Bradley Carleton | Contributor
The space between duck and deer season leaves me wanting to wrap myself up in a cozy blanket in front of the outdoor fire pit, sipping a glass of merlot and celebrating the north wind nipping at my nose. I can smell the lake turning over its detritus from its depths, accompanied by a bittersweet symphony of high-flying migratory Canada geese navigating by the stars. The acrid smell of wood smoke encircles my nostrils and taunts me to stay out all night, like my primitive ancestors on watch for sabre-toothed tigers. Orion’s belt in the night sky calls to my roots and makes me wish that I knew how to navigate by the stars.
Tomorrow morning I will awaken well before the first purple light on the horizon and sneak into the moonlit woods, crawling under the barbed wire fence by rolling on the ground, my gun unloaded and waiting for me on the other side. I will creep up the hill of the cow pasture, being conscious of my footing on uneven ground, tracked by the large bovine footfalls. Approaching the woods edge, careful not to trip on the loosened shale rock, I climb under a piece of random shrubbery, unidentifiable in the dark.
A barred owl hoots in the distance and a tom turkey on his night perch screams in panic. There’s my sign. The turkey is about 100 yards away judging by the echo in the now barren trees. He’s holed up with his harem on the other side of the ridgeline.
The call means that I will have to close the gap by walking downhill through the woods in the dark and place myself on the flat plateau below the roost where I am predicting that they will fly down to reconnoiter and debate the morning’s agenda. I will pick my way cautiously trying not to step on any fallen sticks. The 30-year-old L.L. Bean boots with the soft soles serve me well as I traverse the plateau and choose the base of an old oak with a concave trunk. I tuck myself in to my hide and decorate the area in front of me with clipped shrubbery.
As I am shoving the last branch into the moist soil, its leaves providing me with a brown leafy curtain of camouflage, I hear the first fly down cackle and the flapping of mighty wings. A turkey leaving its roost sounds like someone throwing a bowling ball at a brush pile. Crashing branches, cackling calls as if the bird is saying “Ouch! Ouch that one hurt!” They are not the moist graceful fliers, but their wings are mighty and protect their flanks like a Viking’s shield filled with stiff ribbed feathers.
The rest of the birds fly down one after another and begin chattering their “ki-ki-run” call to assemble the troops. The old tom calls them to attention, declaring his dominance, and demands that they all line up for a head count. As he is barking out their orders, from the base of my tree I throw in a lonesome lost hen cluck. The Boss gobbles back vociferously telling me to join the ranks and stand at attention.
When I do not obey his orders, he screams at me again. I cluck back, imagining my intention is to tell him I am lost and he needs to come find me. This aggravates him, and he declares that if I don’t immediately join the ranks he will seek me out and punish me for insubordination.
I cluck gently again. He says nothing now. I have been warned. He marches in from my right, his chest puffed up in regal splendor and his tail fanned out in a grand display of authority. He is looking for me but doesn’t see me from the shadows of the oak.
He screams again behind a burning red bush.
My gun is up and my cheek is on the stock, my bead waiting to find his blazing red and blue head.
After what seems like several minutes, his head finally peeks around the corner of the bush.
I breathe in through my nose. The smell of wood smoke mixes with the musty earth as we look in each other’s eyes. In this moment we are connected by our instincts. We are brothers.
As my index finger begins to pressure the trigger, I whisper “Thank you” out loud.
Bradley Carleton is executive director of Sacred Hunter.org, a nonprofit that seeks to educate the public on the spiritual connection of man to nature and raises funds for Traditions Outdoor Mentoring.org, which mentors at-risk young men in outdoor pursuits.