Or at least we hoped.
Rain began to fall. Not hard, but enough to drive a man insane under the right circumstances. With morale fading, and quick, we began discussing the very real possibility that there weren’t going to be any turkeys. Maybe the man and his son had duped us (what did we know about them after all?). Maybe the turkeys were there earlier but had since moved on. Maybe the turkeys and the man had been in on it together from the beginning, monitoring our every movement, watching us on a big screen somewhere, laughing, eating buttery popcorn. But then, as our last shreds of hope were fading, we saw something in the distance. It looked like a turkey.
But it was too far away to be certain. It could have just as easily been another convincing mound of dirt. Fortunately, I had a high-powered, all-action, man device that could help us determine the truth. My binoculars.
Peering through the lenses I saw two turkeys (they did exist! The guy wasn’t duping us! No we weren’t weeping in each other’s arms!). Probably three hundred yards or so across a field, hugging a tree line. Definitely too far away to take any kind of shot, but close enough to give us hope and a plan. We’d sneak around the backside of the trees and see if we could come up behind them. If not, we’d improvise.
We had to improvise. The plan hadn’t gone to, well, plan. The turkeys were savvy; almost certainly watching on a big screen somewhere with the man and his son. As such, I found myself army crawling through the mud and high grass, doing my best to quietly get out of the mini forest so I could start running like a maniac on the other side. That way, if the turkeys tried to flee in that direction, they’d be spooked into going back the other way, where Jerome would be waiting to take the shot. It was the best we could come up with.
With the rain falling like little cannon balls, I took off sprinting, binoculars in hand, having absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was hunting in its purest form. I ran the length of the tree line, waiting to hear a shot. But the shot never came. Jerome arrived to our meeting point and told me the turkeys had alluded us once again; scampered away as if they had been given inside information, recording us on little turkey cell phones and sending snap chats to their buddies all the while. It was deflating.
The story dwindles out from there. At that point we knew the day was over. There would be no turkeys had. Heck, we weren’t even going to fire a single shot. The turkeys had simply gotten the better of us on the day. So we trudged back to the car, however far away it was, clothes soaked, pride in shambles, binoculars in my hand.