I was born on the thirteenth of April, but when I woke before dawn on the thirteenth of April, on my thirteenth birthday, I thought nothing of it. After all, birthdays were nowhere near as important as turkey hunting!
I had been turkey hunting for three years, and never had actually shot a turkey. Shot at them, yes. Missed, yes. Killed one, no. I had my fingers crossed for today, but today was youth day in New Jersey, so I was going to have to share this day with my older brother Joe, and younger brother Andrew. Not that I minded, I was used to hunting with one or both of them on occasion.
We headed out to the woods behind our house, it was raining lightly to my disappointment, and was a 60 degrees out, fog blanketing the woods. Of course I didn’t know at the time that these kinds of day could produce the best turkey hunting.
It wasn’t long before we heard a bird gobble, close. Our dad hurried my younger brother and I to the base of a huge oak tree where we sat elbow to elbow, our 20 gauge shotguns balanced shakily on our knees. Joe was set up a few yards away with his 12 gauge for a longer shot, and our dad laid on his stomach in the wet leaves behind us.
This was going to be one of those “too easy to be true” hunts; three turkeys came in at a dead run, 2 hens and a Jake. Unfortunately for Andrew and I, they stayed out of reach of our shotguns. Luckily for Joe, they came close enough for his 12 gauge to reach out and put one on the ground. The shot startled all of us, and the turkeys scattered except for the jake which remained on the ground, feebly flapping his last.
Disappointment and triumph warred with one another as I watched my older brother fill out his tag. Triumph won over; it was still early, there were other birds.
We were at the house taking picture of Joe’s bird when we heard a thundering gobble echo down through the hollow behind our house. My dad snapped to attention. “It’s close, we’ll have to hurry.”
Hurry, we did, splashing across the brook to take the shortcut to the top of the hill. Nearly to the top, we heard the bird gobble just over the rise and all three of us hit the ground. Our dad had taught us well, we knew that turkey hunting entailed having your wits about you, sometimes crawling on your belly through swamp muck, running up hills until you thought your lungs would burst, and reacting to orders in a split second. Also, that one saying that our patient father would say over and over us as we walked through the woods, “Pick your feet up!” Turkey hunting was awesome.
We managed to crawl to a huge hemlock tree, the base of which was covered with poison ivy and thorn bushes. But we knew that this was not the time to worry about small things, we had a bird coming in. I managed to get into position on one side of the tree, Andrew and dad on the other; I had my gun up when I heard the heartbeat sound of the turkey strutting up the old logging road in front of me. “I see him”, I heard Andrew whisper. Then so did I. He was huge, his tail fanned, puffed up and strutting. Beautiful. And the next move was mine.
Shaking so bad I knew I would miss, I took a deep breath and held it; then lined up the bead on the turkey’s head and squeezed the trigger. I thought my heart would jump out of my chest when the gun went off and the turkey suddenly deflated and collapsed on the ground.
I sat in a daze, looking through the thorn bushes and watched my dad race the distance to the turkey, then my younger brother following. Oh, yeah. Maybe I should get up too. I managed to struggle out of the maze of thorns and poison ivy and find the strength to walk over to them. My dad picked it up by the feet and handed it to me. I suddenly felt a rush of happiness and pride go through me, and my dad engulfed me in a hug. Finally, this was my day.
Later that same day, with only an hour left to hunt, my dad called in another turkey for my younger brother, making that three turkeys in one morning. That afternoon at the check station, we entered our turkeys in the Annual Youth Day Biggest Turkey Contest, and I came away with the trophy for my 22 pound turkey.
As the years go by, I will always remember that as the best birthday I have ever had. It is something that only happens once in a lifetime, and a day that my dad and brothers and I will never forget.