"Came easin’ up through the woods with that ol’ red head stickin' up, thinking he was about to get him a new woman."
Photo by Jim Gaston
As I drove up to old Wooley’s house, I could see a big gobbler hanging on the porch, and he was sitting there in his rocking chair. His name wasn’t really Wooley… it was a nickname of some sort I suppose… apparently the only name the old men at the pool hall knew him by. But brother, was he a turkey hunter. He made little box calls and they were as effective as any I have ever used. I had sat on mine that morning and broke it, and I thought maybe he would have another I could buy for a dollar. It was the spring of 1974, and a dollar was something you didn’t waste.
As I walked up to his porch, Wooley didn’t give me a chance to say much.
“Now there’s a tough one for you,” he pointed at the dead tom, with a good long beard sticking out of it’s breast feathers and long sharp spurs above his feet.
“Where did you get him?” I asked as I sat down in a rickety chair on his porch.
Wooley ignored me. “Wouldn’t gobble,” he said. “Never did make a dad-blamed sound. Took him two hours to come up off his roost down on the crick… but by dang, I reckon I outfoxed him. I jes’ sets there hid real good an’ he couldn’t resist that call of mine. Came easin’ up through the woods with that ol’ red head stickin' up, thinking he was about to get him a new woman… but there he hangs.”
“Looks like he’ll go better than twenty pounds,” I said. “Don’t you figger he might?”
Wooley ignored me again. “They won’t gobble no more like they us’ter. It ain’t like it was years back when they would set on a limb at daylight and sound off a dozen times. It’s on account of the damn hunters ever’where, too much callin’ an’ none of ‘em knowin’ what they’s doin’.”
I heard the screen door slam and turned to see Wooley’s old wife, Lottie, bringing me a cup in one hand with a coffee pot in the other. “Seen you drive up,” she said, “guess you’re visitin’ your folks whilst yore up here huntin’ turkey’s?”
I told her I was, and she told me she had seen them both at church on Sunday at Christmas. She asked how Gloria Jean and my little girls were doing. “You just have a real prize in that young lady,” she told me, “I just love her so much…”
I played devil’s advocate. “I don’t know, ma’m,” I said, “she never has killed a turkey, and she can’t make squirrel and dumplin’s like you can… I’m beginnin’ to wonder if I didn’t get pretty bad fooled in pickin’ a wife.”
Lottie laughed, and started to say something, but old Wooley was talking over her, telling me about that gobbler. “I sets down there in the first gloamin’ this mornin’ and I calls three or four times and that gobbler, he don’t say nothin’. I sets there and I hoots like an owl when the sun starts comin’ up and that old gobbler, damn his hide, he don’t say nothin’. But I knows he’s there cause I seen him fly up on that sycamore limb last night. He’s there all right, but that sunuvabench, he don’t say nothin’.”
Wooley began to get wild eyed, and loud. “I’m tellin’ you boy, I calls him perfect, I calls him better’n any hen could do it… and damn his eyes, still, he don’t say nothin’.” Lottie came back out with some sugar for my coffee and some home-baked cookies..
“Wooley,” she yelled, “Quit yer cussin’.” She turned to me with an aggravated look on her face and said, “Tomorrer he’ll be sittin’ there in church waggin’ that hymnbook back and forth and singin’ at the top of his voice, and here he sits the day before cussin’ like a sailor.”
“It’s okay ma’m,” I grinned and thanked her for the sugar and cookies, “God don’t mind Wooley cussin’ a little bit at home, if he sings good at church.” She mumbled something about how he could cuss a lot better than he could sing, and when the screen door slammed behind her, a gobbler sounded off a couple hundred yards down in the woods. “Did you hear that Wooley?” I asked.
He never answered… he just went on griping about how there were too many people any more. “Them turkeys, they ain’t dumb,” he said. “They’s figgered it out now. ‘Don’t gobble’ they says to each other, or your li’ble to have some greenhorn city hunter chasin’ after you wearing them camelflogged clothes and squawkin’ away on them store-bought turkey calls…”
The turkey gobbled again. “Doggone it, Wooley,” I said, “he sounds like he’s only a little ways down in the woods.”
Wooley ignored me and the gobbler. “I calls ever now an’ then, sweet an’ low, an’ that ol’ tom, he don’t say nothin’. He’s a foxy one, he is, but he’s lovesick, an’ fin’ly he jus’ comes up there with his old red head high, lookin’ for me,” he said, squaring his shoulders a bit as he leaned back in the old rocker. “But I was hid and I was ready, an’ there he hangs!” I started to say something, but it was useless.. Wooley banged his fist against the arm of his rocking chair. “Dad-gum it, it ain’t like it use to be though… they jus’ don’t gobble much no more.”
Lottie came out again and refilled my coffee. “You have to get him to look at you if you want to say something to him,” she said, “He can’t hear worth a darn!”
I tapped Wooley on the arm and he looked at me as I said, “There’s a turkey gobblin’ down there in the timber.”
“Huh?” he said, “What’s that?”
I knew he was right. Things ain’t like they use to be. Turkey hunters get old as the spring seasons pass and they can’t see and hear like they once did. And the gobblers, in time, just don’t gobble like they use to.
If you want to have a good time this coming weekend, May 2 and 3, come to the Pomme de Terre River just below the dam south of Hermitage, Missouri. There they will have their annual “Rendezvous”, a weekend of old-fashioned muzzle-loader shoots, lots of music and country craft and food booths for a half mile or more down the banks of the stream. I am going to be there on Saturday only, with an assortment of outdoor oriented artwork, lures and fishing gear to sell, and magazines to give away.
I will bring one of my Labrador puppies with me, trying to find it a good home, and I might even bring its daddy with me… Lightnin’ Ridge Bolt, who is the third or fourth greatest Labrador in the world. Bolt and his wife Hallie Lula had a beautiful litter of puppies back in February, and there is only one left. I will also have all of my books there, including the new one and I will sign and inscribe one for you. I would love to talk to you if you are a prospective writer, as we are looking for Ozark writers, artists and photographers for our magazines.