February is a happy and busy month at the Smith household. Baseball season gets into full swing, my middle daughter has a birthday, and my wife can be at ease knowing that my deer hunting season is finally over. Even though I officially called my season quits a few weeks ago, Amy has had to be on pins and needles waiting for me to declare “one more trip” to the camp, since the season was technically still going. I stayed true to my word, though, and left my weapons of destruction locked away. It’s not that I wasn’t tempted to go again. Seeing all of the big bucks falling across the state kept my interest peaked. However, the time to make another trip has come and gone, and that’s okay with me.
There is one thing that I want to do this spring that I’ve never done before, though, and that is to kill a turkey. When people hear that I’ve never killed a Mississippi gobbler, it usually comes with some shock. How can someone who proclaims to be an avid outdoorsman never have killed a turkey? It’s a pretty simple answer: baseball. The Mississippi turkey season happens to coincide with the peak of the college baseball season. Usually, by the time that February gets here my time to hit the woods and the water takes a backseat to my favorite activity.
If you’ve ever killed a big buck, or caught a huge largemouth bass, you’ve likely experienced that adrenaline rush and excitement. It’s that feeling when you can’t stop your hands from shaking, and your heart beats so hard you can feel it in your throat. There are three places that I still get that feeling: the woods, the water, and the baseball field. Opening day is just around the corner and I’ve already got all the feels. I’ve had 16 opening days at William Carey, and each one brings new excitement and an adrenaline rush. The euphoric feeling I get from starting a new season is what keeps me going each year. I love the smells and sounds of the ballpark on opening day, from the fresh cut grass to the sound of the crowd entering the stadium. I love hearing the sounds of leather popping as the guys warm up to play. As I stand at attention and the Star Spangled Banner plays, my heart will beat so fast that I nearly pass out. There’s only one other sound that gets my adrenaline pumping this hard.
Since baseball season and turkey season happen simultaneously, I’ve only been turkey hunting a little over a handful of times. I’ve never killed a tom myself, but I’ve been on a couple of trips where people that I was with harvested a bird. The sound of a turkey gobbling in the woods is a hard sound to beat, though. Just the thought of hearing that distinct gobble break the morning silence is enough to excite me. I’ll never forget the first time that I really got to be a part of the best concert in the woods that I’d ever heard.
I’ve mentioned before that my uncle is one of the main reasons that I hunt and fish today. If you can do it in the woods or on the water, he has. A few years ago he invited me over to Lawrence County, where he lives, to go turkey hunting with him and my cousin. My cousin, appropriately named Hunter, has also had the advantage of growing up under the tutelage of one of the best outdoorsmen that I’ve ever known. Even so, neither one of us can hold a candle to Barry McCool in the woods.
We got up incredibly early in order to get in the woods well ahead of daylight. There was a chill in the April air as I loaded up into the truck to head to a spot where my Uncle Barry felt confident there’d be a bird. I can remember shaking in the truck along the way to our spot, but I can’t remember if it was from being cold or excited. It didn’t matter anyway because we didn’t stay in the truck long enough for the heat to even get warm before we arrived at our destination. We walked a little ways through the woods before setting up a decoy at the edge of a small field. The tree line at the edge of the field was barely visible by the light of the moon. After setting up a decoy, we backed up into the woods about 30 yards from the field. Hunter and I sat up against two different trees that were next to each other, and Uncle Barry set up a few yards behind us. The sunrise began to cut through the darkness and the action soon began.
There was a gobbler that was roosted in a tree on the other side of the field from where we were sitting. My uncle hooted like an owl and the turkey returned chorus with a loud gobble. When the sun was up my uncle began calling to the turkey. The turkey would respond and seemed to be getting closer with each gobble. I was looking to my left when I heard my uncle say “don’t move.” To me, don’t move means just what it sounds like, don’t move. My eyes were cut to the left so hard that my vision began to get blurry. With time feeling like it was standing still, and me holding my far left gaze, I felt as if I was about to pass out. Suddenly, there was a loud BOOM and I’m pretty sure my heart skipped a beat.
Hunter happened to be set up right where the turkey came in and he delivered a fatal shot to the bird. Uncle Barry and Hunter both jumped up quick to retrieve the turkey. I was still trying to get my eyes to adjust after almost blacking out and then being scared to death by a gunshot blast. It was my first experience of being on a hunt where a turkey was successfully called in and killed. Being there that day with my uncle and my cousin was a hunt that I’ll never forget. I’ve still yet to kill my own turkey, but I’m hoping to change my luck this spring. I’ve had a lot of firsts in the past year, maybe 2021 will provide me with another.