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New Hunter Woes

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to have guided people from all walks of life. Many have become cherished friends.

Every once in a while, there’s someone like Francis. Francis booked a spring turkey hunt and was very enthusiastic. He called weekly about the hunt. He arrived an hour early the morning of the hunt.

You could tell by his lilly-white skin and brand new hunting clothes Francis was something of a stranger to the outdoors. But he was exceptionally pleasant and eager. On arrival to the hunting area, Francis pulled a shiny Remington 1100 out of a case. You could tell by the looks, smell and tags on the gun, it was fresh out of the box and unfired. He reached for a box of three-inch magnum shells, wrapping his manicured fingers around the first layer.

With shells in one hand, shotgun in the other, and a very puzzled look in his face, he glanced from one to the other. "Excuse me," he finally said, "could you please tell me where the bullets go?"

"Sure," I replied. Opening a pocket on my coat, "The bullets go right here and I’ll give them to you one at a time as you need them."

It was the kind of morning a guide usually only dreams of. The birds gobbled hard on the roost and didn’t quiet throughout the morning.

Francis and I began the morning about 300 yards from a gobbler that was gobbling every breath. Heck, his gobble sounded like it weighed 10 pounds. I continued to owl hooting as we closed the distance to set-up. I motioned for Francis to sit down and be quiet. He tapped me lightly on the shoulder and asked, "Is that a boy turkey or a girl turkey?" I knew I had my work cut out for me. I gave the bird a few soft yelps. He flew down and continued gobbling nonstop. Then the gobbler and a smaller tom walked into view. "Hey, it looks like there’s two of them," Francis said in a loud, booming voice, obviously very proud that he could actually see them.

Speaking loud was only one problem that would plague Francis throughout the day. He traversed the Ozark hills with the finesse of a man dragging a ball and chain – the noisiest man alive. I believe Francis would make noise on a golf green. Each time we would move in on a bird, talking, moving, or breaking sticks would scare the turkey into the next county. There was only one thing to do. At the head of the hollow I stopped, turned to Francis, and whispered, "We really have to be quiet while walking through this area, no talking, no stick breaking, no leaf crunching, or we’re in big trouble. See that heart shaped track and round, black droppings? Ridgegators!"

"Ridgegators?" Francis asked in a quavery voice. "Yeah, sometimes they’ll snap at anything rustling in the leaves," I continued. "I had a noisy client up here last week that didn’t heed my warnings. His rear end looked like he’d sat on a blender. I didn’t think I’d get him to the hospital in time."

My plan worked. Francis moved like a ghost in the woods as quiet as a breast feather in the wind.

I owl-hooted, a bird answered close enough I could here the rattle in his gobble. He was just off the lip of the ridge, maybe sixty yards away.

I whispered to Francis to sneak up to an old oak, handed him a "bullet," and told him to shoot the bird in the face as soon as he saw a beard.

Francis sneaked up to the oak without so much as rustling a leaf. He carefully placed the shell in the gun’s chamber. With a single finger he pushed the little silver button that slammed the action home, a crash that echoed down the hollow and through the hills.

Looking over the top of his pop-bottled-thick glasses Francis turned to me and whispered, "Okay, Ray, call him up."

We left the woods and stopped at a little country store for a cheeseburger and beer. The place got kind of quiet when my obviously misplaced friend walked up to the bar and straddled a stool.

Eventually every one stopped staring and pointing and things got back to normal. People began talking, and the sounds of turkey calls floated throughout. Francis was feeling more at ease. Finally, in his best Ozark drawl imitation, Francis turned to the old stubble-faced backwoodsman sitting beside him, slid the hat back on his balding head and said, "Boy, the ridgegators are really bad this year, ain’t they?"

We climbed back into my old truck to continue our hunt. Francis didn’t understand why everyone in the store was laughing so hard about something as serious as Ridgegators. Back in the woods, a gobbler answered my call from the edge of an Ozark pasture. We closed the distance as far as we could possibly go without spooking the bird. I sat Francis in my lap, I helped hold his shaking shotgun in my left hand and the stock with my right hand. I had complete gun control; he could never shoot me.

A hen yelped and cut, the gobbler was on his way. In between Francis’ labored heavy breathing and beating heart I could now hear the spit and drum of the wild turkey gobbler. In a quivering, squeaky voice Francis asked, "Can I have a bullet now?" I took the gun from Francis, inserted one bullet, two bullets, three bullets, gave the gun back to Francis and whispered in his ear, don’t stop shooting till your out of bullets.

At forty yards, I asked if Francis could see the bird. His reply, "I don’t see anything. My glasses are fogged up. "I carefully slid his glasses off, wiped them clean and returned them to his face as the bird walked out from behind a tree less than twenty yards away. I shoved three fingers in his rib cage and yelled in his ear, "Kill ’em."

At the roar of the gun, the gobbler took flight. Francis swung and fired again. The bird tumbled to the ground, got up and began a staggered-run through the pasture as Francis shot again. I shoved Francis to his feet with my boot and yelled, "Go get ’em!"

The turkey was gaining speed as he ran through a three stringed barbed wire fence. Francis was at top speed and couldn’t stop as he threw the gun and dove over the top of the fence plowing Ozark soil with his nose and chin. As both the turkey and Francis both ran out of sight I wasn’t sure who looked worse.

When I finally caught up with the turkey and Francis, they were in the corner of an old hog wire fence. The gobbler squatted down in the grass completely out of breath. Francis, sitting less than three feet away, pointing shotgun at the turkey’s head, breathing heavier than the turkey. Francis cut his eyes toward me and said, "Hurry, Ray, I’m out of bullets, but the turkey doesn’t know it."

Until next time…

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