Monday, February 7, 2011

"Carl Lewis - a Turkey Hunter's Tall Tale"

It's been almost 20 years since Magic and myself face down "Carl Lewis".  With each passing year, the legend grows.  I finally got around to writing about our adventures chasing the "Carl Lewis bird", and can say, this tale is 100% truthful and factual...well, SORTA.

"Meet me at the graveyard in tree hours, and don't forget the corn."

That was all Cajun said as he slammed the door shut on daddy's old '76 mustard yellow chevy and took off, leaving a wake of dust a mile long.  You see, me and Buff Magic had just introduced him to "Carl Lewis", and we could both tell he had angered ole Cajun Jim.

I'm a firm believer that no other hunter on the planet knows the anger and hate an animal can stir within the confines of a man's soul, than the turkey hunter.  And Jim was no exception, nor was "Carl Lewis."

Magic and I had literally fooled with this turkey every chance we had for the first 2 weeks of the season, and it had become apparent that we didn't have the salt to take him out.  It only took Jim a single meeting with Carl to realize he was going to be difficult - and, I'll go to my grave believing that Cajun thought he may not have the salt either.  For two weeks Mr. Harold and Chunk (Buff Magic's dad and brother), daddy, and Cajun had heard all the stories, but only now, after Cajun met "Carl" did I think they believed us.

How did "Carl Lewis" get his name?  He was a runner, just like the Olympic athlete that was so popular back then.  When you struck Carl, you better do nothing but sit down because he was coming.  He rarely gobbled, but when he did, you can bet he had folded up shop and was running to you.  It was the running that got us initially.  We would start walking and he'd close a 200 yard gap in seconds.  Several times early on in the chase, we'd round a corner in a logging road, only to come face to beak with Carl, and watch him fly off putting.

"Carl Lewis" was mean too.  The surrounding house owners swore there was a big gobbler that would come out in their yards and whoop their dogs.  Not really for any other reason, except he just could.  They had been trying for months to shoot him, but never could.  He'd either run around a corner and disappear, or drag off a wailing dog  into the woods to whoop on him some more.  In fact, Magic swears one day early in the season he had the shot, only to get mesmerized by "Carl" whooping up on a coyote...can you believe it?  A turkey beating up a coyote.  Any other turkey I wouldn't believe it either, but this was "Carl Lewis" and anything was possible.

I always thought he was part ghost.  You would see him coming from way off, running breakneck through the woods, only to disappear and end up right behind you.  At that point, he'd see you, put real loud and fly off.  Once, when I was hunting him, he got behind a white oak tree and just disappeared.  A step forwards or backwards and I would have had him...but, he just disappeared.

Couple all that with the area of daddy's place he lived in, and it was really no wonder he was so hard to hunt.  Part of it was nothing but hundred year old white oak trees, surrounded by a thick, almost bullet proof cut over.  Years before, daddy had a bulldozer cut a road through it, and push out a plot right in the middle.  I always felt weird going down there.  It was like the woods were mad at us for being there.

Well, "Carl" had met his match this time.  He had made ole Jim mad, and no turkey lived to see the next roost tree when that happened...well, there was "Him"...and, the "Snorkeler" made famous because Jim saw him swimming Jay Bird creek once...and, there was "the Gravel Pit Ghost of '91".  But, that's other gobbler lived through such maniacal schemes as Jim could cook up.

So, it was with that thought in mind as we made our way to the graveyard, loaded down with bags of corn.

"Jim, I think the guys at the Co-Op are starting to suspect something.  They keep asking us what we're doing with all this corn, and giving us funny looks.  Could you do something about that?"  That's Magic, always worrying about the law.  Course, I have to admit, it wouldn't look great being locked up at the ripe old age of 16 for supplying a moonshine bootlegger with his 'personals'.

"Neva you mind that Magic, I'll take care of thems.  Figure they prolly out of shine and want some more.  Hate giving snort away, but I s'pose it could be worse - they could want money.  In any case, here's my plan for that turkey..."

That evening Cajun talked late into the night concerning what we were gonna do the next morning.  Interestingly enough, he had inserted himself into our plans.  This was okay by us, as we just really wanted someone (anyone) to kill ole "Carl" at this point.

The plan was fairly simple.  We knew the general area "Carl" roosted in - he did so every evening.  So, we were going to walk in hours before daylight, split up and surround "Carl" while he was still on the tree.  At daylight, we were going to set the woods on fire with calling - no tree yelps, no wake up calling, no fly down.  Rather, it was going to be an all-out assault on "Carl's" senses.  We were going to force him to gobble and make a decision to run.  And, someone was going to rid the woods of that bird...or so we thought.

