I am now officially an addict and I have no desire to recover.
This addiction started in a flat-bottom boat. In pitch-black darkness. Holding a gun in my hand as I raced up the White River.
I'm not the type to get addicted.
This was the second time I had gone turkey hunting. By the time we left I knew it would not be my last.
Admittedly, before I went on my first turkey hunt 10 days earlier, I had studied this sport for two years. I bought turkey hunting magazines, read articles, and did as much research as I could to try and understand how this thing works.
None of it really prepared me for the real thing.
This hunt started in a flat bottom boat motoring up the White River at 5 a.m. You could barely see the tops of the trees against the sky. It was mesmerizing and allowed my imagination to run wild at what the rest of the landscape looked like and what terrain might lie ahead.
Without going into flowery detail about how the sky turned electric blue and the woods came to life with the sound of wildlife; let's just say I was awestruck by the power of the moment.
I was with two friends, John Killough and Mitch Miles. Both of these long-time turkey hunters know this country, so I felt confident in their ability to run the river in the dark and locate some birds. They did both.
I'm not going to try and bedazzle you with turkey hunting lingo and write this in the vein of legend and lore, but simply tell you what I heard that morning as a newbie turkey hunter.
As soon as the engine shut down after what seemed like an hour, which was more like 15 minutes, the silence was deafening. Not only were my ears recouping from the very cool if not cold ride, the wind noise slowly subsided as we drifted. It only took a few minutes to get accustomed to my new surroundings, where the loudest thing I heard was the water very gently moving the boat down river.
A few minutes later a whippoorwill sounded off, and memories of my Grandfather and his cabin close to Bee Branch, Ark., took hold. I recalled the gentle sound that echoed through the hollow behind his one bedroom mountain mansion.
My thoughts quickly turned back to the moment when we heard an owl with his haunting and cadence, expecting at any moment to hear a gobbler sound off. We did.
Miles put Killough and me out on shore then took off to another location. As the sound of the flat-bottom faded, the owls started up again and were joined by crows. With about every other crow call, the turkey gobbled about 100 to 125 yards away.
After submersing myself in turkey hunting information the past two years with publications, articles, internet shopping sprees where I never checked out, and wearing out the Cabelas catalog, some of the things that happened next were expected.
You just kind of knew they might happen. But there was one thing, no matter how much you read or study on, you can never prepare for or explain unless you have hunted turkey. I was about to find that out.
The phrase "hung up," as most turkey hunters know, is when a turkey you are calling gets to a certain distance then refuses to come any closer. There isn't any better words to describe this situation.
The bird we heard turned out to be four birds due East of us. After 10 minutes of listening to these birds, another one starts up about the same distance away to the North of us.
Rolling the dice on which birds to setup on, we decided to focus on the four birds. Anyway you look at it, four birds in the bush is still better than one.
I sat down against a tree and we started calling to the birds. They would honor the calling with a cascade of gobbling, most of the time on top of each other, which elevated the volume and the excitement of the situation.
Closer, further away, closer, further away. Apparently these birds were happy to hear a hen, but not interested enough to traverse the 100 yards that separated us from them. They were by all account "hung up."
All the while the North bird was hammering away, but with the same result, all talk no action.
We made a decision to move closer to the North bird due to his incessant gobbling, figuring he would be easier to harvest. Slowly we made our move within 60 yards of the North bird.
The woods were very thick and we felt comfortable with the movement it would take to get set up. After finding a good tree to set up on, we started to call again.
Nothing happened. No sound. Nothing. Had we made a judgment error and spooked both sets of birds at once?
Several minutes went by without a peep. Just about the time we thought we had really screwed this thing up, the North bird fires up. He wasn't closer but at least he was still there. Thankful we had not run him off, we stayed quiet for a while. A whole two minutes worth of quiet.
Just as we started to refocus our attention on the North bird, two giant longbeards walked by at 50 yards, heading toward the bird we were set up on.
The woods were too thick to take a shot at that distance, so we let them pass. Less than five minutes later, I hear Killough whisper, "Here they come."
"They" were the four birds we set up on first thing that morning. Taking almost the same path the giants had taken only moments before except this time about 15 yards closer.
The way we were set up, Killough could see them coming, but they were coming in from my blind side.
This is the part I mentioned earlier about not being able to prepare for, no matter how much you study up.
Killough whispered, "They are getting close." I still couldn't see them. I could only imagine what was happening behind me.
"There are four of them", he said. "About 50 yards coming in fast."
My heart rate soared. "40 yards," he whispered.
"As soon as you can shoot, take one."
Killough had been killing turkeys for a while and wanted me to get a shot first. Plus, I was way too nervous and green to try and orchestrate a 1, 2, 3 shoot at the same time scenario.
What happened next I will never forget. One of the turkeys gobbled as they walked by. The sound of a turkey gobbling that close was louder than I ever expected. So loud I swear I felt the sound waves as much as I heard them. It startled me almost to the point of flinching. I could not see them yet, so the sound, for me, came out of nowhere.
"Oh my God," I whispered under my breath. My heart rate climbed without moving a muscle. Suddenly, the lead bird comes into my view. There he was. The thing that I had been studying for about two years was now 40 yards out and miraculously, slowing down, and coming right toward me.
I could not believe it. The woods we were hunting were full of little saplings about 2- or 3-inches in diameter and the bird seemed to know that bobbing and weaving in between them would buy him some time.
I had my bead on him but wanted to get off a good clean shot. About every three seconds Killough would ask, "Got him?"
I would whisper back, "Not yet."
I could tell even in whispers that Killough was getting anxious about these birds hanging around for too long. He had been looking at them within shooting distance for about five minutes now and was itching to pull the trigger.
He said again, "Once you get a shot take it."
As the last whispered word left his mouth the bird flopped. I don't even remember pulling the trigger or hearing the shotgun blast but the bird flopped.
I had bagged my first turkey.
I know now what has fueled the desire of turkey hunters for generations. I wasn't sure how turkey hunting would affect me, if at all. But what I took away from those woods was a lot more than a bird.
It was the affliction of hunting wild turkeys.
I now know as long as I am able to buckle my turkey vest and pull up a pair of boots, I will turkey hunt every year for the rest of my life.