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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Turkey Hunting – And So Much More

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, May 3, 2008.)
Some experiences are virtually
impossible to acquire except while turkey hunting.
The serious turkey hunter is a paradox. On the one hand, he’s a relic. In the words of the Merle Haggard song, he’s "a man from another time" -- a time when only a few hunters pursued wild butterballs. Back then turkeys weren’t taken seriously by many, and consequently didn’t get much pressure.

On the other hand, the turkey hunter is also a man from our time. And of course, today the hunter might be a woman. Either way, today’s turkey hunter is for sure an anomaly in a genteel, over-civilized world influenced more by legends of the urban kind than the campfire kind.

A hundred years ago market hunting had reduced wild turkey numbers to the point where they thrived only in isolated pockets, mostly in the southeastern United States.

Today turkey hunting has hit its heyday, and wily longbeards continue to survive all across the country, even though they get more pressure from expert hunters than any bootlegger ever did from snooping federal revenuers.

Yesterday turkey hunting was a pastime undertaken by loners and lovers of the sunrise. Those old-timers had an uncanny knack for bringing home this intriguing gamebird with regularity -- and an uncommon appreciation for the gifts that come with each rising sun.

Today turkey hunting is a nationwide passion among sportsmen, and turkey populations thrive. Today’s hunters treasure the same gifts yesterday’s hunters did, whether or not they attach a harvest tag to the leg of a gobbler.

Those gifts are one of the best parts of turkey hunting. Contrary to what non-hunters and anti-hunters may think, hunting is not just a blood sport. It’s also an art sport. It’s the joy of seeing each new day replicate the one before, but with something unique that makes it a new work of art freshly sculpted by our Creator.

The turkey hunter especially, an eyewitness to a thousand sunrises, has eyes to see God’s handiwork animated and interacting in ways few others are ever likely to see first hand. Disneyworld can’t compare.

The turkey hunter witnesses innumerable glories of the morning – greater treasures than he would have by lugging a longbeard home to show his friends. A close encounter with a black bear becomes part of the story. An owl flits silently by, wingtips just a foot from the hunter’s face. A bobcat spoils the hunt when the hunter is reeling in a gobbler as if on a string.

The turkey can be killed another day. Or not. It doesn’t matter, because some experiences are virtually impossible to acquire except while turkey hunting. The hunter has seen what others see only on their television sets. And he hasn’t merely seen it. He has participated in nature’s drama in a way that the non-hunter won’t and the anti-hunter can’t.

In the company of other turkey hunters, a single offhand reference to any unusual incident will prompt a dozen unique stories that won’t get stale with any number of tellings. Maybe you have to be a turkey hunter to understand.

The turkey hunter is out to do more than fill a tag. His hunt can be abundantly successful and his satisfaction real without ever pulling the trigger. The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter whether he kills a turkey. Some days he’s thankful he didn’t. He’s just glad to be out there, participating in the sights, the smells, the sounds of the springtime turkey woods.

Yes, the turkey hunter is a paradox, and more. He’s a contrarian. He’s been out of bed for hours when others are hitting snooze buttons. He shuns the light when walking in woodland darkness where others measure their comfort in candlepower.

This turkey hunter, this relic in the modern world, eats, sleeps and breathes turkeys. He climbs hills and wades streams and marches for miles and sacrifices sleep – all to get within earshot of the booming gobble of the wild turkey. In accomplishing that, he accomplishes so much more.


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