Published by Wildwestbows on 15 May 2008 at 06:12 am
The late afternoon sun scattered down on the rust-red slick rock of southeastern Utah, splitting into thousands of tiny facets as it reflected off the blue waters of Moab’s Ken’s Lake. Chuck’s 28-foot Tracker bass boat, the only thing making ripples on the water that day, slid smoothly towards the shallow haunts of the lake’s largemouth bass.
My 8-year-old son, Jorden, eagerly thrusts the bare end of twelve-pound test monofilament at me with excitement and the hopeful expression that I would fit its tagged end with hook, sinker, and his favorite color tube he knew would be the magic combinations to pry open the lips of his wary green adversaries. I promptly pulled the knot tight on the hook eye and turned to repeat the process for my son’s hunting and fishing partner that day, his cousin Clayton. Clayton, having never felt the pull of a bucket-mouth on his fishing line before, prompted Jorden to unload upon him the vast fishing knowledge young brain carried, which mostly consisted of an 8-year-old boy’s revised outtakes of old Bill Dance and Roland Martin fishing shows he had watched with me on Sunday mornings when it was to cold too be outside.
As the two boys eagerly slipped into fishing mode, Chuck, my uncle and our guide for the day’s many activities, gave off a half laugh and smiled as he turned away from the two boys and directed the boat towards an area sure to give the two young anglers the greatest chance to cure their itch. This fishing itch has been building in them for days leading up to this moment and after a full day like we had they were both ready to set the hook.
As the boat pulled along, KC, my girlfriend, sat quietly working on a bag of sunflower seeds and enjoying the full force of the sun warming her out of the cold winter that had been locked onto our home state of Utah for way too long. Feeling content, I set to fishing myself. And as so often happens in this serine environment, I find myself drifting peacefully along not only on the water I’m fishing, but soon it moves into the depths of my soul and my mind finds this to be a perfect opportunity to rewind for me the great moments of the day.
This day started months before as the computer screen blinked to life when I flipped the switch on the front of the tower that stood to the side of my desk. As is my normal routine, email is the first thing to be opened to start my day. A handful of updates and FYI’s about young men and women that fill our small juvenile detention facility inundate my inbox, most of which are quickly deleted and forgotten about. But one catches my eye, an email sent from the State of Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources Office. I have been chasing one of the state’s elusive turkey permits for almost seven years now and my heart begin skipping beats as I click the message. My excitement is quickly ended as I read the ever-so-typical “UNSUCCESSFUL,” mockingly written larger than needed.
“Oh, well,” I tell myself, as I have so many times, “Maybe next year!” As I continue looking through my electronic stack of correspondence, I come upon another message from the Wildlife Division. Thinking it only a duplicate copy as so often happens with state agencies, I open it and allow my eyes to focus on one word, “SUCESSFUL.” Now having never seen this grand word come to me in this format before, I forced my eyes to read it again and to my elation the word hadn’t changed!
But now, confusion sets in, slowing my thought process and forcing me to scratch at my forehead. How could one email read unsuccessful and yet another completely to the contrary? Then it dawns on me, my son! For the first time in Jorden’s young life, he was eligible to be included in the draw and so I placed him in with the intention of building up “bonus points.” The State offers these points as a consolation prize to those of us unable to draw permits. I carefully inspected the letter again, my hopes confirmed. Jorden had drawn one of the rare permits!
As a father, my heart swelled. The vision of my son and his first turkey hunt danced joyful jigs as fanfair and music played in my head. There are few moments in a father’s life that bring such joy and excitement. The opportunity to build memories in any fashion are one of those great moments that top the list.
I remember my first big game hunt with my dad like it was yesterday. We hunted Dall sheep on the Wrangle Mountains of Alaska, where my dad lived since my parents had divorced years before. The full curl plus sheep, proudly hangs from my front room wall today as a constant reminder of that great first hunt with my dad and now the door stood open, heavenly music played, and a warm bright light forced its way through the open door frame offering me and my son the chance for the same great trophy!
The rap-tap-tap of a small one pound bass pulls me from my thoughts. Jorden and Clayton rush to my side, eager to get the first look at the fish.
“Want me to get the net for ya, Dad?” Jorden asks.
I laugh, and reply, “No need, just a dink.”
With no less excitement, they watch me pull the fish over the edge and carefully remove the hook. I hand the fish to Clayton to give him his first up-close look at what he had only seen on TV. He lowered the fish gently back into its watery home and the two boys return to their endeavors with newfound hope and I return to my daydreams.
The bedside alarm clock sounded its dreaded chirp as I force my hand to shut it off. Sleepily I add up the hours of slumber I had accumulated over night, three was all I could account for and those were hard fought. The turkey hunt had fallen in the middle of my graveyard rotation at work. This makes it hard to force yourself to sleep when you have been trained to stay awake, then force yourself awake when you would normally be going to bed. I fight off the tired feelings, promising myself a nap in the woods around mid-day as Chuck knocks on my bedroom door to ensure I’m on my feet.
