Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Suspicious, honery, hard-to-hunt animals get names, that's just the way it goes. Who hasn't hunted a "mossy horn", a "spook", a "nag toe" or a "limper"? For me, when it's time to talk turkey, my memories revert back to my time with ole Cajun Jim and "him". That's all the name we had for him, and quite frankly, it fit. Daddy might have been on the phone w/ Jim for hours, hearing about the latest faux paus "him" had snookered Jim with, but sure as I would be sitting there, I'd get a recount on Jim and his bird "him". How many times Jim and I would crawl up to the fence line separating daddy's property from old man Estes' and see that old Tom sitting there surrounded by a harem of 50+ hens? When the sun would grace him in the afternoons he took on an almost silver look, glorifying his status as the "king of this here wood." Seeing him, knowing there would be no way to get to him, I'd hear ole Cajun growl, "that's him."

In fact, I remember the first time I heard "him" greet the dawning day. A thunderous gobble that rattled in my chest like a 3 pack a day smoker's cough might, he had.

I hadn't yet been granted a drivers liscense, but daddy convinced momma to let me drive his old farm truck over to the land to hunt. I remember the first time my keys hit the lock at the "blue gate". My first hunt all on my own for anything, and I drove myself there - and didn't even wreck. Funny how nowadays I'd almost pay someone to drive me to hunt.

Picking up on the "blue gate" so it wouldn't creek and alert every turkey within five miles someone was coming to hunt them, I pulled through and traveled down the main road of daddy's land. All this done with the lights much to learn.

I probably traveled a couple hundred yards before I stopped just at the edge of the "watermelon field" to listen. It's been 18 years this spring since I experienced that morning, and I can honestly say, there haven't be a handful of mornings I've heard as much gobbling. The woods literally shook with the clamor of turkeys. In every direction a bird was seemingly damning his colleagues to a brimstone's fate. There was simply no gobbler that would be outdone.

With the coming dawn, I grabbed the old Lynch box call Gran Gran gave me to practice with, my Wingmaster 20 gauge and headnet, and started in the direction of three birds that seemed bunched together. I bet I hadn't taken five steps when out of the darkness I hear, "where are you going?" The voice in the dark was so unnerving I dropped my gun, and said in a cracking voice, "wh......whoo's there?"

"Where ya goin' Nigel?" And, with that, a cigarette lighter flick on and a cig lit, yet I couldn't see anything other than a silouette. Only my friends called me "Nigel" - long story - but I still couldn't pick out the voice in the deep dark of the wood.

"I....I, ahh, I was goin......"

"You were going to screw up is what you were going to do!"

Jim, I shoulda known.

"You just drove a quarter mile through turkey country, lights on, radio blaring. The birds know you're here now, which puts you at a great disadvantage! What the hell kinda crap are you listening to anyway?"

Jim lived a good 15 miles away, and that's as the crow flies. I can remember thinking, "surely he didn't walk here."

"Nige, remind me when we leave today and I'll show you where to park. Dammit boy, you wuz raised better than this, you know not to drive through turkey country like that! What are you doing here anyhow?"

"I'm going turkey huntin'."

"Oh, no your not. You ain't ready!"

Now, this was my dad's best friend, someone who'd been turkey hunting this place since as long as I could remember, so when daddy wasn't present, Jim's word flew. Thoroughly deflated, I caved and started for the truck.

"Wha youb goin'?" Something about that told me ole Cajun had drank breakfast but I honored him with a reply.

"Home, I gotta git ready for school or momma's gonna kill me."

"Naw, you can't leave, you haven't heard 'him' yet."

"Huh, whatcha mean 'him'?"

Now you gotta remember that while all this was taking place, birds where steadily gobbling. But that didn't last long. Shortly after Cajun siddled up to me, smelling of what I knew to be his homemade apricot shine, we heard "him"...and not another bird said anything the rest of the morning.

Like a lightening bold to the temple, that turkeys gobble shook me to my core. That turkeys gobble is why I start thinking about turkeys sometime in mid-January. That turkeys gobble is why I thank God duck season and turkey season don't overlap. And all Jim said was, "that's him."

We didn't hunt that morning, mainly because Jim was convinced the turkeys knew we were there, but also because I had about 3 inches of mud in my barrel from when I dropped it. Cajun's suspicious nature was such that he figured "certain deities were agin' us." Rather, we sat and devised a plan for the coming weeks for hunting "him."

The first morning's plan was to park up near the roping arena across the road from the 'blue gate' the following Saturday and hunt for "him", the rest we'd figure out as we went. Most likely, I should have understood what I was getting into when Cajun asked, "Nige, just how far are you willing to go for this bird?" My answer was something goofy like "to the ends of the earth" but either way it made him laugh. So hard was the laugh that Jim's Adam's apple bobbed up and down in stark contrast to his shaking body, cackling loudly, while he stepped into the woods and disappeared. Daddy always said he was part tree and blinking as if I had seen a ghost, I believed him. Looking back on it now, never was a time I can remember when ducks were overhead or turkeys afront, and Jim wasn't in the shadows of a tree...never.

That saturday was a complete and total cluster. Only three birds gobbled and it took til almost 8 o'clock to hear what Jim was convinced was "him". By way of the vocalization we had him pegged in the middle of a powerline some 60 yards wide surrounded by a 2 year old cutover. The impenatrable kind. Looking down on that bird from 100 yds out, Jim reassured me "that was him."

That year we got on many a bird, Cajun and I, and each and every one of them more difficult than the next. At the end of the year, I managed a jake which I killed by myself. Never will forget that little turkey, mostly for the Lynch box I lost on the hunt, but also because it was my first taste of turkey feather. Jim didn't kill squat, not one bird, but he was almost crazy with this thought that this turkey, this "him", was better than he was. He hunted him everday, and toward the end, I was almost feeling sorry for Cajun. He'd get drunk and call daddy, bend his ears for hours, having him doubled over laughing, and when he'd get off the phone, daddy would say "he ain't got him."

