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Turkey Stand

Joseph Spence | All Hunting Articles
Posted 05/05/2024

It was four in the morning, and still dark outside when Charlie woke his son Avery. They had to get going early for the hunting trip. Charlie didn't make a big breakfast. He just boiled some eggs for the road. Boiled eggs worked well sitting by a tree all day. He would also take along canned Vienna sausages - the tiny meat logs crowded into a gelatinous ooze that Avery loved.

Avery hated getting up so early most mornings, but not this day. This was a hunting trip with his father, so he didn't mind the early hour. At six years old, Avery was going on his first real hunt. Charlie had started taking the boy out practicing with the single barrel .410 shotgun over the last few months to get him ready. He'd cut down the stock to fit Avery and loaded it with buckshot shells he'd modified himself by taking out the birdshot and putting in bigger pellets from twelve gauge shells.

Everything was packed in Charlie's old Volkswagen van, one he'd grown fond of from his time in Germany at the end of WW II. At half past four, they pulled out of the drive, leaving Dorothy and Thomas, the older son, sleeping in their beds. It was a ninety-minute drive from Wetumpka to the camp near the Tombigbee swamplands, where Charlie's brothers leased five hundred acres to hunt on. Though he was a church pastor, the outdoors remained Charlie's deepest passion.

The early morning made Avery feel very grown up and special, like one of the men. Since he was the youngest of the four brothers, all of Charlie's nephews were already full grown. Avery would likely be the only child at the deer camp. They stopped on the way to pick up a couple of bags of ice for the cooler. Avery got his traditional snacks - a Yoo-hoo chocolate drink and a honey bun. For the drive, Charlie had taken out the van's center seat and built a simple plywood bed frame with a foam mattress on top. Sometimes, Avery slept on those early morning trips, but today his eyes were wide, thinking about getting a shot at a deer or turkey with his new gun.

The hills and countryside rolled by outside the van's windows. Charlie pointed things out, telling Avery stories about growing up on the farm during the Depression. He wanted the boy to understand those simpler times and the value of family. Everything had been so hard back then, but there were good memories too.

Avery asked Charlie again, "Where should you aim at a deer?" "Behind the front shoulder," Charlie instructed. "That's where the vital organs are." Having grown up harvesting animals for food and sustenance on the farm, Charlie was adamant about the ethical hunter's code. "We don't shoot them for sport," he'd told Avery after catching him shooting birds with his BB gun. "Only when we need the animal to eat or use it in some way. We respect all living things God put on this earth for us. Don't take that lightly."

Deer were mysterious, majestic creatures to Avery. Not just targets, but something to admire and draw pictures of at school when he got bored in class. The anticipation built in the boy as they left the highway and turned down the dirt road leading to the hunting camp, the old van wobbling over the ruts. Charlie's eyes turned sharp, scanning the woods on either side, alert for any signs of movement. Avery imagined that his father developed this sharp-eyed look from being in the war. He could spot the movement of an animal a hundred yards away through thick woods.

After about a half mile, they came to the locked gate where Charlie had Avery hop out and open it with his little key. Avery dragged the heavy red metal gate open, waving his father through, then secured it back before climbing into the van. The clean, crisp morning scent filled his nostrils. The rustic camp came into view through the trees up ahead. It had a tin-roofed open pavilion where the men would gather around the fire pit out front. Charlie's old green Shasta trailer sat off to one side, rounded and compact like a toy camper you'd want as a kid. Inside, it slept three at most with a little kitchen in the middle. To Avery, it felt like having a secret hideout in the woods.

No one else was there yet. The other men usually just came on the weekends. Charlie had Avery help quickly unload the van and stow their gear inside the trailer. He was eager to start hunting before the deer finished moving around for the morning.
Charlie always carried two guns when deer and turkey season were both in - a high-powered Browning 270 for deer and a double barrel 12 gauge shotgun loaded with bird shot for turkey. It was illegal to shoot a turkey with a rifle in Alabama and Charlie always followed the law. He didn’t want any trouble with the game warden. With the rifle strapped on his shoulder and shotgun in hand, they struck off into the trees. Avery walked behind his father, carrying his 410, stepping only where Charlie stepped. The men had cleared trails to different "stands" for ambushing game throughout their leased land. Some were named for landmarks like the River Bluff or Holly Tree stand, where they were heading first.

Part of their section was the Tombigbee swamp. Avery felt a tingle of fear just looking at the alien landscape of mud and cypress knots poking out like knobby little knees. It seemed like another planet entirely. His father helped steady him as they crossed over a creek on a fallen log that had a guide rope strung for balance. "Don't get wet," Charlie said, "Talk about cold. You get wet and you'll be freezing all day.”

