The Store Bought Mouth Yelper

It is a beautiful spring morning, cool and crisp with the sound of gobbling turkeys from all across the ridges and hollers. Uncle Lee and I are scouting the morning before our opening day turkey hunt. Excitement and expectation run high from the result of our morning excursion.

In the morning Uncle Lee, Old Joe, and myself will experience yet another turkey hunting adventure in these remote Ozarks Mountains.

Old Joe was one of Lee’s closest hunting buddies. About as Ozark as you get, Joe always wore a brown toothy smile across a face that was usually covered with a tobacco-stained stubbly beard. No one knew for sure if old Joe either didn’t know how to tie his boots or was just too lazy to do so.

The afternoon before the 1969 spring turkey season opener, Uncle Lee and I were in the front yard at my grandmas when Joe’s ’49 Chevrolet pickup truck came barreling up the driveway. You could see Joe’s ear-to-ear smile despite the cobwebs of cracks that covered his windshield.

He got out of his truck and proudly boasted that he had a brand new, store-bought mouth yelper. Joe bought it with “trapping” money down at turners feed store. This is the first packaged turkey call we ever seen. Now we’d seen mouth calls before, but they’d always been made of plumber’s lead and a condom from the men’s room down at uncle Jonnies gas station.

“Looky here,” said Joe. I’m gonna be the very first turkey hunter in Iron County to kill himself a turkey with a fancy store-bought mouth yelper.”

“Well, what’s it sound like?” asked Uncle Lee. “I ain’t opened it yet but it’ll bet it’ll sound real good,” said Joe. “It says right here on the back of the package all you gota do is put it in your mouth, put your tongue on it, blow air, and it’s guaranteed to make all the calls of the wild turkey.”

“I don’t know,” said Uncle Lee. “I think you might want to do some practicing on it.” “Were going turkey hunting in the morning” Joe just scoffed at the idea and shoved the package back into his pocket.

Joe’s old Chevy rolled into grandma’s driveway about four the next morning, the opening day of turkey season. We could see Joe inside his cab, using a cigarette lighter to read and re-read the instructions for the call, which was still in its package.

We loaded the up the Willies jeep and drove up the old logging road to the top of the mountain behind my grandma’s farmhouse. At our destination where three ridges joined together, we separated. When Uncle Lee and I left Joe, he was walking out onto an open glade, just now getting out his knife to take the mouth yelper out of its wrapping.

Uncle Lee and I headed down our favorite ridge just as it began to get light. The songbirds were starting to sing and the whole woods were beginning to wake up as a light orange color spread across the east.

A great horned owl hooted in the distance, a turkey gobbled. Shortly thereafter, another turkey gobbled, near the place where we’d last seen Joe.

Then we heard something, a strange low, grunting kind of gagging cough, coming from the same general area. “What was that, Uncle Lee?” I asked. “I’m not exactly sure,” answered Lee. He waited a few moments, and then hooted like a barred owl. An Ozarks turkey gobbled just down the ridge. Uncle Lee handed me the his old shotgun and said to quickly set down

Uncle Lee scratched out a few yelps on his old worn box call, the gobbler rifled back a reply. About that time we heard the terrible gagging sound again, only this time it was louder and deeper. “I sure hope that’s not Joe dying,” said Uncle Lee. “We’d better go check on him” “ this turkey will have to wait.”

When we walked out on the glade, there was Joe, all sprawled out on his hands and knees Sweat was pouring from his pale white face and he was gasping for air.

“ I tried to tell you that you should’ve tried using that thing before we got out here”. Look at you, it’s gobbling time” “We had a turkey gobbling” and now we’re up here checking on you.

“ Joe, are you all right “ you don’t look so good” From his knees Joe looks up, tears running down his cheeks and snot in his beard, he says, “I, I, I think I swallered it.” “Swallowed it, are you sure?” asked Uncle Lee. “I think so,” said Joe. “ Im’ pretty sure” “I’ve been through three piles of puke and haven’t found it yet.”


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