The 37 Year Drought Continues

By Ben Smith:

At the beginning of March, I boldly proclaimed that this would be the year. The running joke of having an outdoor columnist that can’t kill a turkey would be over. I even went as far as saying that I’d think seriously about quitting my job if that meant I’d kill a bird. However, just like every other turkey season, hunting quickly took a backseat to baseball.

Throughout the years, I haven’t spent much time in the woods during turkey season. The goal this year was to at least double my time spent in pursuit of a turkey. I did that. Heck, I even tripled it. Most of that time was spent in silence watching tweety birds fly around, but I was there. My problem was that the turkeys just wouldn’t cooperate. I’d head to the woods with great anticipation of a thundering gobbler only to leave feeling defeated and frustrated.

By mid-April, I’d all but given up hope of killing a bird this year. Time was running out, baseball was ramping up even more, and the birds that I could hunt just weren’t around any longer. All it took was one phone call with an old friend and my turkey ambitions were reignited. Suddenly, I had the urge to give it one more shot before the season ended. This particular friend, Nick, has always had turkeys on his land and he’s a great hunter. He let me know that there were still a few birds left on his place and that I should come up and give it a whirl. For the next few days leading up to the hunt, all I could think about was turkeys. I went to bed thinking about them and when I woke up, they were the first thing that I thought of. It didn’t help that my buddy, David, had just bagged his first bird of the season. That, along with the hundreds of turkey kills that I was seeing online, had me more fired up than I was when the season began.

I sprang from the bed on the morning of the hunt like a kid heading to Disney. Not once did I hit the snooze button. I jumped up and cut the fan off and was dressed before the blades could stop spinning. Today was going to be the day that I ended the “turkey curse”. There was a slight chill in the air and the barometric pressure was high. Surely, we’d be hearing turkeys gobble soon. After meeting Nick, we headed down a washed out dirt road in his truck before coming to a gate at the edge of a pasture. The sun was beginning to peak, lighting the pasture up. We paused for a few minutes listening intently for any sign of birds. Nothing. I was a little shocked to not hear a bird, but Nick said they’d been gobbling a little later than usual over the last few days. He decided we should move on, so we began our walk down a trail through the woods that led to a familiar spot for me.

About ten years ago, I went deer hunting on Nick’s place. The location that I hunted was a pipeline toward the back of the property. This particular pipeline has one of the steepest hills in Mississippi that you can imagine. When I say it almost goes straight up, I’m not exaggerating. From the top of the hill one can see what seems like for miles. It’s a beautiful spot, but it’s a heckuva climb from the bottom. That afternoon, I was fortunate enough to kill an 8-point. At the time, it was one of the better bucks that I’d ever killed. After the shot, I made my way back to the four-wheeler and down the steep hill to retrieve my buck. I loaded him up and started to head back when I realized that there was no way I was driving the four-wheeler up this hill with the deer on the back. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts (poor cell signal) to get in touch with Nick to ask him what to do, I took another trail back to the house. This route took over an hour for me to get back. When I returned, Nick was there laughing wondering what in the world took me so long. My response was simply, “That hill” and he understood.

Today, the hill looks every bit as daunting as it did back then. It didn’t take long, and Nick heard a gobbler in the distance. We headed down the hill and all I could think of was having to climb it back out. As long as I was carrying a gobbler on my back, I wasn’t worried about it. After walking a few hundred yards, our bird ripped out a loud gobble from the woods. Confident we could call him in, we slipped into the woods and got set up. Nick called a few times and the bird responded with a loud gobble. He was coming!

At this moment, my heart starts to beat faster. I force myself to breathe as normal as possible. Soon, two birds come into view about 80 yards through the woods. It’s finally going to happen. After 37 years, I’m finally going to kill a turkey. My heart rate increases even more, and my breathing intensifies. I can hear them drumming, getting closer with each second. At this point, all I need is for them to close the distance another 40 yards. I’m a mere moment from a long time dream coming true. Suddenly, all heck breaks loose behind me.

Five deer come crashing through the woods almost right at us. I lose sight of the birds momentarily. Behind the deer…a little house dog. There’s no way this is happening! Not now!! I snap my head back around and the birds have vanished. The little dog barks happily as he runs past us chasing the deer. Nick stands up bewildered by what just happened. He can’t believe it. Everything was so perfect. We had 1,100 acres to hunt, and this dog and these deer chose the two acres that we were on to crash our party.

My heart sank deep in my chest. I felt nauseous. As surprised as Nick was, I knew immediately what happened. It was my turkey curse. It may be the biggest punch to the gut that I’ve ever experienced while hunting any animal…and I’ve had plenty. Another year, another year without a turkey. Walking out, I wondered how it could get any worse…then I looked up at that hill.

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