“In the Army,” the recruiting ads used to say, “you’ll do more before 9:00 o’clock than most people do all day.” Turkey hunting can be the same. It was 8:37 a.m. when I pulled the trigger on my second and last tom of the season.  Not only had I done more before 9:00 o’clock than most people would do all day, I’d done it with 23 minutes to spare. My reward was the remainder of a long spring day to do absolutely nothing. The day I shoot a turkey is my favorite day of the year.

I sat in the field with the bird, aware that I only lay my hands on a turkey once or twice a season. It would be at least another year before it might happen again. I paid extra attention to the colors of the head, which, like the colors of a fresh-caught trout, would soon fade.

I took pictures, texted friends, and sat in the field next to the bird, not wanting turkey season to be over. While I’ve shot birds on cold, blustery days, more often than not, it seems like the day I tag my bird is sunny, still, cool in the morning, and headed for the 70s in the afternoon. Every day at that time of year, the leaves are greener than they were yesterday, and not as green as they’ll be tomorrow as spring races toward summer.

Spring is my favorite season precisely because it is so fleeting. That’s especially so in the upper Midwest. Here, between winter and spring, we squeeze a fifth season called “more winter” that cuts into our spring days. A perfect April or May morning is an event to savor. Add a punched tag, and you’d better appreciate it, because you’ll only get a handful days like this in your life.

Overcoming inertia, I gathered my gear and packed my load out. A turkey on your back never gets old. It’s just heavy enough to make you feel like you’re doing something, but not so heavy that you actually exert yourself unpleasantly as I have, say, dragging a deer or hauling a limit of geese in a sled full of decoys. Still, the walk to the truck was the better part of a mile, and, satisfying as the walk out may have been, it felt good to set it all down, too.

John Hafner Photography

Back at home, I skipped the traditional tagged-turkey-day beer in favor of a Ranch Water. Lunch was turkey-leg taco made from my first bird, and for that, tequila, lime, and Topo Chico on ice seemed like the right accompaniment. The only time I allow myself a drink before evening is the day I shoot a turkey. I have tried, and failed, to extend this custom to other types of hunting. (And after I’m done hunting for the day, to be clear.) A couple of years ago, I decided a 45-minute morning limit at first light on the dove opener deserved a celebratory beer. I drank it in the shower and was tucking myself under the covers when my wife, on her way to work, came in and said, “My car won’t start.  Get out of bed.”  I took that dead battery as a sign and now reserve day drinks for successful turkey hunts only.

I nursed my Ranch Water on the sunny deck, e-checked my turkey on my phone, and sat until the tequila and the early morning alarms caught up with me. Zeke, my GSP, had been waiting for the moment when I would lay down on the couch. He clambered up and nestled next to and on top of me. At 60-plus pounds, Zeke is less lap dog and more furry, weighted blanket. With Zeke’s head on my belly, we both fell asleep. Later I’d wake up, cook dinner, show the bird to my wife, butcher it, and go to bed early. I nodded off thinking that while this day was over, I could hold onto to it in my memory forever, and I had spent every minute of it exactly as I wanted to.