A ‘first’ can be an emotional experience
They say we never forget our first.
In this sea of life, there will be buoys of a first lost tooth, first hit in baseball, first vehicle, first kiss and the first time you camped beneath the stars.
Some of us recall the first time we heard a wild turkey or the first time we saw a wild turkey waltz, as turkey’s do, toward our calls. And some of us recall the first wild turkey we ever took during the magic time of spring.
For this writer, many accomplishments and firsts have occurred outdoors. My pedigree is no different than that of the next hunter, but I remember my first wild turkey the most.
I am now two years into a quest for my oldest son to shoot his first wild turkey. He actually shot at one two seasons ago, and last season we were close. This has been the most awkward of seasons, weather wise, for hunting wild turkeys.
Really, there is no pressure. He and his brother are content with waking early, and together we have enjoyed seeing the sunrise from places nestled among nature’s rejuvenation.
Still, not a turkey has been convinced of our attempts. Yet we hunt. We try. And on empty-handed walks from the woods, where turkeys should have been much more cooperative, we celebrate the moment knowing we are filled in other ways.
One such morning recently, I retold the story of my first turkey and my two young hunters hung to every word. My boys are not yet a decade old, and I explained that I was somewhere near the middle of my third decade and had chased turkeys for three years, almost like chasing a ghost with feathers.
For those of you who recall my earlier turkey hunting days, you might recall me borrowing a saying by the late basketball coach Al McGuire: “The best thing about a freshman is that they become a sophomore.”
My boys didn’t really understand this. I said that was three years in a row, but I never gave up.
Like my own son, I had missed a turkey earlier that year. Some mornings were empty, and some mornings were really empty. Still, I kept the faith.
That spring of 2005, shooting my first turkey became something of a personal goal, much like my personal goal of calling my son his first wild turkey. My father had passed a few months before, and I was hunting for him though the turkeys were not cooperating.
Faith, purpose, reason, mourning and dedication combined together. Early one May morning, all of these emotions summoned a wild turkey from deep in the woods.
I remember seeing and hearing him come, and I recall the smile on my face and the heaviness in my throat.
I also recall how it felt to hold this bird in my hand a few moments later. It was my first bird, the culmination of many hours. It was also something more than a turkey.
An hour later, my knees were wet and muddy, my hand was trembling and I held the single feather, twisting it between my thumb and index finger.
Over the grave marker of my father, I said a few personal words and I released emotions that are even more personal to a boy when his father is now a memory.
The turkey feather pierced the ground in that hallowed moment.
These past few mornings, when I have sat with my son before leaving these places empty-handed, I think about a first turkey and a first moment.
I know that eventually the stars will align and all will be right in the world and even this forever freshman will coax a bird within range of my sons. I don’t expect them to perform an act of remembrance or have a flood of emotions beyond what might be expected when a boy takes his first wild turkey.
Still, even when we walk out of the woods, the pursuit of a wild turkey never will be about pursuing a first wild turkey. It will be about preservation, remaining close and enjoying those empty mornings, knowing they fill us in other ways.
If I am so lucky, my sons will maintain the spirit of fullness despite the appearance that getting a first turkey is the reason we hunt. Just like I knew what to do with a feather, one day my sons will know what to do when they are lucky enough to take a first wild turkey, too.
If tradition becomes something we acknowledge and believe in, then maybe we will all dirty our knees and be filled by the moment.
Enjoy your time outdoors.
You may contact Jason Hawkins at firstname.lastname@example.org.