Saturday, April 9, 2016

Mr. Magoo’s Gobbler April 4, 2016

   Since Larry was sick and was not been able to send out his regular weekly column, I took it upon myself to find an excerpt from his book, DOGS, DUCKS, AND HATRACK BUCKS and send it to all his newspapers.

Mrs. Wiggins

       At the first hint of dawn, I headed down the long Ozark mountain ridge.  It was little more than a trail, made perhaps a century or more ago by mountain families who traveled by horse and wagon to and from log cabins which they had built in remote creek bottoms.  Off the point of the long ridge, about a mile from our camp, there were wild gobblers roosting. 

       It is the wildest of the Ozark National Forestland in north Arkansas’ Big Piney watershed, and getting into it is not the problem.  Getting out is a problem. 
       In the darkness, the walk was a long one. I relaxed in the first gray light of dawn along the old rock wall at the brink of the ridge. The wilderness valley below me, where the creek flowed, was shrouded in mist, with green budding treetops sticking up out of the concealing fog. Down there below, one gobbler sent forth his salute to the upcoming new day, and another answered nearby. 

       A turkey hunter can’t ask for much more than I had that morning. Within 40 minutes of the time the gobbler left the roost, he came over the edge of the bench 60 or 70 yards away.  He eased forward, shook himself and began to peck around in the small growth of May apples springing up in the woodland floor. His head was like a red and white flag. When I called ever so lightly, he raised it high, then bobbed it low, sending forth a lusty gobble which echoed off the rising hillside beside me. And then he strutted for a minute or two, broke out of it and gobbled again. He came toward me at a steady walk, head high and bright, bobbing through the oaks and hickories and beeches…now 50 yards, now 40,now 30. The gobbler below gobbled again and my shotgun blast echoed across the valley before my tom could stop to answer.

       An hour later I rested on the rock wall, trying to catch my breath. It had been a perfect day, and nothing could have spoiled it, not even the old Jeep sitting in the trail when I reached it.

       I had walked most of a mile from our camp and he had to have driven past it right down the narrow, rugged old trail into the best of the woods, probably because he was some pot-bellied greenhorn who was too lazy to walk.

       An old man stood there beside it, something of a comical figure in his oversized camouflaged jacket, a short brimmed camp-hat which was also too large, sitting right down on top of his thick glasses. He clutched an old shotgun, and stood there, beside the vehicle, looking sort of lost and bewildered.

       I figure he was eighty years old, maybe, and he was lonely. He nearly talked my leg off, admiring my gobbler and going on about how he use to kill ‘em like that over in Oklahoma, and so on and so forth. He said he had ridden up there that morning with his son-in-law from Dardanelle, who had went on down the road and just left him there ‘cause he was too old to keep up.

       He was proud of his shotgun, told me it was an old Browning, probably worth a fortune. It was just a beat up old pump Remington, with the words stamped into the barrel “made on Browning patent”. I bragged on it like I wished I owned one like it.

       The old timer had a couple of half-squashed bacon and egg sandwiches his daughter had made for him, and offered me one. While we were standing there by the old Jeep, I’ll be doggone if I didn’t hear a gobbler well up the valley from where I had been hunting, back toward camp. The old man said he heard it too, but I don’t think he had. Anyway, the tom kept gobbling and I thought what the heck, the old timer might get up close enough to have a little excitement with that gobbler.

       So we walked up the road aways, and I put him down off behind a small pond overlooking the first bench above the valley. Then I got behind him and began to call. That old tom began to move slowly up that hillside and in about 30 or 40 minutes he had finally gained a bench below us where I could see him, gobbling and strutting, lagging along behind three jakes. 

       Finally, the jakes headed up toward us, and got out of view in the underbrush along that mountainside, and the old gobbler followed them. Before long, I saw them come over the edge of the bench, and those three jakes were leading the way  with the big tom behind.

       The old man didn’t see the big gobbler. But he came awake when he heard that gobble only 50 or 60 yards below him. He wasn’t exactly stealthy at getting that gun barrel around where it needed to be, and had a bad case of buck fever. If the old tom had been close, he would have spooked. But jakes just aren’t as wary. The lead jake looked as big as a bear when it got 40 yards away and I’ll be darned if he didn’t blast it.

       Excited?!! You never seen nothing like it. I helped him get back up on that old logging road with his jake and he went on like it was the high point in his life. I kinda believe it may have been. He was still shaking 30 minutes later, and I dug my camera out and took a picture. Then it came to me that if I traded him my 20-pound ground-raker for that 16- or 17-pound jake, he could really do some big-time bragging back home. And so I did it, although to this day I can’t believe I actually traded a mature gobbler for a jake. 

       Then I set the camera up on a stump with the timer on and we got a picture of me and him together with that big tom. I got laughed at a little back in camp, but I was never prouder of what I had done in the turkey woods.

       A week later I sent him several pictures, and never heard another thing about it until about November of that year. I got a letter than from his daughter, with some of the ink blurred with teardrops. She said the old turkey hunter had died in his sleep back in late September, and it had took her awhile to write.

       His daughter said he had never killed a turkey before, and wrote that he had never stopped talking about it all summer. She thanked me, and said that he had told her he wanted to give me his old Browning shotgun, if I could ever get down that way. Later in the winter, when I was nearby hunting ducks, I went by and picked it up and met the family.

       The old gun sat in my closet for two years until one fall I met a young boy hunting squirrels on a neighbor’s place where I was hunting doves. He was about13 years old, and he showed me his old single-shot shotgun with the stock broke, and wired back together. He reminded me a lot of me at that age, except he was quieter and didn’t brag as much about his squirrels as I would have. 

       After thinking about it for a week, I drove over to his place with that old Remington pump gun. I asked his mom if I could give it to him, and she agreed.

              Before I left, the boy told me that he figured the old shotgun was really valuable, because it said “Browning” on the barrel. I told him it sure enough was, that I had never seen it fired that there wasn’t a dead turkey resulting from it.

       I don’t figure the old man would mind that I didn’t keep it. It is more satisfying to give than to receive. If I didn’t know it that day years ago when I called up a jake for that old timer, I know it now.


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