The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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May 4, 2014

He’ll always be listening to his granddad

The hunter eased the truck door shut and shoved three shotgun shells into his pocket. Loading up would come a little later and he hoped that he would not forget. The pale glow was starting in the east but there was lots of time. Walking out the road in the dark a small bird went by his head like a guided missile and he barely flinched, like he was expecting it.

“Hey boy, you better stop and put some shells in that ol’ gun a’fore you forgit.” As with the bird, he didn’t flinch at the voice, as if expecting it. Even in the dark he had no trouble loading, he could do it blindfolded, another thing he had been taught. Nearing the first place to listen, he was still early; not even a cardinal had called yet.

He fumbled for the owl call in his vest. “Now boy, jest be patient and wait a bit. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with hootin’ like an owl, but sometimes hit’s better to jest let them ol’ gobblers wake up on their own.” He knew it was true; he always wanted to hurry the thing along. “Jest sit quiet boy, let the world wake up on its own.” Watching the pale glow, he calmed himself and strained his ears to listen.

The first turkey gobbled about where he thought it might. He had tramped this place with the old man since he was a kid. “When that turkey is still on the roost, you git over there on him as quick as you can.” “You don’t have to run, but git rite in there as close as you can without spookin’ him.” He hurried to his rendezvous with this gobbler.

To his surprise there were several trees that suited him for a calling position. “You get back up in the biggest ol’ tree you kin find.” He heard the old man say. “Helps hide you, and might keep some fool from shootin’ you from behind.” He nestled into the tree and started getting the mouth calls ready. The turkey gobbled just enough to let him know he was there and had not been spooked. Now he heard a bonus, there were two!

“Now boy, don’t you call too much when that turkey is on the roost, I know hits temptin,’ jest give him a couple little calls, he knows where you at.” The turkey did not answer his first call, and his heart sank a little. A few minutes later on the second call, the gobbler rattled back. He chewed on the edge of the call and fought the urge to answer every time the turkey shouted. He was not surprised to hear a hen start calling.

“When all his girlfriends is around, there ain’t much you can do. Jest sit still and wait it out. What you are a hoping is that they will sneak off from him and he will find himself all alone.” He couldn’t tell what happened to the hen, but a gobbler started raising Cain under the hill, this turkey was coming.

“Boy, you git that gun pointed in the right direction when the turkey is a headin’ your way.’” You have it up on your knee and be ready; you don’t have it on the ground, leanin’ agin a tree or any of that.” The old man went on. “If’n you ain’t got that gun ready when he comes in sight, you ain’t gonna have no turkey breast that evenin.’”

Now of all times, with his heart pounding as he squinted down the rib of the old man’s double barrel, the years came flooding back on him. Memories of the man who was the reason he was here this morning, doing what he loved. He thought of when he was a little kid. What seemed to be a giant of a man had first taken him to the woods. A big, rough hand held his and showed him everything from turkey tracks to morel mushrooms. Years later, life, and all that goes with it had taken him away from this place and the old man.

When he finally returned, he saw through hot, wet tears that the old man was on the porch, confined to his rocker. Somehow he was frail and much smaller than he remembered. Thankfully, his old teacher could still speak and had plenty left to tell him. “You just remember what I’ve taught you boy.” The old man rumbled one fall day. “You see that you listen to me after I’m gone.”

When he caught the first glimpse of the gobbler’s fan coming up the hill, the ivory bead of the old double was pointed directly at it. He had picked out a white oak that marked forty yards. All he need do was caress the trigger and wait. “I’m listenin,’ Granddad.” he said, “I’m listenin.’”

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