At about 10 a.m., my friend Paulie and I topped the knoll at the edge of the oak stand, where the field came into view and stretched with a slow roll to the next hardwood ridge. The day before, just after the noon closing, we’d stood in the same spot, staring in disgust. We’d gone that entire morning without a gobble, and there on a rise in the middle of this field stood a big, fat gobbler strutting in circles.
We figured the bird would be back in the area around midmorning, and we’d come to meet him. I put a diaphragm call in my mouth and started clucking. Sure enough, the bird gobbled from the field-about 150 yards out and to our right-out of sight behind a small island of blackberry brambles and birch saplings. We set up near an old stone wall, along a row of huge oaks that stretched downhill to our right, bordering the field. I clucked again, and the tom appeared from behind the island-gobbled, puffed himself up, and pranced. I turned my head slowly away from the bird and clucked softly. The tom deflated and walked straight toward us.
At about 40 yards I clicked the safety off andÂ¿Â¿Â¿boom! Only I hadn’t pulled the trigger, and neither had Paulie. The shot had come from one of the big oaks a stone’s throw to our immediate right; the bird was now a black lump in the green field.
“Oh my God,” Paulie whispered. “You gotta be kidding me. Did you hear anyone calling?”
“No,” I answered. “But how could he not hear us? I don’t believe this.”
We just sat there, waiting to see what would happen next. But nothing did for a solid five minutes.
“What’s this guy waiting for?” Paulie asked. Then, from the far side of one of the big oaks, he appeared, bent forward and shuffling toward the bird-one careful step at a time.
He was short and thin, wearing a brown flannel shirt and gray work pants, which were jacked up to midtorso with black suspenders and riding high above the ankle where a pair of gray tube socks peeked from his work boots. His face was round and wrinkled, sporting a thick, white mustache. He had to be pushing 80.
“Holy crap, it’s Grandpa Jones,” Paulie whispered. “Grandpa Jones just shot our turkey.”
“Well, what do you want to do?” I asked.
“Might as well go talk to him, I guess.”
We walked over.
“Say, that’s a nice bird,” Paulie said as we approached. The old man looked up, a little startled. Then his eyes brightened and seemed to shrink behind a cluster of deepening crow’s-feet. His mouth opened and stretched into a gaping grin.
“Hi, boys,” he said. “Now, what are your names?”
“Aaah,” I said, not expecting the question, “I’m Dave, and this is my friend, Paulie.”
“I’m Stan,” he said, placing one hand on my elbow and shaking the other in the general direction of the turkey. “Now, Dave, ain’t that something?”
“Yeah,” I said, “that’s a heck of a bird.”
He reached across me and pinched Paulie’s arm lightly. “Ain’t that something, Paulie?” The old man was giddy.
“Oh yeah, Stan,” Paulie said. “It’s a beauty.”
“You know, boys, I didn’t think I’d get him,” Stan said, still grinning. “I used to be a pretty good deer hunter, but these turkeys…I’m not so good with these turkeys. Hard to know what they’re going to do, you know. But this one…geez, this one walked right past me.” He looked at the bird and laughed. “When my son sees this bird, well, he’s going to hoot.”
“That beard’s got to be close to 10 inches, Stan,” Paulie said.
Stan smiled up at Paulie. “But you see, Paulie, I didn’t think I’d get him, ’cause I’ve been sitting up here all morning, every morning, since the opener. But today he came right to me. Ain’t that something?” He knelt down slowly and stroked the bird.
“Not that I mind sitting. Truth is, it’s kind of a nice thing being up here in the morning. I got my chair overr there,” he said, pointing toward one of the big oaks, beside which was parked an old lawn chair with a brown blanket draped over the arms. Next to it stood a small cooler with an ashtray on top.
“You see,” Stan continued, “my son-his name’s Bobby-well, he’s got permission to drive me up here in his truck. He gets me settled at first light before he goes to work, then picks me up on his lunch break.” The old man laughed to himself again. “You wait till he sees this bird. He’s going to hoot, ’cause he brings me up here every morning, and every afternoon he asks me where my bird is.” Stan bumped my elbow with his. “You know, he thinks I’m too old to be doing this.”
“Did you call to the bird, Stan?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said. “I’m no good with those things. I got lucky, you see, because I heard a hen up there along those oaks. I think he was heading after her, and…”
He went silent. His immense grin fell flat, and he looked embarrassed. “Oh, geez,” he said. “That wasn’t you boys calling, was it?”
I felt sick. I wished I hadn’t said anything about calling. In one queasy moment, I realized what we’d given Stan: a morsel of glory, with the power to make him feel right in his world. And I realized what Stan had given us: the chance to make him feel goodÂ¿Â¿Â¿and a bird we’d remember better than any we’d shot ourselves. I didn’t know what to say.
“No, no,” Paulie blurted. “No, we were just walking the trail back in the woods behind you there, and we heard you shoot. So we came up to take a look at the bird. It sure is a nice one.”
Stan looked down at the bird, then up at Paulie. His grin started to return. “You know, boys,” he said, “I didn’t think I’d get him, ’cause I’ve been sitting there in my chair for a long time. But when I saw him coming up that riseÂ¿Â¿Â¿well, it’s a good thing I took my heart pill this morning.”