The next year was much of the same, though I killed my first long bird on P.O. Sted's land with my buddy Buff Magic. Big ole bird which I'd have to dig through many a pile of papers to find dimensions on. But, when given the chance, we'd hunt with old Jim. We'd get snookered by the "Carl Lewis bird" that beat us to the ridgeline and Jim would shake his head saying, "that's him." "Tater Salad", so named because he hung out in Mr. Ward's garden so much, might shut up and sneak in on us, and catch us unprepared. Jim would shout, "THAT'S HIM!!"

Finally, late in that second year of my turkey hunting life (say '89), Jim snapped. It was late one April afternoon on the last week of season. I had met up w/ Jim after baseball practice and taken a ride down Airport Road, which ran right beside our place, because he said, "come look at this."

Coming down Airport Road getting even w/ the Estes field Jim points, and there he is. The sunlight was hitting him in such a way he looked like a 1935 half dollar, all by himself, stuck in a magnificent strut. We stopped the truck and Cajun stepped out and called - in plain view of the turkey - and that sucker gobbled just like he did that first morning. Jim called, he gobbled, almost challenging the old man. Jim called again, turkey gobbled. Nothing between them but air and opportunity I suppose, and Jim snapped. Slaming the door, causing the bird to gobble, Jim turned the key, yanked the the old "Scout" into first and off we went, screaming down the highway back to the blue gate. Jim punched it, despite the gate falling back on the truck. To this day, the gate sits on one hinge.

Pulling up a respectable distance from the Estes field, Jim stopped and looked at me. There was a fair amount of panic, anger, and wisdom in his eyes all coming though at once and he asked, "you got your gobble tube with you?"

"Yeah, why?"

"Gimme it, and follow me to the fence line. At that point, don't say anything and sit down and stay put...and for Christ's own sake, don't laugh at me!!"

Having no clue what was going on, I did as told and crawled behind him to the fence. At that point, he took out a turkey fan from a bird killed earlier that year, and strapped it around himself. Obviously, that old man had been thinking about this very moment for quite some time and had glued some Velcro straps on the turkey fan and put it on his waste.

"Ahh, Jim, whatcha doin' man?"

"Shut up twirp and don't frickin' laugh, I"m about to kill this bird! I'm gonna crawl, letting the terrain of the hill hide me, except for the fan, and I'm gonna stomp a mudhole in this sumbitch!"

Whether or not this strategy was sound or not didn't matter. The man was in a fit of crazy and had a loaded gun. I sat still...

Cajun Jim on that April day made it was far as any man I'd ever seen with "him". Within 80 yards I'd venture a guess, but at the last minute, the bird broke and ran some 200 yds to the opposite wood line.

Coming back to the truck, Jim, covered in sweat from the crawling, cussed his fan idea, grabbed a silver flask, took a swing and gave it to me. He had never done that before so I didn't drink it immediately. Seeing my consternation, Cajun said, "drink it boy, you just watched me make a fool of myself, you need to temper the edge a bit I'm sure!"

After that, we never heard that bird gobble again on our property, but anytime we'd have a tough time, either daddy or Jim would say, "that's him."

Cajun was convinced he was a ghost, a haint of Jeff Davis county if you would.

Twelve years separated the first "him" from the second, and in that time, we had lost Gran Gran and Jm...and, daddy smiled less.

I, myself, was struggling with reality having come off a shoulder surgery, my body was telling me it couldn't take anymore ball. In late February realizing what was happening, I walked out the the pitchers mound, handed a ball to my coach and told him I was done. That night, I cried.

The next morning I pulled up to daddy's place to listen for birds, hoping to clear my head. This was a treat as with college ball there ain't any getting off, so for four years, I hadn't heard a February gobble, unmolested by hunters.

That morning, in February of 1999 I actually heard another morning unlike many others. The nine kings rattled my chest like a 3 pack a day smoker's cough might, but the tenth one silenced the rest. Sitting there, at the edge of the old watermelon field, I lit my own cig, and asked myself, "Nigel, were are you going?"

And for that whole season, I chased a ghostly subject. No school to stop me and gracious parents affording me the opportunity, I hunted. I lived on air and ate on dirt, I breathed bark and crapped dust. And, for almost a complete season, one bird kept me hemmed up. He gobbled all morning, on the limb, at fly down, while feeding and while trussing his hens........he gobbled.

Cool thing was, I was digging it. Bad thing was, I wasn't killing anything, and was wasting quite a bit of time on a bird I was quickliy becoming convinced was unkillable.

The whole season I chased that bird, and the whole season, he presented himself out of range. The whole season I told daddy about him, and the whole season, he'd smile and say, "that's him."

It was the last week of the season that year (1999), and I had roosted the bird for about the 100th time. I knew where he was, and I knew he was surrounded by hens. I asked daddy to come along that morning, take a .22, and at daylight, shoot. This bird had gone the opposite way of me all year, so I wanted something that might help push him my way.

Ten minutes before daylight, daddy shot, walked out to the truck and listened for the for me. At 7:15 a.m. give or take, he heard it. The bird flew down, away from the tiny .22 shot, and landed danged near in my lap.

When daddy walked up, he said "it's him" and he started thinking about his old friend. I relayed the fact that the bird came out on my right side, deep, and hung. I told him how I shot him left handed in a panic, something I most likely couldn't do again, and daddy's eyes got big.

"Justin, Jim was left handed."

Walking out, I stopped at the south end of the old watermelon field and said, "Daddy, this really is him."

He agreed.

Jim finally got his bird.

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