Beyond the darkness

By By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
March 22, 2002
Hunter, attired head to toe in camouflage garb, closes the door of the pickup gently, both hands pressed against the handle to muffle the noise. Three steps and stop. A gloved hand checks every critical item; gun slung over the shoulder, 4 shells in the right vest pocket, cushion secured in back, face mask in left vest pocket, mouth callers here, box callers there, crow caller on the neck lanyard, water and snack in the inside pocket.
The black woods await the first light of day, yet a half hour away, and beckon Hunter, promising adventure. For out there somewhere is a wild turkey gobbler that will duel this day with Hunter, the bird's life being at stake. This encounter, and a dozen surprises await Hunter, out there, beyond the darkness.
Down the familiar trail into the black woodland, footfalls announced by crunching leaves, Hunter steps in the dark with caution against dreaded stumbling that would betray arrival in the battlegrounds. Instead the steps are executed to mimic those of a deer returning to its bedding site after a night's browsing; familiar sounds to a roosting gobbler.
Hunter stops when a barred owl gives forth with its chilling eight notes, identical to those of a thousand ancestors. The ears of the forest harken in anticipation of a gobbler's challenge to its fierce enemy. Instead a nearby owl responds, its booming hoots shaking the very air and sending a flood of goose bumps from Hunter's neck downward over the skin's surface. Without thinking about it, Hunter knows, by some magic of instinct why he is here; why he hunts.
On across the ridge, moving by starlight and finding the way by silhouetting familiar trees against a barely lighter sky, Hunter tiptoes the last 50 yards to the chosen tree. The stand, a front-row seat for one of nature's most brilliant productions, is claimed just as a pink sky in the east heralds the opening act.
It happens too quickly. The dawning, the first cardinal with its staccato chirps, the chorus of owls emboldened by a night's take of fresh meat, the raspy crow joined instantly by eager cousins and then dozens of smaller birds chirping and peeping about here and there. The concert builds to an avalanche of sound. The music of morning in the forest.
And then the self-appointed king of the woods sounds his lusty gobble, its deep notes alternating with shrill cries that further enlivens the senses of every creature within earshot. Something deep inside Hunter stirs an ancient instinct into an elixir that is at once exhilarating, provocative and narcotic. Hunter will hunt the king. Hunter must hunt the king.
The sharpest eyes in the woods and the most suspicious mind will likely defeat Hunter on this day. But defeat will add to his bank of hunting lore acquired from many such subjugations. And one day Hunter's woodcraft will equal the gobbler's genius for elusiveness and the magnificent bird will fall to his gun.
But until then, there is a hunting drama unfolding on nature's stage with many scenes scheduled before the final act. It is opening day of spring turkey season. Let the show begin.