I clearly remember that bone-chilling Saturday morning in the blind. The heat of a long hike made me welcome the cold at first, but within 5 minutes, I felt as if crystals of ice were forming under my nose.
I sat shivering while dad staked out a plan. This was my first turkey hunt and he wanted everything to go as flawlessly as possible to make sure I came home with a prize bird – the first in our family. He had refused to bring his own gun. I was his top priority, but it was soon proven that I could shatter any preparations that would ensure a smooth hunt.
I shivered in the bleak weather like a loose window in the wind while dad laid out his plan of attack. “See that tree?” he asked. ”If a tom passes that tree, he’s in your range. As soon as he turns his head, blast him. It’ll be hard because any sudden movements will scare him away before you can even lift your barrel.”
Less than 10 minutes later, a timid gobble echoed through the woods. A surge of adrenaline rushed through my blood. I was a hair trigger ready to erupt with the slightest tap.
Dad began clucking away on his hen call. Another gobble rang out from the trees. It was slightly closer. Dad called again, provoking a gobble from 40 yards.
Dad whispered to me: “He’s just behind the tree. Open fire once he moves out to the open.” But I couldn’t see a thing.
Dad silently repositioned me and cleared out some brush, and there stood the largest, juiciest most handsome tom on the farm. He strutted to the tree, his chest pulsing to the size of a weather balloon with every step. My shotgun was a little too far to the left. Dad’s voice ran on a loop in my subconscious: “Any sudden movements will scare him away before you can even lift your barrel.” But now he was behind me urging me to shoot.
I was paralyzed by numbness and bewilderment. I vaguely remember a calm but persistent whisper saying, “Shoot him, Kyle. Shoot him.” But I was unable to comprehend anything but the flood of thoughts overthrowing my common sense.
I was at a full table with my luscious bird at the center. The whole family complimented my kill and thanked me for making this Thanksgiving one that would be recalled years later. I savored every greasy morsel of my drumstick. The flavors mingled in my mouth with sweet cranberries and piping hot green bean casserole.
Dad enthusiastically went over the story of this day with ruthless exaggeration while our hunting friends sat by the fire with hot coffee. I was on the couch with my hot cocoa and toasted cinnamon roll. I could feel the flames of the fire on my face.
“Shoot him, Kyle. Shoot!” Dad whispered frantically, bringing me back to frigid reality. The bird was close enough to hit with a pine cone. But my gun was misaligned by the width of a pine needle.
Steam rose over every breath I took. My hands were so numb their fingers were frozen and fixed. I had never been so miserably cold.
There was a desperate whimper and another plea. “Shooooot himmm. For the love of God, shoot him.”
Dad turned so red he looked like he may have been about to implode, but he didn’t want to risk the noise.
When I recovered from my leave of absence, I noticed my tom was just to my right, followed by a hen. Both strutted around the blind, cocky and curious. The tom poked its head into the blind, almost directly over my barrel, almost sending me bursting into laughter, almost giving the old man a conniption.
“Give me the gun,” he whispered with a voice shaky and distorted. I couldn’t quite understand what he meant until I was practically thrown over the blind trying to keep my grip on the 20 gauge as it was torn from my frozen hands.
On every unsuccessful hunt since then, I have gone over all the mistakes of that day. Every deer hunt, I think how extraordinary it would be if a five-point buck wandered obliviously toward my deer stand and stared into my scope.
But I never see any bucks. All I see is that turkey’s magnificent half-moon of feathers silhouetted against the morning mist the split second before he vanished.