EVERYONE WHO reads my column knows that October is my birthday month and that I've always tried to celebrate the entire month by doing nothing except the things I want to do. Sometimes - not often - I fail.
As I write this column, it begins to appear that this October will not provide me with the things I want to do since I am pretty certain to have another hip replacement. I had one done several years ago, and it worked wonders. I hope that this one turns out as well.
Some years back, Arkansas offered a fall turkey season. For some unclear reason the state discontinued the season except for open season for bow hunters. Having never taken up bow hunting, I was left out.
Fortunately, however, the state of Missouri has a nice October season that I have participated in several times. My friends Sam and Jackie Barker told me recently that they had cleared out the roads to our favorite area near Doniphan. Sometime before too long I hope to be able to use the wonderful Ozark region.
Hunting that high high country is a far cry from the flatlands I grew up in. It is delightful to hunt up there, even when I never see or hear a turkey. The vari-colored hardwoods are dotted here and there with pines. No matter what the season, the woods are beautiful.
In addition, the woods there produce some of the biggest Eastern wild turkeys imaginable. One of the adult gobblers we have taken in the spring weighed as much as 27 pounds (it was called up and bagged by Jackie). Even more remarkable was the morning four of us (the two Barkers, Carl Hall and I) all bagged gobblers, the smallest weighing 18 pounds and the largest just under 26 pounds.
Fall turkey hunting has some features that I like even better than traditional spring hunting. Notable is that sometimes I am lucky enough to know exactly where a huge drove of the big birds roost and can get situated right in the middle of them by doing some real Native American sneaking in the dark.
When I can do this I am almost mesmerized by the sight and sound of all those birds on every side. As the light grows stronger, I begin making out their black shapes in the tree limbs. Sometimes I am looking at 50 or more turkeys.
Once I found myself in this sort of situation in the middle of a large dry cypress brake. Every tree on every side seemed to be weighted down with turkeys. I am quite certain that as many as 200 turkeys were in view, some of them actually in the trees that I stood under.
When they began to fly down in all directions, I took up a stand in the middle of the area and began calling. Very soon I had called up and bagged two gobblers, one a jake and the other a long-beard that gobbled incessantly as if he thought it was a fine day in April and that hens were everywhere.
It is ironic that the summer that followed that fall hunt brought the worst die-off from disease that we have ever had. I am quite certain that as many as 75 percent of our flock died.
The next fall I went into the same cypress brake in the dark on our opening day in early November and only flushed 15 or 20 birds from the trees that a year before had held as many as 200. It is fortunate that the turkey die-off coincided nicely with an equally severe raccoon die-off. With the little bandits out of the way, hatching and rearing success was superb and we soon had a normal population again.
I digressed somewhat from my birthday month theme, but most outdoor people will agree that it is a fine month to celebrate living. The older I get, the more apt I am to celebrate every day since the journey through life is short indeed. We ought to use every day as if it were the last one we will be granted.