This past Tuesday night I was fortunate enough to take 3 huge gobblers. Now before you pick up your cell and start dialing up the old Game Warden cause NC don't have no dang fall turkey season and the fact that I eliminated THREE of 'em, let me finish my story.....
Down here in the Carolina flatlands, we've got an old southern tradition of having turkey shoots during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas. I can still remember the first one I attended. I came home from school (6th grade) one crisp autumn day and was outside shooting some hoops while pretending to be either Tommy Legarde or Mitch Kupchak, having the ball zip passed to me by point guard Phil Ford and then turning to the basket and making the shot at the very instant the buzzer sounded, winning a tough contest against David Thompson and the hated Wolfpack, from that "agricultural school" just down Tobacco Road, in Raleigh, natch. (These were the days prior to my smoldering hatred of the now infamous Coach K & his Dook Blue Devils!)
Anyway, my Dad comes home from a tough day at work, and at the supper table (yep, us Southerners still call the last meal of the day...Supper. Dinner is that meal in the middle of the day you Yankees refer to as "lunch") when Daddy asked me if I would like to go to a Turkey Shoot that night. I guess my excitement and Rebel yell was answer enough for dear old Dad so we wrapped up supper and headed out the door in search of that huge gobbler that I just knew I was gonna shoot. We loaded up into Daddy's old '54 Chevrolet pickup (Geez, I wish I had that truck today) and I sat there in the cold, dark silence holding Daddy's old Iver & Johnson smokepole, shivering not so much from the cool temperature, but more from excitement. This thing might as well have been a bazooka. The barrel alone was 32" long and it was a 12 gauge. At the time, I had never shot anything more lethal than Daddy's trusty .22 rifle. I remember running my hands along the scratched wooden stock while we drove along in silence and wondering how badly this thing was gonna rock my world when I squeezed the trigger on that big tom. At this point, Daddy explained that we were going to be shooting at paper targets and not live game!
We rolled up to the Turkey Shoot to find a good-sized crowd gathered and I shyly got out of the truck. Daddy came around and handed me the bazooka and said I could carry it if I was safe with it, kept the action open and behaved myself. Young and old alike, there were men there with their sons and grandsons and nephews, etc. I linked up with a couple of my classmates and they stood there staring bug-eyed at the smokepole I was holding. Several of my buddies asked me if I was really gonna shoot such a huge gun and I stood there with a big dumb grin on my face, looking ,like a mule eating briars telling them how lethal I intended to be on those paper targets.
Small groups of men were gathered around 55 gallon drums, set ablaze with the smell of oak and hickory burning in the night air, talking about whatever men talked about during these social events. Down range (25 yards or so), 60 watt light bulbs dangled from a power cord above the 10 targets that were nailed to the plywood backstops and spaced about 10 feet apart.
All of a sudden a loud sound came from the firing line and I started looking for a place to take cover, thinking a bolt of lightening had just struck somewhere nearby. A bunch of us started laughing nervously when we realized it was the first round of gunfire going off. An announcement over the loud speakers came up and I heard my name being called to the firing line for the next round. I felt like I was walking in quicksand as I realized how loud these smokepoles were and how much fire and smoke came belching out of the muzzles, as angry BB's hurled down range toward their destination.
I slowly walked up to the man handing out "bazooka bullets" and he quietly asked if I was ready. This kind man, must have sensed my hesitation and summoned one of his buddies over. Within a short minute, one of my classmates came walking up and said that it was alright if I used his shotgun. He handed me a much smaller gun that appeared much less imposing than the bazooka. It turned out to be a single shot .410 and he assured me that he didn't think his gun wouldn't kick nearly as hard as my Dad's smokepole. I gladly took him up on the offer, which I am sure disappointed some of the interested bystanders just waiting to see me get nailed on my butt!
I then nervously inserted the shotgun shell into the chamber and closed the action. I remember looking at the target, trying to look like I had done this sort of thing before and emulating my best Sgt York impression. I remember pointing the gun downrange and placing the bead on the bulls-eye. After that I began squeezing the trigger and must have closed my eyes in anticipation. All of a sudden, a tooth-jarring jolt erupted from the .410 and smoke was everywhere. I opened my eyes and realized that I was still alive and had carried out the deed in a safe enough manner, because the guy in charge at the firing line patted me on the shoulder and hustled me off, so he could get the next group ready.
On this cool Autumn night, in my first attempt to "bring home the bacon", I didn't win a turkey, but went to sleep that night with a huge grin on my face and the taste of smokeless powder still burning in my throat. the next day at school, several of us turkey shoot "veterans" would relive the previous night's events in glorious detail to those who were not fortunate enough to have attended.
37 years later, these thoughts came flooding back as I stepped up to the firing line. On this night, I was a little bit more lethal and luckier, because I surprised my wife with 3 frozen turkeys for Thanksgiving.
Thanks to Dad for including me in his world!