Short Stories,

Talking Birds

May 03, 2018

Talking Birds

A Michigan, public-land turkey hunt

By: Drew De Vries

Nursing a second beer I nestled deeper into the vinyl, cradled by the indent made by patrons over the years. I was meeting with Todd, an acquaintance from some mutual college friends. He’s a fellow sportsman who’s spent a great amount of time in the woods. Around these parts he’s something of a Turkey Guru. He agreed to join me on a hunt for the upcoming Michigan season in hopes of helping me bag my first Tom. As our discussion developed, I spilled all the details on Adventure Deficit, and what’s transpired over the past year.

Speaking on the variety of disciplines in Adventure Deficit’s target audience, I mentioned mountain bikers, rock climbers and paddlers, backpackers, skiers, and alpinists. In the same breath, I also included hunters and anglers. Todd set his beer down, leaned in closer and gave a couple slow, stern taps to the table.”That’s exactly what I’m talking about man! Hunting belongs in that conversation too!” We continued back and forth, focused mostly on the closing divide between tree huggers and the red plaid gang. Until now, the outdoor industry and the traditional sporting world had been formed of completely separate camps. The “us/them” paradigm is shifting though, one reason being the proposed policy changes in both Washington and at the state level. It’s considered great progress these groups are banding together on issues concerning access, conservation and management, and I was glad to learn we shared common thinking here, as the unification matters greatly.

Since he was interested, I went on to explain the common thread behind any adventure isn’t as much about the who or the where, but the what. The “What” remains consistent across the board. Regardless of discipline or scale, all outdoor adventures carry the common elements of story. Introduction, character development, rising action, plot twist, climax, falling action, and resolution. It’s all there, and if someone takes the intentional time to reflect on their excursion, they’ll identify a life-lesson, I promise. My entire project was founded upon that mindset. We’re advocates for outdoor recreation, and the A.D. mission is to entertain, educate, and inspire folks to get out there and create their own adventure stories; not just for the pure enjoyment, but restoration and personal growth. In turn, we all can use these stories to identify & share the valuable life lessons held in store. In A.D. nomenclature, we use special terms for getting out there like, “taking your medicine” or, “combatting the deficit”. I needed to take my medicine by hunting turkeys, and was stoked to have Todd on board.

As we stood up to head for the bathrooms, I heard the music that had been playing, it was Peter Gabriels Solsburry Hill. If you’re familiar, the hook of this song goes:

“Son,” he said, “grab your things, I’ve come to take you home”.

It’s said to parallel Gabriel’s own life during a moment of extreme uncertainty. He had recently left Genesis – his former band with Phil Collins, to pursue his own solo career. As the song goes, we realize these words are spoken by a sage old eagle. He encourages the young Gabriel to leave everything he once knew in order to follow a new and unfamiliar path to another life, his destiny. Every time I hear this song it hits me square in the chest. You needn’t be a lyrical meister to gather the heft of his situation. Without time to weigh all options, he must decide, and if he takes up the eagle’s offer, life will never be same. It’s stirring because to some extent, everyone yearns for this proposal. Try not getting excited the next time someone interrupts your day with – “Grab your stuff – I’m taking you to your destiny” At it’s core, it’s a call to adventure. It felt like some kind of sign that Todd and I were being called into this story together. We shook hands and secured plans, and left the bar in anticipation for the upcoming hunt.

Three weeks later, we were in my truck pointed north, towards the Huron-Manistee National forest. We arrived at my cabin to offload our things, camo’d up and headed out for an afternoon scouting hike. The hunting area required crossing a couple of stream beds, which took awhile. We burned a lot of calories slogging through the heavy mud to find the dry areas where the birds might be strutting. Todd used a variety of calls, and every so often would stop to try to locate a horny bird. No such luck, but we did see a variety of wildlife and other sign, including mallards and wood ducks, canadian geese, squirrels and raccoons. We put in a few hours by sunset, and it wasn’t until we were actually leaving when Todd came jogging back to the truck to tell me he’d seen a Tom crossing the fire road. We watched that bird walk into the woods with a good idea of where it would roost for the night. It left a good feeling about the morning hunt.

Back at the cabin, we fired up the Camp Chef, and prepped dinner while enjoying a couple cold Two Hearted’s. Elk burgers and cheddar venison brats were on the menu, courtesy of Todd and his successful hunts last year. The aroma of hunting camp filled the nearby woods as the elk patties sizzled on cast iron. Jim, the other half to my cabin partnership, stopped by after his evening hunt to join us for dinner. The three of us ate, talked and enjoyed some camaraderie. Jim left as the mercury dove back into winter temperatures. After turning on the propane, we fired up the heater and retired to the cozy warmth inside. We passed time tying flies & paging through some old Field & Streams. There’s something about the lack of cell service and rough hewn pine that finds you taking to the simpler activities before turning in. It’s fun learning something new from old magazines. The cabin’s stack dates back to ’97, and Bill Heavey was just as funny then as he is now.

At morning, the temperature read 23 Degrees. April 29th and well below freezing. That’s #PureMichigan for you. We drove out to the same place where we had seen the Tom the night before. We quietly pressed the truck doors shut and Todd used an owl locater call. Gobbles immediately erupted from the darkness. We stalked and called until we verified their location and set up in front of a big tree 150 yards from them. At first light, their flapping wings signaled they had jumped from their roost, and were now on the search for well, us – the hen. Their gobbles carried alarming intensity as the two birds came strutting in feathers up, looking like a couple of black Michelin tires off in the distance. For the first time, I saw in real life what I’ve seen on television. With the bird in the center of the scope, I watched in awe as the one approached, its waxy face turned lipstick red, a vibrant contrast to the drab spring woods. It let down it’s feathers and began gobbling again. Admiring both birds while they underwent this process of inflate, deflate and gobble, I remained prepped for the shot as they closed the distance to within my determined 50 yard range. The shot never came though. They stopped at 67 yards, turned and walked away. Just like that. Over. Experiencing this yin-yang swell of anticipation coupled with immediate deflation made me feel like a little kid who’d been teased, introduced to skittles by having been given just one, jonesing for more while the bag is put back in the cupboard. Acting out wouldn’t do a thing though, and the opportunity for this season was over.

“I watched in awe as the one approached, its waxy face turned lipstick red, a vibrant contrast to the drab spring woods.”

I’d be remiss to skirt the connection, however improbable, and circle back to Solsburry Hill, with Peter Gabriel’s eagle telling him life would never be the same. My own realization comes watching this pair of Toms make their clean exit, gobbles echoing through the woods. This hunt was merely sampling, the start of something bigger – and the mocking words of those talking birds seem to be telling me, “You’ll never be the same”. It’s true, and I can’t hardly wait to get back out there.




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