Well, I guess technically I used to not be a hunter.
That all changed a little more than a week ago when I went on my first turkey hunt, which was actually my first hunt of any kind.
Until about a year ago, I had little to no inclination to ever go hunting, but a Sunday morning sermon changed that. Mike Skelton is one of my best friends, and he also happens to be the pastor of InnerChange, the little community of sinners in McCalla that I attend fairly regularly.
Mike is an avid turkey hunter and at some point last year used the hunting of the wild birds as a metaphor during a sermon on temptation. He basically said a hunter pretends to be a female turkey and attempts to seduce male turkeys close enough to shoot them.
I’ve had friends and family who deer hunt, and that just never seemed like much fun. You sit in a tree stand all day waiting on some poor, cute deer to walk up. If you ever see a deer, you try to shoot it. Just sounds boring to me.
From the way Mike described hunting turkeys, it sounded like a little more of a sport. After the sermon, I told him that I’d like to try turkey hunting. It was the offseason, but he said we would go the next season.
Almost two weeks ago, Mike asked if I was ready to try turkey hunting. My response: “Are you ready to try turkey hunting with me?”
It was Easter Sunday when he asked me that question, and I was wearing a pink, pastel shirt. I told him what I was wearing was the closest thing I had to camouflage. He said not to fear, that he had plenty of camo — unfortunately, Mike is half my size so I didn’t think his clothes would work for me.
Luckily my brother, who is a hunter extraordinaire, offered to loan me some of his hunting gear. He’s also a good bit smaller than me, but his pants had an elastic waist.
The morning of the hunt, I had to wake up at 3:30 a.m. I debated on whether I should take a shower or not. I didn’t know if the turkeys could smell me, so I decided no shower was the way to go. I put on my gear, which included camo boots and pants, and a black “SWAT” shirt. I looked more like an extra from “Big Law: Deputy Butterbean” than a hunter, but it was the best I could do.
After arriving at Mike’s house around 4:30 a.m., he gave me a jacket that looked liked one of those ghillie suits that police wear on “To Catch a Predator.” He also gave me a hat that had a hood built into it, because he said turkeys had great eyesight.
On our drive to the hunting property, I told Mike that I had been working on a turkey call in case he wanted me to try to talk one up to us. After he asked to hear it, I let out a sound that I thought would be close to what a turkey would sound like.
“When we get out there, don’t do that unless I tell you to,” Mike said, “...and I’m never going to tell you to do that.”
When we got to the area where we were going to hunt, I told Mike that I didn’t take a shower, because I didn’t want my vanilla body wash to scare off the turkeys. He explained that they can’t really smell and then said, “Spray this around your boots.”
“Why do I need to spray something if they can’t smell?”
“It’s for bugs, you dummy,” he said. “You don’t want them crawling into your boots.”
Before we went looking for the turkeys, Mike let out a “hoot” that sounded remarkably close to an owl. Afterwards he said, “Did you hear that?”
I heard nothing, but he said he heard a turkey.
As we walked to find a good spot, we came up on a clearing, and Mike told me to walk softly. I am almost 300 pounds and was dressed like a camouflage wookie — there wasn’t any walking softly. I was cracking twigs and branches all over the place.
When Mike settled on a location, he put out a camoflage pop-up tent, similar to a Dora the Explorer tent my girls have at home. We crawled into the tent, and he handed me the gun — some sort of 12-gauge.
I had already warned Mike that I had never fired a gun in my life. He said, “We probably should have gone over some gun safety, but you’re a smart guy. Don’t squeeze the trigger unless you want it to shoot.”
It was my job to stare out the window of the tent, looking for a turkey, and if it got close enough, I was to shoot the bird.
While I’m staring out the window, Mike starts making these strange turkey-like noises. Every time he makes a noise, I hear a turkey in the distance. It was actually pretty cool — like listening to two turkeys carry on a conversation. When I asked Mike to interpret his turkey language, he said it would be too vile to repeat in English.
As this conversation between man and bird continued, the turkey flew down from the trees. Mike said, “Be cool.”
I was cool as I continued to watch for the bird, until I heard wings flapping inside our tent. I turned my head, and Mike was making these strange turkey noises and beating a fake turkey wing against his chest. I thought to myself, “This is getting a little weird.”
The turkey finally strutted passed us, but it was a good 60 yards away, so I couldn’t shoot it. It then went to a wooded area about the length of a football field and strutted around for a long time, but it never got close enough for me to fire a shot.
After a while, we decided that killing a turkey wasn’t going to happen that morning, so we packed up our things and headed out of the woods. As we walked toward the truck, Mike said I bet that turkey is going to be right up here, and only a few seconds later, we saw the thing in a clover field. It saw us and shuffled into the woods.
On my first hunting trip, I didn’t shoot a turkey, and I didn’t even fire a gun. It just wasn’t that turkey’s day to go, and that’s just fine with me. I think I had more fun watching him than I would have shooting him.
James Phillips is managing editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at 205-221-2840 or firstname.lastname@example.org.