The Most Fortunate Turkey Hunt…Ever

Posted by on Apr 29, 2013 in Feature Articles | 0 comments

I would never have imagined in a million years what I was about to see when I opened my eyes and lifted my head from that sunny boulder protruding from the earth on the side of that peaceful mountain. But I saw it. The image lasted a mere second in reality, but has been burned into my mind forever. From this season forward, I will never think of turkey hunting the same. If not for one small but significant piece of evidence, no one would ever have a reason to believe such a story. I still can hardly believe it myself, and I can’t get it out of my mind.

Because of work obligations, I could not hunt the opening day of turkey hunting, 2013. It was the first opener I missed since I began hunting the birds some 7 years prior. Finally I had a chance to escape to the mountains of Okanogan County in north-central Washington 11 days into the season with my hunting buddy, Caleb Hancock.

The first morning was quiet until 9 o’clock, when on our way down from an area we affectionately call “Shitter Mountain,” we crossed paths with a gobbler that was most likely with hens. He was vocal, but we couldn’t coax him our way. He vanished up the rocky mountainside without us ever laying eyes on him. Sadly, that was the excitement for the day.

For the next 48 hours, we played cat and mouse with various turkeys that were mostly held up on private land at the base of the mountain. We jumped a few small groups of hens, but all else was quiet in the woods. Most of our time was spent sitting in known hotspots, occasionally calling for the boys to show themselves, but to no avail. It seemed as though the turkeys were educated in those 11 days of the season that we missed, and they were having nothing to do with us.

Every sight and sound was investigated closely: the burnt-out stump a hundred yards away—the one that looks exactly like the black, striated back of a turkey, the woodpecker down the mountain that could be confused with a faint gobble, the frequent low-pitched thumping sound that could have been a Tom beating his wings on the ground or even the stumbling of a heavy-footed gobbler—most likely just the reverberation from some distant noise, like an old cattle guard a mile away or even a far-off jet rumbling through the atmosphere. None materialized into what we had hoped. Heading into the last morning, this turkey-hunting trip was but a grueling hiking expedition; one that required getting up at 3:45 and carrying a 12-gauge shotgun around all day.

The last morning was clear and cold. Calling to the private-land turkeys proved to be an exercise in futility, so at 9 o-clock, we once again headed up Shitter Mountain in hopes of a wandering, lonely Tom. The trek to the top, which sits at near 4500 feet in elevation, was exhausting. I settled near the shaded base of a large pine, where I had experienced hunting success on a couple of different occasions years earlier. But with a t-shirt still damp from perspiration, the cool breeze left an unwelcome chill.

A sunny spot only a few yards away beckoned me from the cold shade. A smooth boulder protruded from the edge of a slight impression in the ground, like an earthen hammock positioned perfectly in the bright sunshine. I couldn’t resist. I was dressed in camouflage from head to toe so I wasn’t too concerned about being seen, even in the sunlight. Besides, the small impression hid me from nearly every angle.

I grabbed my gun and quickly made my way to the boulder. I leaned my gun against it, and positioned myself on the ground; moving a few small stones out of the way. There. I was comfortable. I closed my eyes for a second in the warm sun, but then realized the gun was still leaning against the rock. I sat up and grabbed it, and pulled it to my right side. If a gobbler were to show up out of nowhere, I would hear it, and have the gun ready.  

I pulled my camo mask down so I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face. Without looking, I once more reached for my shotgun laying at my side, just to make sure it was where I needed it to be in case Mr. Tom came strutting by when my eyes were closed.

The chill subsided as my eyelids lowered. Soon, I was in the depths of a Zen place, where my mind stopped and I was simply aware of my surroundings. The warmth of the sun on my face, the light breeze blowing up the mountain ridge, the smell of ponderosas and dry soil, and once again that thumping noise. “Thump, thump-thump.” How many times have I heard that this weekend? Then it stopped.

