Smart turkeys & dumb owls

Apr. 21, 2014 @ 05:42 PM

It is seven minutes until 4 a.m., and I am doing the math in my head to determine how many more minutes of sleep my body needs.

Eventually, I run out of toes and fingers and am forgetting to carry a two, so I get out of bed.

I tried to plan ahead and have everything ready, but there is always a franticness that occurs when a favorite shirt is missing. It is the first day of turkey season, and so begins another journey. Historically, mostly due to my own personal amateur nature and inability to make the right decision at the right time while pursuing something with a brain the size of my thumb, hunting turkey is trial and error, more tilted to the error column. It certainly must be love that my two boys voluntarily arise from the bed, dress and approach each day afield with enthusiasm, despite the aforementioned history.

We are neither early nor late and are single file toward the place I wanted to be. It should be noted that six legs are louder than two and there is no scientific proportional statistic that supports any relation to weight to decibel to silence calculation, which explains why my kids walk louder than me.

So with every seventh step, I am finger to lip and emitting a sound to hush. But with decoys and gear and enthusiasm, we still make noise, yet somehow I am fooled to believe we arrive at this tree undetected. There is a leaking purple color that is spreading to the east, and I am softly placing a metal peg into the soft soil for the plastic decoy to rest. I am slow and careful and hopeful that I am neither seen nor known.

As it goes, this place has been one of frustration two seasons going. There was an attempt and a clean miss. There was a fooled gobbler and responsive one, and he was enthused and then someone sneezed and then there was silence.

This third time certainly would be a charm, and to this point I was pleased, even though I still couldn’t subtract the number of minutes from 60, and a 42-pound child is heavier-footed than you might think. With surprise cooperation, my boys were positioned and ready and, from my perspective, well-concealed. My role was that of the caller and leader, and they would rely on me, as I am older and experienced, to finally connect on a bird that has been mostly out of reach.

It was a simple whisper. A rogue limb obscured his view and my own enthusiasm overruled, and I leaned forward to grab the limb. I knew my error the moment I felt the tension give way and heard the sound of a dried limb snapping, the final drop that allowed the meniscus to spill over.

From across the way, as suspected, as dreamt about, as planned, as known, the turkey gobbler aborted his roost and flew away. The sound of his wings against limbs trees, and the imaginary image of a bird fleeing, was the punctuation on a hunt that had not really started.

“What was that, Dad?”

Now, sometimes it is tough, especially at 6:38 in the morning, to admit defeat. And, really, it is no excuse. Even though I was not completely certain, it was at least in the realm of possibilities that the bird escaping was not a turkey, and I tried to sound convincing when in my reply: “It was an owl.”

Silence, and further in the woods, the sound of wings and sticks again filled the void.

“But, I thought owls were smart?”

Silence, and my boys are both looking at me.

“They are, but we are smarter,” I said.

Still, I cannot subtract from 60, and turkey season is here.

Enjoy your time outdoors.

Outdoors columnist Jason Hawkins may be reached at