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Turkey Trophies Keep Memories Alive

As I stumbled into the workroom, my arm grazed the pile of preserved turkey fans, sending them to the floor.

“That’s it,” I thought. “Something has to give.”

The “something,” of course, was my practice of keeping turkey parts — spurs, beards, fans, capes and mounts — as mementos of successful hunts. After two decades of piling feathered and scaled turkey parts in my basement workroom, I was running out of space — at least enough space to keep using the room for anything except admiring turkey parts.

It had started innocently, of course. There, in the southeastern corner of the room, was the fan and beard of my first turkey. I was so green at the time that I didn’t know enough to keep the spurs. To the right of the first trophy was the fan and beard of an Alabama jake, which was the first turkey I shot outside my home state of Wisconsin.

From there, my turkey hunting career progressed onto the next wall: biggest gobbler, first Missouri gobbler, first Minnesota gobbler, first Merriam’s and, at the center, the gorgeous cape of my first and only Gould’s. In the corner stood the fan from my first Rio Grande, which, astonishingly, I shot two years after the Gould’s.

As wall space filled through the years, things got interesting. A row of fans — mostly Easterns with a Merriam’s thrown in — covered one end of the work bench. A pile of fans and capes was stacked atop a plastic tub containing hunting clothing. Around it all, beards were nailed to boards in chronological order of harvest, and spurs were strung in crude fashion on decoy cord.

Too much? Yeah, probably. Yet when you admire a freshly killed turkey and remember the details of the hunt, it’s tough not to keep every possible remembrance — especially when you’re still relatively inexperienced.

To me, the trophies weren’t fodder for bragging rights or decorative wall hangings. No, they’re more like snapshots of days that deserve to be cherished. When I look at a spur or beard, I don’t think of trophy statistics. Instead, I remember a last-minute hunt that saved a Wisconsin season, or a hard-gobbling bird that charged across a flooded Missouri river. When I see a fan, I don’t think “grand slam.” Instead, I remember sunlight streaming through the mountain pines of Mexico, or thunderous pre-dawn gobbling from the Cheyenne River breaks in western South Dakota.

Since bumping into that pile of fans a few years ago, I’ve stopped keeping the tail fans of most turkeys. They all deserve to be preserved and remembered, of course, but space won’t allow it. I’ll never stop keeping beards and spurs. They don’t take up as much room, after all, and they have a bit more individual character.

The workroom is a bit cleaner nowadays, though I still feel funny when I don’t keep a fan. But I guess memories are paramount, so as long as I have those, I’m not missing out on anything. I’ll just have fewer turkey parts to take me down those paths.

T&TH Online Courses

Let’s shift from the past to the future. This winter and early spring, Turkey & Turkey Hunting will offer its new Spring Online Courses, which will give participants one-on-one calling instruction from the folks here at the magazine. We’re very excited about the project, which sprung from our first-ever online Webinar in Spring 2009. Click here for more about these Online Courses.

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