At the Holly stand, Charlie checked the wind direction with a licked finger before building a blind of cut brush and having them sit facing into it. "We sit facing the wind so our scent doesn't flow in the direction that we're looking. Deer can smell you and run away long before you see them," Charlie said quietly. The walk had warmed Avery up, but after sitting for a while, he started to shiver. Charlie noticed this and pulled an empty Folgers coffee can from his backpack and set it in front of Avery's legs. "Break up some twigs and leaves and put them in the can," Charlie whispered. Avery did as he was told, and Charlie made a small fire in the can to keep the boy warm as they sat watching the swamp's edge.

Avery eventually grew drowsy and nodded off against his father's shoulder, gun across his lap. After a short nap, he woke to Charlie tapping him to be alert as he grabbed the smaller shotgun and went off to relieve himself in the bushes. Having just had the same urge himself, Avery rose to follow and find his own spot a little way off. But Avery left his gun in the blind. He was squatting down when he heard his father's fingers snapping behind him and looked up to see two massive bucks facing off close by, unaware of their presence.

Charlie looked hard at his rifle, which was leaning against the tree in the blind, and debated about crawling over there but he knew that he would spook the deer. And then he remembered that he had dropped a couple of 12 gauge buckshot shells into his pants pocket before they left. So, he slowly swapped out the birdshot for the two buckshot shells. But as he breached the gun, reloading the new rounds, the sound spooked the deer, and they started to run. Charlie threw up the double barrel and fired both shots in a hurry, but it looked like he missed as the big bucks crashed off into the brush.

After a few minutes, they went to investigate the spot where the deer had stood. To Charlie's surprise, they found spatters of blood on the ground. He knew one had been hit but not severely, judging by the scant trail that soon dried up and disappeared after a quarter mile or so of tracking it. A pang of remorse struck him at the thought of having wounded the animal. But there was nothing to be done now except carry on hunting elsewhere.

They moved on to the Palmetto stand, one of the thick groves of fan-like bushes growing in the area. Charlie cut more branches and assembled another blind around a tree there while Avery ate a ham sandwich packed for them. This stand was where Charlie had been hoping to give Avery his best chance at bagging a turkey. It would be an incredible feat for such a young boy. Maybe even something to make Field and Stream magazine if he could pull it off.

Once the blind was finished, Charlie broke out one of his turkey callers and started clucking and yelping through the mouth reed, trying to lure one in close. He coached Avery to be ready and be very still. "Turkeys have amazing eyesight," Charlie had said many times before.

At first, the fake hen calls echoed through the woods and there was silence, but then, so faint he almost missed it, came the unmistakable sound of a turkey sounding off in the distance. A big, wide grin came across Charlie's face as his eyes met Avery's, and he gave a small nod. Avery gripped his gun tighter as his father threw out another series of calls. Time slowed to an excruciating halt, three full minutes passing before another response cut the stillness. "Get up on one knee and point your gun through the blind," Charlie whispered, then he let out two more clucks. This time, the response came quicker and closer, the call working its magic. Soon, an inquisitive young male turkey, a "jake" in Charlie's lingo, emerged and headed straight toward them, sleek head bobbing on its long neck. "Wait 'til I count to three, then shoot for the head," Charlie whispered tensely as it approached within range. At the final count, Avery stood bolt upright, exposing their position, gun barrel wavering, and the gobbler launched itself into flight as the shot passed clean underneath the escaping bird. “Oh, son! Why did you stand up?” “I couldn’t see through the blind,” Avery said.

Charlie just shook his head and laughed it off, though he was hugely disappointed inside. He really thought this was Avery's chance for a turkey at such a young age. Charlie reached down and gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze, “It’s okay, you’ll get him next time.” They didn't see another deer or turkey for the rest of that trip.

Back at the camp, Charlie cooked up burgers and home fries on the gas stove in the Shasta, and they ate outside, sitting around the fire pit. Avery loved poking at the coals and flames as dusk fell through the trees around them. The rustic little trailer felt overly warm and snug once they bedded down for the night, the tree branches scratching the tin roof in the breeze. The sounds always spooked Avery, while his father reassured him it was just the trees.

After a full day hunting on Friday, they had to break camp Saturday afternoon so Charlie could make it back in time for his Sunday church service the next morning. It was always difficult for Avery to leave the camp behind, but he knew there would be many more adventures like this in the years ahead with his father, memories to last a lifetime.

About the Author : Joseph Spence
Visit authors website | View more articles

Spence, an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, writer, and musician based in Nashville, TN, was born and raised in Pascagoula, MS. His childhood along the Gulf Coast was spent hunting and fishing with his father, who instilled in him a love for the outdoors that continues to inspire his creative work.




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