The early-spring sun was getting warm as I walked the mountain trail out of the turkey woods. I glanced at my watch; 11:45 a.m. My throat was dry, and I was looking forward to a cold drink at the campsite.
It was 1986, and I was hunting in northwestern New Jersey. As I reached the edge of the campground, I saw a man dressed in camo. He was holding a hickory switch and knocking down weeds along the campsite road.
“How ya doing there, young fella?” he asked.
I lamented that I hadn’t experienced any luck, and he said two other hunters had shot a couple of jakes. I introduced myself as Tom.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Hampton,” I replied.
He gave me a quizzical look.
“Do you know Eddie — Eddie from Hampton?” he said.
“He’s a big turkey hunter, and I see him once in a while.”
“And your name is?”
“My name is Boss. Henry D. Boss.”
We shook hands and wished each other luck.
That marked the start of a long friendship with Henry. Every spring afterward, I looked forward to my visits with him. To say Henry was entertaining is an understatement. He was witty, helpful and comical, and he knew a lot about turkeys.
I always believed that one hour with Henry was equal to three turkey hunting seminars. If you gave Henry a cold drink and a comfortable chair, class was in session. His advice covered topics such as how turkeys behave before flyup and spots that produce gobblers year after year.
His son, Howard, and Henry’s longtime friend, Russell, told me about an out-of-state hunting trip Henry had taken. Henry was dropped off in the dark, and the rest of the party drove miles away to another spot. At midday, the group returned to the truck and noticed Henry’s hunting vest — with his calls and shells — on the back seat.
“Henry is going to be ticked off at somebody,” they said.
When they reached Henry, he was standing by the road.
“Henry, we’re sorry, we didn’t know about the vest and … .”
Henry smiled, reached down to the embankment and hauled up a gobbler.
“I had one shell in my pocket,” he said.
“But what about the calls?” someone asked.
“I used my mouth.”
Henry associated people with where they lived. I was always greeted with, “How you doing there, Hampton?” even though he knew my name. My buddy, Johnny, once called Henry in a panic about NWTF banquet tickets. Henry asked where John lived, and John replied, “Hampton,” Henry thought for a moment and said, “Oh yeah, the Hampton boys. Yes, I have your tickets.”
At the campsite, Henry reminded me of an old-time police officer walking the neighborhood beat. Once, we were talking by a trout stream when a vehicle stopped atop the bridge. It was a conservation officer. He leaned out the window and bellowed, “Hey Henry, you staying out of trouble?”
“No, I’m trying to keep you in business,” Henry replied. Just then, a woman’s voice startled me.
“How you doing, Mr. Boss?”
I turned to see a woman in her mid-20s pushing a stroller with twin baby boys in tow. Henry grinned.
“Gretchen, are those two wearing you out?” he said.
“I guess you could say that,” she said.
Henry said, “That’s Gretchen from Sussex.”
I asked myself if there was anyone Henry didn’t know.
Henry was also a very giving person. In the early years of the New Jersey turkey restoration project, he often volunteered, even if he had to wake at 1 a.m. to do chores on his farm. Gobbler surveys, poult counts — you name it, he did it. He also routinely allowed youth hunters to turkey hunt on his beautiful farm.
Henry’s son, Howard, told me Henry would often come home after a week of hunting with half his truck filled with gear and the other filled with other people’s trash.
Some years, Henry wasn’t at the campsite. He hunted Pennsylvania or New York or had other things to do. During those times, I felt cheated. I looked forward to seeing Henry as much as turkey hunting. In retrospect, I believe Henry was so popular because he was such a likable guy. A half-hour after you met him, you felt like you had known him your entire life.
Henry died on July 23, 2008, at age 79. If you never met him, you missed out. If you were lucky enough to be his acquaintance, count your blessings. So long Henry, and may the birds always be gobbling.
Your friend, Tom. You know, Tom from Hampton.