KEVIN TATE: Best reputations made every spring are for the birds

KEVIN TATE

KEVIN TATE

I should have known I was being set up. I’d suspected the tales of this turkey and the directions to his location were leading me nowhere to hear and see nothing but, in fact, the results were just the opposite. The problem was seeing and hearing was all I did and, I suspect, that was all anyone who later played this turkey by the rules was ever going to do.

I was a guest of a friend and his cohorts and we’d spent the night before opening day talking about turkeys and the reputations they build. The most revered of the birds eventually earn nicknames. The oldest turkey hunters of my acquaintance tell of one old strutter that lived near Natchez they named “Al Capone” because of the way he enforced silence on the rest of the gobblers thereabouts. I told that story and my friends immediately said they had a bird for me to try.

Sure enough, first light of the next morning found him where I’d been told he would be. He was roosted in the very top of a longleaf pine that stood inches short of requiring lights to warn away low-flying aircraft. Daylight arrived and he held his perch, gobbling at everything and at nothing for what seemed like an hour. He gobbled at crows. He gobbled at owls. He gobbled at the soft yelps I offered and at the cuts the approaching hens threw.

Once he’d called every hen in the township to him he flapped his wings twice and locked into a glide that carried him to the middle of a freshly-replanted cutover, lighting not closer than 100 yards to any edge. New puff balls of seedling longleafs topped rows mounded as if for cotton. The deepest defile between any of these might have hidden a first-grader lying prone, but I wasn’t the size of a first-grader when I was in first grade, much less now. There were occasional dozer piles in the field and I could have positioned one of those between us for a sneak if he’d been alone, but he had an acre of hens helping stand guard so that was out. Needless to say, my calling made no impression at all. That morning was a Saturday. I skipped work on Monday still trying to solve this puzzle. When I came back into camp defeated again I didn’t have a turkey, but I had a new respect for the game and the pursuit, and the turkey had a name.

“I don’t know if I have the authority or experience to bestow a nickname here, but I’m going to call this turkey the bus driver,” I told my friends, “because he’s taking all of us to school.”

They approved.

Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.