Highs and lows in the turkey woods

Yeah, the turkey I took this season was pretty big. But it came close to not happening.

And not just on that morning as I sat propped up against the tree, straining to hold the shotgun still and focus on the bird through an eye that was continually scrunched by an ill-designed facemask.

No, it was years ago – maybe 16 or so – while sitting up against a similar tree, that brought a fear that wouldn't be overcome for quite a while.

Curious about what Steve got so excited about every spring, I took the plunge, camo'd up and answered the 3:30 a.m. alarm clock one spring. I still hadn't learned the importance of "don't move," and hadn't connected with a bird yet. I'd seen a couple come in, but never had the opportunity to take one.

That particular morning, we had some roosted birds nearby and took to the hedgerow early, to wait for fly down and the opportunity to get a shot at the gobbler. I have to admit I was a bit excited.

This was back inside the Pennsylvania border and, to say the least, things are different there when it comes to turkey hunting. You could also call the Keystone State the Turkey State and not many hunters would bat an eye. It was crazy back then (I can't imagine what it's like now). Even before I was a turkey hunter, I would follow Steve to a spot, park his truck and then take him to his real hunting spot. Once people hear a successful turkey hunter has found a spot they tend to follow. (That's apparently true here in New York, but more about that later.)

Back to that frosty morning… we move into position and I find a spot that I think may be comfortable for the next three or four hours. And we wait… and wait some more. It seems we were there hours before sunrise and I was just dosing off when we heard the truck pull up. Dawn had just started to rise when the truck doors were slammed and we heard muffled voices. "Don't move," said Steve. "Let's see where they go."

But we never saw where that was. What came next will forever be a memory. I don't even have to close my eyes to relive what – to me – was as horrifying and frightening a moment I ever want to live.

The flash from the barrel of the gun seemed to come in silence, and it seemed to take an eternity for the blast to follow. I didn't realize what had happened and sat so still I could hear my heart pounding through my ears.

"Don't move," said Steve, followed by a series of muttered phrases that are better left unrepeated. We sat in the pre-dawn darkness while the two (we think there were two) poachers left the field and went back to their truck. I don't know if their attempt to limb the birds were successful, but they managed to scare me from the turkey woods for almost 10 years.

It was only after we moved to the middle of nowhere in the Adirondacks, where turkey hunting is a bit of an afterthought, that I regained the courage to head out into the woods (never without my orange hat), and sit next to a tree in the pitch black and await the sunrise.

But here we go again.

Word gets out when you're finding birds, and people will follow. Steve called in two hunters just last week, including one wearing a blue hat and a black and red checked shirt. There were no shots fired, thank God.

I don't mind sharing the woods with other hunters. I want everyone to enjoy the outdoors. But you can't enjoy it when you're looking over your shoulder, wondering if the next guy is hunting safely, or stalking your calls.

No bird, no matter how big, is worth that.

Categories: New York – Paula Piatt, Turkey

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