Three thiry A.M. never seems as grand as when it’s the start of a day in the field. I work Jorden and Clayton awake and return to my room to find KC in her camo hunting clothes, tying up her boots. What a sport, I think to myself, as I dress myself to do battle with the weary Merriam turkeys. KC is not only a girly girl, but a hunting girly girl. My favorite kind of girl!
Thirty minutes later, two men, two young boys, and one girly girl close the doors on the fourwheel drive Dodge to make our way to the small mountain meadow where Chuck had seem a Tom and his hens feeding earlier on in the week. The headlights soon reveal the small, two-tracker dirt road that we had walked on our scouting trip just days before. The engine died and the sounds of a soft wind dancing between the tall ponderosa pines filled the air. The five pairs of camo boots hit the hard-packed roadway in a silent, single-file assault. I think to myself, it’s hard enough to fool a scared Tom and his harem with one or two people in the woods. It would be a true miracle getting five people to pass the turkey’s high standards of perfection. But I pushed it out of my mind, not wanting to jinx the whole hunt, not today, not for my boy. I exchanged the feeling of setting my son up for failure by inviting so many people alone on this trip with the hope and excitement that I knew he was feeling for the chance to hunt.
We found the meadow that feeds the wild turkeys days before. A slow-moving stream had forced its way cutting the field in half as a handful of deadfall logs lay tossed about in the grass, awaiting the warmth of the soon-to-come morning sun. We placed the two hen decoys and then the small Jake decoy along side the stream bank and quietly took our positions scattered along the end of the paddock. I cleared out a hole in a low hanging cedar tree and forced my way back to its trunk to lean on as I sat on the ground. Jorden worked his way into position between my knees, using my chest as his backrest he quickly settled in. I quietly loaded the Charles Daily youth 20-gauge and placed it on safety as I handed it to him. I reminded him again, as I had almost daily, about the process he had to go through to make the shot.
“Slowly move the gun towards the tom, make sure you’re looking down the rail to the bead, place the bead over the turkey’s eye, quietly push off the safety, and softly squeeze the trigger.”
The look he gave me said it all without even opening his mouth. “I know dad, I know!”
We pulled our face masks over our heads and settled in as the skies began to reveal that we were in for a beautiful sunny day. Chuck, KC, and Clayton sat to our right and slightly behind us, each blending in with the background as they started to play the symphony of Turkey. Chuck offered the soft box call, replicating the lonely wants of a turkey hen, KC duplicated the feeding cluck to a tee and would throw in a forceful gobble at just the right times to round out the melody. I think to myself, she’s cute and can call in a turkey. How lucky am I?
An hour passed as we listened to hens clucking and purring all around us, yet never revealing themselves. Now, as any father of a young boy knows, the good Lord only supplied eight-year-olds with a minuscule sized bladder and an hour was all it took to fill that little gland to its breaking point. And I’ll tell you, it’s hard to keep a young boy still when the pressure had built up to emergency status. It’s amazing to me the dances a young man can create when he’s force to hold still and has to make. As Jorden’s wide eyes told me, the time had come and there was no waiting any longer. Unknown to me, the good Lord had only equipped Chuck with the same size holding tank as Jorden. So, as the two of them quietly made off into the bushes, I took the time to rub some blood flow back into my cold sore cheeks. When the two bladder brothers returned, we quietly made the choice to head up to a larger meadow we had walked through on our route this morning.
As we made our way there, Chuck spotted a hen feeding in the larger field, His mime-like hand signals directed us to set up out mock turkey herd in a lower section of the large, grass-covered opening, not a word being uttered. As we sat up our display, I spotted a downed log that still had some branches on it, laid just in front of a cedar tree. The fallen tree would provide the perfect place to conceal a small boy and his large father.
We took our positions, doing out best to become a silent part of the forest. Time passed and butt cheeks grew numb as Chuck played his box call. KC had laid down on her side and was taking the mountain nap she had promised herself at 3:30 this morning, too. Clayton also become victim to the warming sun and soft mountain breeze as it played off the trees we sat in. Soon I noticed him laid to the side, sound asleep as well. It wasn’t long before I could feel the deep breathing of Jorden, his back on my chest, as he too had fell to the sandman’s call.
Chuck’s calling had slowed and my eyelids became noticeably heavy. I think if I would have had a good head-rest, I’m sure I would have been sound sleep myself. But as it was, I was only allowed to drift in a comfortable place, halfway between sleep and wake. The soft sound of a far off gobble slapped me back to reality. Finally, I thought to myself, something to get excited about, even if it was miles away.
I looked back at Chuck who gave me a confirming head shake as he softly kicked KC’s foot. She slowly picked her head up and wiped the drool from her cheek as Chuck whispered to her, “They’re gobbling down the canyon!”
As KC sat herself upright, Chuck played soft clucks on his slate. Then it came again, another gobble! This time it seemed to be miles closer, coming from the field we where in at daybreak. I felt Jorden’s body tense up as he turned his eyes to meet mine. I whispered in his ear, “That’s him, Buddy, that’s the Tom we have been waiting for!” Jorden just shook his head in agreement. The young man was on a mission! I helped Jorden position his shotgun to greet the bearded Merriam when it made its long-awaited appearance. Chuck called again. This time the Tom’s thunderous reply caused my heart to skip a beat that big boy’s report had come from less then twenty feet behind us. This Turkey was lonely and wanted a girlfriend right now!