“Probably a truck driving across the cattle guard again,” I thought to myself in my semi-conscious state. I didn’t think it was a Tom beating his wings on the ground.

Then somewhere, far-off in the periphery of my consciousness I heard it again. “Thump, thump-thump. Thump, thump thump, thump thump thump.” But only this time it grew louder as the sound began to have a cadence to it, somewhat like a galloping horse. “Oh man, I’m gonna get stepped on by a deer,” I thought to myself. Although I knew that was very unlikely, I opened my eyes, lifting my head to the direction of the sound. That’s when I saw it.

At a mere ten yards away from where I was reclined, a black bear was in mid-stride, charging full speed directly at me. His ears were pinned back, his jowls were bouncing, his black fur was rippling, his teeth were showing, and he was peering directly at my face.

The mind and body are amazing things. When they aren’t in sync, or when one or the other happens to be not working properly, they can ruin each other to the point of causing the demise of the whole person. But when they work together in harmony, amazing events can take place. In the time it took to open my eyes, I went from a meditative state where I was experiencing the commingling of all my surroundings, to a laser-like focus where everything other than the face of that bear went dark. I didn’t think. No fear. No panic. No tension. Just reaction.

At the instant I saw the bear charging me, I reached for my shotgun, flicked the safety off, and swung it around, pointing it at the bear. It was as if I practiced quick-drawing my gun a thousand times from that exact position. No fumbling, no hesitation. My fingers found their spot instantly and precisely. In that same moment, I somehow sprang to my feet, all the while never taking my eyes off the wild animal coming at me.

In the same instant I bolted into action, the bear miraculously skidded to a stop and spun around as it let out a long grunt, and took off down the mountain like a bat out of hell. By the time I was prepared to pull the trigger, there was only the back end of the turning bruin, and I saw no need to pepper its rear with BB’s at that point.

And just like that it was over. I stood holding the gun by my side, watching the bear from afar in total disbelief. I vividly remember exhaling and inhaling deeply, several times, as my mind began to catch up with my body. “Oh my God,” I said out loud. “Oh my God.” I just walked in circles, shaking my head. “Oh my God.”

I stumbled around in shock for several minutes, wondering if I had only dreamed the entire experience. Did this really just happen? I was about to consider it all some sort of hallucination brought on by sleep-deprivation and total physical exhaustion, when I noticed the skid marks on the ground. Scraped into the grass, pine needles, and soil were 4 paw marks. The leading two marks were dug in deep, and were clearly bear prints. I stood in disbelief. The shock I was experiencing ratcheted in intensity, as I realized the skid marks were only 12 feet away from where I was reclined.

4 dark impressions from the bear's sudden stop, moving from left to right. The phone camera doesn't do it justice, but it's very real.

4 dark impressions from the bear’s sudden stop, moving from left to right. The phone camera doesn’t do it justice, but it’s very real.

So many hunting stories seem to end with “What if I would have….?” Usually they are stories of un-success; stories about coming very close to harvesting a fine animal, or some other milestone accomplishment, but just didn’t quite end up the way one would want. But this hunting story is different. What if I had kept my eyes closed for even one more second? What if I would have fumbled with the gun? What if I were sleeping soundly? What if I slipped on one of the myriad of small rocks littering the hillside and I could never make it to my feet? This story ends with an overwhelming feeling of fortune, gratitude, and even a bit of the old cliché, “I just got a new lease on life”.

 

Notice the dark skid marks near the stone at the lower left of the photo. I was leaning against the boulder at the top right.

Notice the dark skid marks near the stone at the lower left of the photo. I was leaning against the boulder at the top right.

 

Turkeys? What turkeys? There are no turkeys in my game bag. As for the fruition of the experience, the ending, I couldn’t write it any better than how it actually happened. For this, I happily embrace that beautiful thing called appreciation, as this will forever be the most fortunate turkey hunt of my life.

 

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