I’ve hunted wild ducks, grouse, pheasants and other game birds with varying levels of enthusiasm for 40 years. But I had never seen anything like this: two resplendent four-foot-tall adult male wild turkeys, all bronze and black and iridescent, galloping on stilt-like legs across a cattle pasture the size of two football fields. And on this sparkling spring afternoon, they were racing right toward me!
I was dressed head to toe in camouflage clothing designed for the occasion, sitting on a camouflaged stool, cradling a camouflaged 12-gauge Italian-made shotgun, peering out a narrow slit in a camouflaged nylon blind that my guide and I had set up in the rustling palmetto trees an hour earlier.
My mouth was as parched as cotton balls. My heart pounded. My sweaty hands shook as I gripped the gun.
“Shhhh,” whispered Jeff Budz, forefinger to his lips, covered by a mesh facemask, his other hand lightly on my shoulder. Budz is an expert’s expert: He has bagged more wild turkey grand slams (see sidebar) than any hunter in the history of the sport. A mere 20 yards in front of us, six juvenile male turkeys or “jakes” were nonchalantly pecking at and prancing around a bedraggled mounted tom turkey, tail fanned, and two sleeker dusky mounted hens. Jeff had skillfully lured in the young males by scratching discreetly on his cedar box call, making the soft cluck-cluck-cluck sounds of pre-mating hens.
In a flash, the scene outside our cozy cave-tent was mayhem. The two mature toms, feathers flared, scarlet and blue-white heads leading the testosterone charge, dangerous spurred claws slashing, were jumping on everything that moved–and the “stuffer” decoys that didn’t. Gobble-gobble-gobble. All was whirring, colliding, flailing, ferocious motion. Instantly the air filled with giant birds.
How could I think about killing such gorgeous creatures? Easily. First, I relish the taste of wild game, properly and reverentially prepared. Second, there are plenty of birds running wild–so many that they have become a nuisance. As recently as the 1930s, the species was nearly wiped out, with an estimated 30,000 birds holding on in isolated pockets of habitat. But today, more than seven million wild birds thrive from coast to coast. Every state except Alaska (too far north) has a carefully managed hunting season. And hunters were instrumental in funding the hugely successful restoration.
I looked down the barrel, saw red, and squeezed the trigger. KABOOM! I had bagged my first wild turkey.
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