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Playing hooky to chase turkeys

Playing hooky to chase turkeys
I held still hidden against the large sycamore tree. The shotgun barrel, confident of the pending arrival, pointed in the direction of the decoys. (Andy Aughenbaugh photo)

There was a long to-do list on my desk at work.

There was an even longer list taped to the home refrigerator.

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I played hooky from it all.

On a Friday morning in the early morning darkness of pre-day, I quietly closed the front door of the house and escaped. Day after day, our calendars quickly fill from demands of our time. But how often do we use pen in the appointment book for personal reflection and enrichment time? The long days at the office need to be interrupted with local adventure from time to time. Times like these refuel the soul.

I had not visited the island in a few years. It is one of those places perfectly made for a quick refueling adventures. Sure, the island can be seen from commuter traffic crossing the Potomac, and the paddle is short, but the sense of adventure is none the less real.

With only my turkey hunting vest and shotgun loaded in the small simple kayak, I pushed off into the darkness. The river's current quickly took hold of the boat attempting to pull me in the direction she wanted me to go. I fought the current. The safe passage through the rapids was across the river. Traveling cross current, I struggled to make my way. Reaching the deep cut through the rapids, I turned the kayak down river. Now, I allowed the current to direct me down river. Knowing when to fight the current and when to flow with it is a lesson learned from the seat of a kayak, but is just as important with daily life.

I hear the faint whisper of the water's flow and noticed how it is much quieter than energy expended. The strongest draws in life are often silent. We travel through our daily planner often without feeling the pull of life's current.

In the safe still water of a cove, I beached the kayak, walked a few yards into the woods and sat on a fallen log. Sitting motionless, I absorbed my surroundings. I deeply pondered, if I am alone on an island except for the forest, river and wildlife, am I really alone? I shook the deep Thoreau ponderings and intently listened for the first morning gobbles of old Tom.

The crows awakened and found a hawk to torment. In true gang fashion, they harassed the unwilling participant with their early morning games. After a few minutes he tired of the pests and fled. The ruckus did not shock a gobble from the hopefully close turkeys roosting in the tree tops. I softly scratched a few notes on the slate call. A blue Jay passed and screamed, but no turkeys sounded off.

The sun arrived in an energetic bright ball filling the cloudless spring morning with intense light. The thick tree top canopy blocked most of the direct rays. A few bright beams of light made it through the canopy and formed vivid single lines through the trees to the forest floor.

With no vocalization from the possible gobblers in the area, I rose from my position and stalked the island searching for a gobbler who wanted to play. The forest floor was covered in knee high weeds. The soft weedy greenery re-grows quickly following the frequent flooding of the island. Beating the odds of the ravenous flood currents, only the strongest trees grow to maturity. Walking quietly was impossible. The forest floor was littered with broken tree branches.

As I explored the island, I stopped and made turkey sounds every few hundred yards. No response came. Either the island was void of turkeys, or they chose not to play the game. It did not matter which, for if they did not gobble, I had no hunt. That is the game in the spring, the hunter calls, the turkey comes.

For every plan there needs a Plan B — On a small elevation rise on the island, I sat, leaned against a large sycamore and hid in the brush. I placed three turkey decoys thirty five yards from my position. I gave my best serenade with my trusty slate call with worn edges from years of use. The woods were quiet. Ten minutes of silence ensued. Tears ran down my cheeks from in-depth scanning for movement. The quiet is disrupted with the loud sounds of my Box call; a call made of select walnut and tuned especially for me, a left handed caller. The pleading reached from river bank to river bank. The woods remained silent of turkey gobbles.

Thirty minutes passed. I held still hidden against the large sycamore tree. The shotgun barrel, confident of the pending arrival, pointed in the direction of the decoys. Feeling the presence or maybe hopefulness, I attempted to draw the gobbler closer with subdued yelps, clucks and purrs using a mouth call. Twenty more minutes later, the silent approach of a call wise old mature tom that I had envisioned did not appear.

I spent a few more relaxing minutes enjoying my time on the island. Immersed in the adventure of turkey pursuit, I found solace on an island.

The paddle upriver on the return home would tax the muscles and I had been unsuccessful in shooting a turkey. But as I sat there feeling the warmth of the afternoon sun on my face, inhaling the aroma of the newness of spring, listening to the crows chatter and watching a squirrel gather, I knew the clutter of the desk could wait. This was the place I needed to be.

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