Queen of the Roost

It had started all wrong, as if to remind me of my past turkey troubles. My first and middle names should be procrastination and stubborn, respectively. My husband Denny had tried to get me to apply for a spring turkey license earlier, but of course I never did. I regretted that as I stood at Walmart attempting to purchase a late season tag; I was again in trouble. The only tag available over the counter was for the first season, and I wanted the second.

Did I mention that it was April 18th and the season opened in five days? “I don’t get it; you can’t even buy your license without problems,” Denny growled. I had called him on his cell to tell him of my fate. He had hoped to hunt the early season and me the late. So much for plans…maybe I was not meant to hunt turkeys this year.

Time was an issue for me with two boys in track and one graduating from high school, not to mention a 12 year-old daughter. My plate would be full. “Don’t purchase a tag and it will be easy to say no,” I told myself. No license equals no hunting and thus no choices between kid activities and the woods. Good plan, but it didn’t work.

I found myself getting more and more excited as the season approached, which led to the late purchase experience. I had even stopped back at Walmart and tried to exchange my license. The second season was a month long and there would be less pressure. No luck, I was stuck.

To top it all off, Denny killed a nice tom on opening morning. He called me at work to tell me the news and I thought he was teasing. “Now you have plenty of time to hunt,” he laughed. I reminded him that some of us had to work for a living, but I would be glad to drive straight home from work and take pictures. I couldn’t help but feel slightly jealous when I saw his trophy. I really wanted a turkey and decided I had to get serious and stop making excuses.

I hunted three nights that week. I saw several hens, but did not hear or see any gobblers. The weather went from beautiful to disgusting. It rained, snowed and was extremely windy. The nights I wasn’t freezing in the blind, I spent freezing at a track meet. Just when I was about to throw in the towel, the weather forecast for the weekend sounded picture perfect. I was determined to spend my weekend turkey hunting.

Saturday morning I slowly crawled out of bed way before anyone else was awake. I was able to drink my coffee, don my winter bibs and sneak to the blind without being disturbed. I felt happy and confident. A tom was already gobbling as I walked to my spot. I was excited about seeing a tom turkey all pumped up and full of pride. I watched him spin around and chase hens for several hours. I was using my glass call and he was gobbling back, but then I learned a couple of valuable lessons: never allow your striker to get wet, and make sure you have sandpaper to scratch up the glass. My call suddenly quit working right in the middle of our “conversation.” I tried all the wrong things: a leaf, a stone, and then I even licked the glass. Needless to say the turkeys stayed in the field and never came close enough for a shot.

“You left too early,” Denny exclaimed when I arrived back home. “That tom will probably circle around and look for you after he services those hens; sometimes it takes a couple of hours.” I just glared at him and pouted.

As if just to prove the point, Denny drove to town around later that morning. My turkey blind sits in a fencerow off the road and at just the right spot it can be glassed from the truck. “Guess what’s standing right in front of your blind?” he chided via cell phone. I dropped my mouth in disbelief when he described that same tom turkey I had been drooling over earlier. I could feel the old disease creeping up through my body. I like to call it the “Denny.” It is described as a selfish obsession with bowhunting that overrides everything but disaster and death.

I knew I was truly infected when my fourteen year-old, Gabe, asked, “Mom, you know what would be really fun today?”

“Turkey hunting?” I replied.

“No, miniature golf. Would you take us?” he begged. What mother would not jump at the chance to spend some quality time with her teenagers? Not me. “It will have to wait, Gabe. I’m going hunting tonight,” I replied.

Guilt was beginning to well up inside me when John, my oldest son, mentioned that he was on the court for prom that afternoon. John is a senior, preparing to head to college in the fall, and a great kid. Tonight was his senior prom and I was not even going to attend the grand march. He and his girlfriend planned on dressing at the house so I could get pictures. He never told me until right then that he was being nominated for king of the prom. It was too late; I was already committed, feverish and fully diseased. “Well, I’ll run up quickly and watch for a few minutes before I head out hunting,” I meekly told him.

Saturday at five o’clock in the evening I found myself back in the turkey blind. I was feeling bad, but thinking maybe it was all for a reason. It had to be fate that I would get my first turkey that night. I stopped day dreaming when my phone rang. I keep my cell phone on vibrate while hunting just in case my kids need me for an emergency. Hesitantly, I answered in a whispering voice preparing for some bad news. “I just wanted you to know that John was crowned king of the prom,” my girl friend excitedly reported. “Don’t worry; I took pictures for you,” she added. I managed to squeak out a thank you and hung up. Tears streamed down my face as I stared out at the empty fields. I felt so guilty that I wanted to crawl in a dark hole. Maybe there is a self-help group for bowhunters, like AA? I managed to stay in the stand until sunset, but again only saw hens and really didn’t have my heart in the hunt.

Sunday morning found me somewhat depressed and slow to move. I had to go hunting to make the whole missed-prom experience worthwhile. I decided that I would spend as many hours in the blind that I possibly could. The early morning temperature was in the 40’s and I knew I would be cold. I had to wear my bibs, but wore pajama pants under them just in case. I figured if I got too cold or tired I could curl up on the blind floor and sleep for awhile. Fortunately, Denny always puts a piece of carpet under the blind especially for me. I’m not fond of wet things or spiders and the carpet really helps.

I could hear the tom gobbling again as I approached the blind. I hurriedly climbed inside and prepared myself to hunt. For our anniversary that year, Denny had bought me a really nice chair with a back support that works perfectly for turkey hunting. I proceeded to sand my glass and send a reply to the gobbler. Much to my surprise he returned my calls. Being a novice, I wasn’t really sure if I was doing it correctly; however, the gobbler soon appeared across the field from me accompanied by several hens. Then a hen quickly appeared to the left of my blind. She hung around and also clucked in reply to the gobbles. It was a learning experience to be able to copy her replies. Our calling reminded me of the dueling banjos in Deliverance and I was thoroughly enjoying the show. I was even calm enough to use my binoculars to check out the tom’s beard. This continued for over an hour before the flock disappeared into the woods to my right. They never came anywhere near my blind.

Once again sitting in quiet, I picked up my pen and pad. I had decided to spend some time writing while I was waiting. As a matter of fact I had become very engrossed in my work when I heard a yelp from the right of my blind. I looked up to see a hen standing less than six yards from me. I swallowed very hard and slowly grabbed my bow after gently dropping my writing supplies. It was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop in the soil. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it was audible on the outside. I needed to turn my body on the chair, but was afraid to move and create a sound. Suddenly, a second hen appeared and pushed the first girl farther ahead. Carefully, by moving just my eyes, I caught a glimpse of a tom turkey expanded in his full glory coming straight toward the blind behind those hens. He gobbled and I nearly fell off my chair. I was shaking so hard that when I tried to pull my bow that the arrow fell off the rest… four times in a row. I kept hearing Denny’s voice as I struggled to draw: “Hit him right above the legs and avoid the breast.” In a rush of strength, I managed to draw my bow, take anchor, and release. The arrow sailed as if a missile on target and hit perfectly above the legs.

The tom spun around and ran into the plowed field, where he flapped his wings a couple of times as if to fly and then fell to the ground. It took everything within me not to barrel through the wall of the blind. I quickly drew another arrow only to find it had lost its nock; I grumbled and shucked it to the side. By the time I had another arrow nocked the tom had gone completely still. One of the hens walked up to him, head down and eyes glaring, but did not make contact. Amazingly, both hens just stood there looking around. Unable to stand it any longer I unzipped the blind and began to creep toward the fallen bird. More advice swirled in my head. “If you can get another arrow in a turkey, do it” Denny had said.

I tried to be quiet and sneaky, but the field was so muddy I sank to my knees. Eventually, in spite of extreme excitement and exhaustion, I trudged the 50 yards to my turkey. I fell to my knees to examine the beautiful bird. Tears filled my eyes as I gently stroked his iridescent feathers. I honestly don’t believe I have ever felt happier since the birth of each of my children. However, I couldn’t help but feel sad for the turkey. He had worked so diligently the last few days. As I knelt there I thanked God for this opportunity and for the unrelenting hormonal drive that males are given. It was because of that need that I was able to end my troubles and harvest a trophy.

I never even returned to the blind, but slung the turkey over my shoulder and headed for the house. It was only eight o’clock and the kids were all sleeping, except for John who was on an after prom adventure. I quickly called him on the phone and told him of my accomplishment. He was very proud. Denny was hunting, but I called and left a message on his cell phone to call home ASAP.

By 11 o’clock I still had not heard from Denny and I was about to explode with excitement. Suddenly the back door burst open and Denny flew across the room and into my arms. He was screaming repeatedly, “You got a turkey!” He had forgotten to take his cell phone with him while he was turkey hunting in Indiana that morning. I don’t think he has ever been more excited or proud of me.

I learned a lot this turkey season; things do happen for a reason. I doubt I’ll ever procrastinate again about applying for a license. I am hooked on turkeys. I anticipate that I will have to struggle to keep my “Denny” disease in remission and maybe even start up my own support group. I can see myself now, standing in front of a group of mothers “My name is Marie and I admit I have a problem: bowhunting.” That is the first step to healing, however I’m not sure I still want the cure. I now realize that in order to achieve a goal you have to work hard and make sacrifices. I can proudly state that although John was named “King of the Prom” and I was not there to witness it; I am now the “Queen of the roost” and I love it.

Equipment note: Marie used a Black Widow SA II, CX 100 shafts, and Grizzly broadhead to take her first gobbler.

Editor’s Note:This story is reprinted from Traditional Bowhunter® Magazine Apr/May 2008.

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About the Author:

Marie Sturgis is a full-time school nurse and mother of four children. She lives with her husband, Denny, in rural Michigan. Denny says that if you’re going to have a disease named after you, it may as well involve enthusiasm for bowhunting.

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