By Alyssa Jumars
The first turkey I shot was sopping wet. To be fair, I was also soaked to the thigh. It’s a long story, and maybe I should start from the beginning.
My neighbor, who sparked my interest in hunting and loaned me a shotgun, also loaned me a few decoys — which I set up the day before the opener. Three styrofoam hens and one rubbery jake with a bright red wattle. I made a few calls with my box, and then made myself scarce.
I watched that afternoon while the neighborhood flock approached the decoys, fans out wide, gobbles expressing consternation. “Explain yourselves,” they demanded. The decoys said nothing.
The lead tom circled closer, tail feathers stretching wider, gobbles becoming more insistent. I watched as he took the rubber decoy by the neck, pinned it to the ground, and mounted the plastic bird. He rocked back and forth in a display of dominance. What a jerk, I thought to myself, and quietly promised to put him in my crosshairs.
The next morning, I shook my husband awake at 5am. He was also a first-time turkey hunter. “I made coffee,” I coaxed, as he tried to roll over and go back to sleep.
We pulled on our camoflauge, sipped our coffee, and waited for dawn. We made a plan to take cover behind a rockpile. From there, we’d emerge with a clear shot, nothing behind our targets but the river. Our plan was to pick our turkeys, jump out from behind the rocks and take shots at exactly the same time — before all the birds scattered.
At first, everything went exactly according to plan. The turkeys were already harassing the decoys by first light. They never even noticed us making a wide creep around the field to the rockpile. When we fired on the count of three, my husband made a perfect headshot and his tom went down like a stone. Mine did not. It flapped around in a wide circle and took off into the trees. I had injured it, but not fatally.
“I wasn’t ready!” I wailed, suddenly feeling angry. “You know I hate being pressured!”
It felt like the end of the world. I had been preparing for this moment for months: taking hunter’s ed, learning how to shoot and handle guns. And the one thing I had told myself I would never do was let an animal suffer.
As the hot tears began rolling down my face, I saw something out of the corner of my eye drop from a tree and out of sight. And in an instant, I knew. My turkey was in the river.
I threw down my gear and bolted to the river’s edge. I could see nothing in the mud-colored, churning spring runoff. I began running, crashing through the brush. About a quarter mile downstream, I saw it — hung up on a tree tipped over into the river. Before pausing to think if it was a good idea, I wrapped my legs around the trunk and inched out into the river. The cold water rushed around my knees and into my boots. I leaned out, grabbed a wing and pulled my prize to the bank.
To this day, I’ve never experienced that range or intensity of emotions. In the span of 4 minutes, I felt excitement, anticipation and hope quickly turn to shame, frustration, and downright anger. In the end, I felt triumphant. And wet. But I also felt something else: awe for this tough-as-nails creature and wonder for the small but mighty life I had been given.