I was so confident that during my sleep that night, I remember having a dream.  All the home owners of the surrounding houses through a parade in my honor for ridding the woods of the heinous and horrible "Carl Lewis" bird.  In my dream, I was given the key to the city and told I would never have to pay for another chile cheese burger and root beer float at "Wards".

That next morning, everything was going as planned, but a heavy fog was rolling in.  My dad was even going to go and just sit close to Jim,  offering what he called "moral support" - which was to say, he was making sure Jim wasn't already drunk.  I went south, Magic north, and daddy and Cajun east closest to the truck.  For my part, I didn't spook any birds coming in.  The weird thing was, I felt like something was watching me.  I can't explain it, but I just felt like the woods knew someone was there that shouldn't have been.  Later, I found out no one everyone else felt the same.  I can only assume the pea soup thick fog rolling in had a part to play in those feelings.

We all just sat there watching our the time, and as the sun started making it's slow accent in the sky, waking the woods up, it happened.  How, or why, "Carl" did what he did I'll never know, but as the dawn was breaking and that thick fog was creeping into the bottoms, he gobbled.  Only, it sounded more like a war cry than a gobble from any turkey I had ever heard.  I remember looking down and feeling goose bumps on my arms, looking up and seeing that bird fly down out of his roost tree, heading straight for Jim and Daddy.

I fully expected a gun shot at any second, but it didn't happen.  Next thing I remember was seeing "Carl Lewis" bolt out of the timber and head toward Magic's direction...again, a gun shot was expected but not heard.

In what seemed like hours, but could have only been seconds of silence, I saw a body to my right.  I glanced over, and it was gone...then to my left, I cut my eyes - nothing.  Then, right behind me, only yards away, I heard the spitting and drumming of a gobbler...then, "Carl" let out another war cry and there he was, right in front of me.  He was in full strut, his fan would have made a Peacock jealous.  His head was fire engine red and was the size of a watermelon.  Sporting a beard that dragged the ground behind him, he literally plowed the ground as he walked, his spurs were so big.  If I'm lying, I'm dying...we planted corn in the rows he plowed that year.

He was only 15 yards away, right in front of me, and staring at me with yellow, cat-like eyes.  He had drool coming down in bucket loads, and I could tell he wanted to fight me.  He took one step towards me, and I clicked my safety off.  He stopped.  Looking at me, right in my eyes with those beady, yellow eyes of his, he stretched his neck and shook the timbers with his war cry.  I could tell it was either him or me, and I was bound and determined for it to be him.

I had him and he knew it...thinking about the parade folks were gonna have in my honor, I squeezed the trigger.  I remember the weight of the trigger as it gave way....CLICK.

Had I really forgotten to load my gun?  "Carl" growled and showed me a mouth full of teeth - yes, TEETH...on a turkey, can you believe it?  It was at this point when I knew "Carl" was fixing to eat me that I heard people running through the woods, screaming my name.  Knowing he was outnumbered, "Carl" looked at me, sneered and then just vanished into thin air.  If I hadn't have seen it, I wouldn't have believed it.

I was still staring at the last place I saw "Carl" when Cajun grabbed my shoulder.  I was so flustered I screamed.

"Justin, let's get out of here.  We don't own these woods.  Something, well, something weird is going on here."

No one said a word until we got to the house.  At that point, we all shared our stories.

The first victim, as you remember, was daddy and Cajun.  Per Cajun, Carl flew out of the roost tree, hit the ground, climbed up another tree using claws that were about 4 inches long, ran out on a limb, jumped and landed right between daddy and Cajun.  They both drew their guns as if in some wild West standoff, and realized they were aiming at each other just before they pulled the trigger.  They said they heard "Carl" laughing as he went behind some privet hedge and disappeared.

Apparently, he had Magic so turned around that he snuck right up behind him and bit him on the butt.  Magic fainted.  Luckily, "Carl" didn't break the skin.  We figure he was just wanting to taunt Magic.

After hearing my story, Cajun's face got white and he looked sick.

"Justin, your gun didn't be unloaded.  You were so upset at the truck, I unloaded your gun for you - 3 shells shucked out."

We never hunted "Carl" again, and there was never another confirmed sighting.  There were, however, many home owners in that part of Jeff Davis county that lost dogs and cats during the night for years to follow.  We could only guess that "Carl" had gone nocturnal.

No comments: