Moments Like This
By Nancy Rodriguez
“Move quickly!” The tall damp grass muffles our foot falls, as we try to avoid an early morning face plant brought on by some unforeseen object in the dark. The sun has just started to illuminate the inky sky, as gobbles echo down the valley. We race toward the avian thunder coming from a roosting tree ahead, praying our movement will go unnoticed. A large oak tree 50 yards out appears to be the perfect end point of our mad scramble. The three of us slide into position like a baseball player stealing home plate. Within minutes (that seem like hours) there is a chorus of hair raising gobbles, pounding heartbeats, a fire red head bobbing through the brilliant sea of green, and an ever so quiet click of a safety being released…
My 16 year old niece, Audrey has drawn a turkey hunt in our home state of California. She has asked my husband, Joe and I to join her on the adventure and she let us know that she is determined to drive home with a cooler full of fresh turkey meat!
On opening morning of her hunt, the three of us start the 2.5 mile hike under a moonless sky, long before sun up. Our pant legs get soaked from the dew covered grass, as we meander through the dense oak trees and rolling hills. We crest the top of a ridge, plant ourselves against some trees and listen for lonely gobblers still in the roost, broadcasting their position to anything willing to listen. Within minutes we hear one, but it’s a ways off. We grab our gear and the race begins to pinpoint the roosting area. The gobbles become louder as we close the distance in the dark. In time, the morning twilight reveals the lay of the land and thunderous gobbles rumble through the crisp spring air. Who doesn’t love turkey hunting?
We glance to the oak tree we want for our set up, lean over to reduce our profile, and sprint to the designated spot. Once there I scramble out in front of us a few yards, quickly set up a lone Avian X hen decoy, and slide back into position next to Audrey. I range several trees and whisper the ranges. I look into Audrey’s eyes and I can see she is ready. Joe strategically sets up about 10 yards behind the two of us and preps the play list.
The birds are out of the roost and the chess match begins. Joe calls softly and a few gobblers respond. Time passes and the sequence continues. Joe calls again and the birds respond but they are not getting any closer. A stand off begins and we wait to see who’s resolve will break first. The three of us sit frozen in time, with only our eyes slowly moving back and forth. Audrey has the gun propped on her knee pointed in the direction of the last gobble. Time passes and Joe softly calls again and instantly gets a response. We sit silent hoping the gobbling birds will lose their cool and come after the lonely hen they think is leaving. Minutes tick off the clock as we sit in silence and then the valley grows quiet. I begin to wonder whether we have lost the birds. Our eyes scan the horizon for any sign of movement when Audrey whispers, “I see one…in the trees.” I swear our hearts are pounding in unison and I’m sure the turkeys can hear them. The gobbler is heading our way but we lose him as he drops below the rise of a hill in front of us. The two of us stare down the draw willing the turkey to appear and come closer. We wait…and wait…and wait. Suddenly a vibrant red head appears through the green grass, as the gobbler is quietly moving toward us in search of the love sick hen he heard earlier. I whisper, “Get ready!” Audrey moves like molasses, slowly lining up in the direction of her quarry’s travel. I look to the tree he needs to clear to be within range and pray he keeps closing the distance to the decoy. Cautiously he walks, stops, looks, and repeats. The wait is agonizing. He finally clears the tree that’s within range and puts on the brakes. I can tell he’s getting nervous so I whisper, “Shoot!” Within seconds the Hevi 13 speeds down the valley and ensures the fact that the cooler will not be going home empty.
Audrey and I walk up to the downed bird, sit next to it, and take a moment to give thanks. Looking around, the sun is now shining through the trees and the green rolling hills seem to glow in the low morning light. The woods have woken up now and the birds welcome the new day with their songs. Nature’s splendor is so beautiful.
We take photos, clean the gobbler, and put it in Audrey’s backpack for the long hike out. As we meander through the woods, I look at the two smiling faces along side me and realize that this is what I love most about hunting. Moments like this…