This is where the whole hunt should have been busted! You see in the excitement of talking turkey no one thought to wake Clayton up from his slumber and as the Tom delivered his last gobble the bird was only eight feet away from Clayton. Now, not being used to having wild turkeys yelling in his ear while he sleeps, Clayton sat bolt upright and started throwing his head around like he had ants on his nose and his hands were tied behind his back. As soon as Chuck saw this and blasted a look at the young man that froze him in place like a statue, Clayton turned his eyes without moving his head just to catch the up-close Tom as he strutted pass. I’m really not even sure that poor boy even took a breath for the next ten minutes. Chuck’s look had done that good of a job.
At the close sound of the turkey behind us, I could feel my knees start to shake. The more I fought to hold them still, the more violent they reacted. Jorden turned and whispered, “You’re shaking my gun!” I shifted my eyes down to the 20-gauge barrel and indeed I was! The barrel was dancing around like water droplets in a hot frying pan. Then in the corner of my eye, he appeared!
Slowly he walked into the field from the wrong direction, I had positioned Jorden for the Tom to appear on our left, but the bird had his own plan and showed up on the right. My knees stopped shaking instantly. I could feel Jorden start to swing the shotgun. I whispered, “Not yet.” And he stopped his motion. The Tom stepped into the clearing and blew up to twice his original size. His tail fanned out, and his wing tips racked the ground as he seemed to vibrate and emit drumming sounds from deep inside his chest. The Tom cut a beeline to the foam Jake decoy that sat just ten feet from us the whole time in full feather expansion.
As the Tom passed between us and the thickest part of the dead tree we where hiding behind, Jorden instinctively moved the barrel to encounter the Tom as it reappeared. The kid’s a natural I think to myself. I could see Jorden lower his check onto the stock and I could feel his breathing slow to a steady rate. The Tom danced up to within a couple of feet of the Jake and that’s when the hand of God stepped in to help my son. A small breeze picked up at that moment, turning the Jake decoy to face the approaching tom. This reaction from the foam decoy did nothing but fuel the fire already burning inside the mass of feathers. The Tom closed the distance to the decoy and without warning struck out and pecked the decoy right on the head, then stood there looking the Jake up and down waiting for a reaction that never came.
I whispered to Jorden, “Now! Shoot now!” I could feel him tense up and pull the gun up closer to his shoulder. The small index finger gently pushed the safety button and retuned to the trigger.
“Shoot son, shoot!” I whispered as the Tom’s feathers laid back down as he walked around the back side of the decoy further inspecting it.
“He’s behind the decoy, I can’t shoot,” Jorden replied.
“Shoot thru the decoy, I’ll buy a new decoy for next year. Shoot him!” I said.
I could see Jorden’s finger pull on the trigger from inside his camo gloves. I watched and waited for the report of the round as the Tom stood only ten feet in front of us. Nothing happened. I could hear Chuck and KC behind us whispering shoot, shoot, shoot! I looked down to see Jorden’s finger pulling on the trigger for all it was worth. What the hell, I thought! Then it hit me, the safety! He hadn’t pushed it all the way off. I reached up to the button as the Tom started walking away from the decoys and pushed it the rest of the way clear.
No sooner did I feel the click, the gun fired pushing Jorden’s shoulder into my chest! The Tom started flopping around on the ground in an attempt to fly away from the number-five copper-coated shot but he only stirred up dust. Jorden jumped to his feet, threw both fists into the air and started dancing and yelling, “I did it Dad, I did it, I did it!” The shouts came from behind us in a chorus of congratulations. Jorden reached down to the shotgun that lay on the grass and placed it back on safety, giving me the thumbs-up, and took off on a run towards his newly-bagged trophy. I meet up with Chuck and KC as Clayton came running past towards Jorden, who was kneeling down in front of the still-flopping Tom. “Thanks, Chuck!” I offered, “Thanks for all your help,” and sealed it with a firm handshake. I put a big hug around KC and thanked her as well. We all walked up to the kicking Tom and stood around it as the last of the nerves faded and the turkey begin to lie still on the ground and the memories firmly mounted on the wall of my soul.
I turned my eyes to the sky and offered up a brief word of thanks, not just for the trophy Tom but for all the miracles we witnessed this great day. As I turned my eyes back to my son and his first-ever trophy, he pointed his finger and slowly touched the tom on the top of the bald head as if to say, tag, then looked up at me and said, “Now can we go fishing?”
I smiled as the memory played over and over while the waves gently rapped the side of the boat, Jorden set the hook on a bass as we drifted past a bush. He reeled it up to the boat then turned and gave me the thumbs-up with his tow head blond hair all a mess and what looked to be the leftovers of a chocolate bar on his chin, still wearing the turkey hunting camo from this morning. I thought to myself, you know, as a father, I think I’m doing pretty well.
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