The heavy footsteps shuffled closer, and I knew it was coming.
“Hey Lovett,” the voice said. “You takin’ me turkey hunting this spring?”
It was my co-worker Big Dave, an aspiring gobbler hunter but skeptic of conventional turkey hunting wisdom.
“Sure,” I replied. “Where do you want to go?”
“What do you mean?” he said. “We’ll just go to the wildlife area here by the office. There are always turkeys there.”
Oh boy. I knew what was next.
“That’s the problem with you outdoors writers,” Big Dave said. “You’ve perpetuated this belief that turkeys are these wild, spooky, almost mythical creatures, and that you can’t kill one unless you go to some secret spot and use all the latest gear. We’re just gonna go right out here, and we’ll call one in, and I’ll kill it.”
“Well, it’s not usually that easy,” I said.
“Yeah, right,” Big Dave responded. “I saw a bunch of turkeys by the highway the other day, and they just stood and looked at me. Meanwhile, you were printing another article about how to pattern your shotgun. What a crock.”
Turkey hunting with Big Dave? Sounded like a hoot.
Big Dave is a great guy. He’s a couple of inches shy of 7 feet tall and played college basketball at Michigan State in the 1980s. Years removed from the court, he now disdains organized athletics but loves the outdoors, including fishing, duck hunting and even bow-hunting.
However, when Dave asked me to take him hunting, he’d never killed a turkey. That would be my task, and it promised to be an adventure.
I’m not suggesting that Big Dave wasn’t a good outdoorsman. He was just cynical about the gear, gadgets and tactics that fill most hunting magazines. He also enjoyed stirring the pot above all else, so I knew our hunt would be filled with good-natured jabs and smart-alecky comments. I also realized that if I made any mistakes, they’d be played out again and again in comic fashion for audiences throughout my company.
One May morning, we finally got together, per Dave’s request, at the wildlife area near our office. Astonishingly, no one else was there. In another surprising turn, two birds started ripping it after I owl-hooted in the darkness.
“Perfect,” I thought. “I’ll really get to show Dave what a textbook hunt is like.”
You’ve probably guessed what happened next: The turkeys flew down, gobbled a bit on the ground and then high-tailed it the other way.
Big Dave and I went after them — he said I walked him into the ground in a wild goose chase — but never caught up with the birds. Then we circled around the lake — he said I took him on a death march — and actually got on another bird. However, the turkey had hens and gave us the slip.
“What happened?” Dave said.
“What do you mean what happened?” I replied. “The turkey had hens. He wasn’t coming, and we couldn’t move on him.”
“Why didn’t you call him in?” Dave said, barely concealing the delight on his face. “I thought you were some kind of expert.”
I chuckled and then changed the subject to a topic that would command Dave’s attention: breakfast.
And that was my biggest mistake of the morning. I was hungry, so I ordered a pretty big omelet. Worse, Dave bought breakfast. Worse yet, I ran into a friend at the restaurant, and we talked about the gobblers we’d killed at his place.
Dave took everything in and waited for his moment to strike.
“Yeah, Lovett took me turkey hunting this morning,” he said later that morning at the office. “First he played his tissue-paper-and-comb call and then wondered why the gobbler didn’t come in.”
“That’s not what happened,” I said.
Too late. He was rolling.
“Then he made me take him to breakfast and ordered the most expensive thing on the menu,” Dave said.
“You ordered that, too,” I replied.
“Then he starts talking with his landowner buddy,” Dave continued. “‘Hey, am I comin’ out to hunt your place this year? Ah, great. Oh, this guy? Him? No, I just gar-holed him on some public land this morning.’”
Cue the uproarious laughter. The hunt had worked out better than Big Dave could have hoped, and he was eager to go again and gather more material.
A few days later, Big Dave and I met again at the local wildlife area. That time, someone was there, so we had to switch gears.
“Where do you want to go?” Dave said. “And don’t tell me you’re not takin’ me to any of your good spots.”
“No, no, I have a really good place we can go,” I said, trying my best to conceal the fabrication. “Follow me.”
Truthfully, it wasn’t too much of a stretch. I headed to some state land where I’d guided a friend to birds a couple of years earlier. Would it be sure-kill good? No. Would it at least give Dave a taste of turkey hunting? Perhaps. Might it let me avoid further office embarrassment? I hoped so.
I led Big Dave down the service road toward a stand of red pines that typically held a roosted gobbler or two. When we reached a clearing near the pines, a gobble erupted directly in front of us. Another followed. Big Dave turned his head, looking for instruction.
“Crawl up to that pine at the edge of the clearing,” I whispered. “I’ll hang back here and call. Face your body to the right, and angle your gun barrel left toward the gobblers.”
That seemed straightforward enough. However, I hadn’t considered the consequences of telling a very large man to crawl through thick pines to a meadow edge. I’ve never been face to face with a bear, but I can’t imagine that sounds much different.
When Big Dave had finished rumbling to the pine, I started tree-yelping. The gobblers responded furiously on the limb and continued after hitting the ground. But they seemed to hang up in the pines.
“Come on,” I thought. “This needs to work.”
Just as I started to get nervous, a turkey head popped up above the meadow grass bordering the pines. Several more followed — two white, the rest blue — and within seconds, Big Dave was surrounded.
I was at least 25 feet behind Dave, so I couldn’t tell him that two of the eight birds were jakes, and that he should ease his gun to the right for a shot. Before he could react, the birds passed him and came to investigate my calling. I stayed motionless and prayed that the turkeys would drift back past Big Dave.
They did, and he was ready. However, the birds came to his right, and per my instructions, he’d set up for a shot to his left. So, Big Dave — the giant lump next to a scrawny red pine — had to shift his body 90 degrees to the right.
He managed about 89 of those degrees before the birds spotted his movement and spooked. Big Dave still got a shot at one of the jakes, but he missed, sending turkeys flying everywhere.
Here’s my version of what happened next: I ran to Big Dave’s side and asked him what had happened. Then, I assured him that it had been a tough shot and that every turkey hunter missed a bird or two. Afterward, we went to breakfast.
Here’s Big Dave’s version of the events. “So Lovett tells me to crawl through the woods to the biggest tick nest in the county. Then he says, ‘The gobbler will come from the left, so point your gun that way.’ Then the bird comes from the right, so I missed. Lovett comes up, sneers at me and says, ‘What in the (expletive) are you doing?’ And people wonder why kids don’t get into hunting. It’s because of guys like Lovett who mock beginning hunters. I’m surprised he didn’t tell me to read another article on patterning my shotgun. Then he made me take him to breakfast again, and he ordered an omelet that would have choked a horse.”
I don’t need to tell you how many times that story has been repeated and embellished in the years since that hunt. Hey, Big Dave’s version is funny. It has no basis in truth, but it’s funny, and people seem to like Big Dave’s spin better. I guess I do, too.
This past spring, Big Dave shot his first turkey. He called me that night to tell me about it.
“Yeah, three of them flew down and ran right in, and my cousin and I doubled,” he said.
“It was really great to finally see turkeys do what they’re supposed to do.”
“Congratulations,” I said. “Did you use your tissue-paper-and-comb call? Hopefully you and your cousin had patterned your shotguns.”
That opened everything up, and Big Dave and I traded jabs for a few more minutes. We don’t work together any more, so we had to have fun when the opportunity presented itself.
Maybe I’ll get to take Big Dave turkey hunting again next spring. After all, he’s a veteran now. I’m also kind of hungry for another omelet.