White Oak Mountain Ranger: Opening Day
Friday, April 9, 2021
“The first turkey that ever came to me on the ground did it a long time ago. I sat there with my hands shaking and my breath short and my heart hammering so hard I could not understand why he could not hear it. The last turkey that came to me last spring had exactly the same effect, and the day that this does not happen to me is the day that I quit.” - Tom Kelly
“The turkeys eyes are such that he can see a bumblebee turn a somersault on the verge of the horizon.” - Archibald Rutledge
The opening morning of Tennessee turkey season inevitably brings some amount of relief.
After what feels like too much of a long layoff with the double barrel and a string of flash floods constantly interrupting crappie fishing, sitting in the early spring woods brings respite and a time for introspection.
With time spent on the ground in budding spring, comes a fair chance at a dance with a Meleagris Gallopavo feeling the urges that make the majestic and colorful ground eating birds vocal and amorous.
By the time I parked the jeep it was obvious that the flashlight was no longer necessary to get where I needed to sit and squirm. No good excuse was to be had and when this sort of tardiness is evident, (which seems to happen more frequently with every passing spring), I seem to quite often blow the whole affair. This is an easy excuse when the birds, from their roost in the big woods, manage to spot me on a clumsy approach in the grayness of the predawn light.
On this cold morning, I’m almost confident that I somehow managed to reach a big oak undetected when finally settled on the edge of a freshly planted strip of clover.
Hard labor equity might finally pay off. Thinking positive seems to come with any opening morning of every new season.
The sun filtered through the gray hardwoods and the dense brown mat of last fall’s leaf litter making the Privet and Cedar light up in vibrant shades of green that only early spring can bring. The clover matched the bright green hues, glistening with frost. Small birds in the hardwoods made calls I couldn’t seem to connect to the species until I actually saw the creature making the calls.
After so many years of doing this sort of thing I wondered why some little feathered songbird calls were still a mystery to me. I vowed that it was once again time to work on this particular problem.
Time drifted by, as time seems to drift, when you plant your yourself with your thoughts at the base of an Oak in the spring woods. Waiting for turkeys to address the early light with their distinctive voices leaves you time to worry about ticks, snakes and chiggers. It also seems to cleanse the mind of things that managed to keep you awake through the long winter nights.
That’s about the time you start hearing things. Was that a gobble? Was that a fly down cackle? Was that scratching in the leaves just over in the next hollow?
Sitting under a big Oak on a cold opening morning somehow makes an expensive hearing aide worth the trouble. More importantly; which direction did it come from? Maybe it was just another auditory hallucination, but it surely results in a decent pump from the old adrenal gland.
The adrenal gland may be the whole reason some of us hunt turkeys to begin with. Not too may birds that I can think of have the ability to result in a decent shot of adrenaline. Bald Eagles and road-rage birds aside, don’t even seem to do it like they used too.
Two hens show up first, and as they peck away frantically at the young clover, two or three unseen male birds begin to gobble at them from the edge of the field.
The adrenal gland slips effortlessly into high gear. Time flies out the window.
Shoulder to shoulder, wing tip to wing tip, two males strut up in neon red, white and blue, slowly entering the field’s edge.
The big birds remind me of British officers from the war of 1812. Tails spread, wings dragging the ground. Huge and in charge, festooned in military finery, gaudy and stiff like they were on some palace parade ground strutting like grand soldiers for some British King. The birds were doing all they could do to look all majestic, like warriors on a foreign parade ground before they ship off to the Americas to reclaim another land that they expect to conquer.
This parade is mesmerizing.
It’s a glorious sight that only a spring morning can deliver.
Suddenly this precession renders my bifocals with double vision. They close the distance into range for the side by side 10 gauge. Two big birds become four huge birds as I squint to make sense of what’s happening. This double vision thing has never happened before.
At least I’ve never had the occasion to use double vision as an excuse for missing before.
Slowly sliding the glasses from my nose, I realize that this fumble of a move was a huge mistake.
The closest hen, at about twenty yards, sees something she feels she needs to investigate and it’s me. She slowly investigates to within ten feet of my quaking position .
She suddenly cocks her grey head to one side and decides it’s time to let everyone in the world know that I appear to look stupid and all hardwood creatures in hearing distance should take immediate notice.
The whole procession, unfolding in my lap, jams to an abrupt halt, heads erect. All eyes are immediately on me and the hen at my feet.
This sort of ludicrous phenomenon replays itself every spring I think to myself as the safety is slowly eased off of the old double barrel.
The echo of the shot reverberates across the mountain like a cannon in the first salvo of every war ever fought with big guns and black powder.
All but one out of the ten or so birds take flight, and spring returns to the hardwoods, quiet and calm, following one brief and chaotic moment.
The greens become more intense as I step into the clover and retrieve the Tom and admire the finery of another opening day and the end of winter as we know it.
The parade, the march of the majestic birds, the hardwoods, with their grey and brown hues, soon to be renewed with budding green shoots of another season growing old, seems to bring solace and more introspection each year.
Some call it hunting. Some call it other things that aren’t so charitable.
Spring magic seems to me to be the best I can come up with.