I was turkey hunting near Chataqua, N.Y., with some of the pro staffers from Knight & Hale. Knight staffer Mark Grieco had called three jakes within 15 feet of me, but I hadn’t taken a shot. Both the sight of the jakes and a glimpse of a mature gobbler strutting for a hen about 70 yards away had frozen me. Even while Mark was whispering “shoot, shoot!” I hadn’t made a move.
Oh, he joked about it later, calling me a “trophy hunter” and retelling the morning hunt during the group’s lunch at the hunting camp. I smiled although inside I grew more steadily disappointed in myself. By the time I left for the two-day drive back to northern Maine, I was in the mood for regretful country music and harmful introspection about my future as a turkey hunter.
Maybe I could find a place to hunt turkeys in the morning. Then, after an early morning hunt, I also could take an alternate route back to Maine, staying in New York until legal shooting time ended. The hard part would be to get permission to hunt somewhere. There are tons of exits on that interstate. Something made me take the right one.
The Right Exit
By then the sun was low in the sky, at an angle that turned the arcs of telephone wires silver between their poles. Long shadows lent preciousness to the ordinary things, such as a swing set in a yard or an old wooden table at the roadside with boxes of strawberries for sale on the honor system. I could smell a first cutting of hay. I was drinking chocolate milk. I was expecting to see John Boy Walton at any moment.
I pulled into the driveway of the farm just in time to witness a father and mother in the midst of saying their goodbyes to a young couple. I never did find out who was son or daughter. I was welcomed to hunt on the farm before I even finished the request.
Every bend in the road showed another peaceful scene.
The next morning I parked in their driveway and walked out around the pond and through thick meadow grass to the spot I’d picked. I was hidden at the edge of the woods on a knoll, which overlooked a newly planted cornfield as well as the farmhouse far below. I could see the moment when a light came on in the farmhouse. In the unfamiliar woods and near a town I’d never seen before, I felt a kinship with the far-away window of light and the family living there.
As I left, still very early, I met the dad who was heading for work. He gave me his business card and invited me to return any time during turkey season or for deer season in the fall. Had I taken an exit to paradise or what?
I drove north, watching for turkeys. Finally, with barely one-half hour to go before legal shooting time ended, I stopped at a small-town post office to mail Mother’s Day cards. The woman working there took in my story at a glance — camouflage clothes, red-rimmed tired eyes, and meant-to-mailed-before cards in smudged envelopes.
“I know a good spot,” she astonished me by saying immediately. “My son got a turkey there two days ago.”
I backtracked a mile or two, found the dirt road she’d advised and quickly parked. I beat it up the trail she’d described, skirting across ledges to find the grassy areas on top of the ridge. I set up one hen decoy and called softly. Fifteen minutes left now; then 10, five. I picked up the decoy and started to head back down the trail. In a perfect world, I was thinking, a turkey would have come along.
But then again, I seemed to have stumbled upon a perfect world as I hunted home. I knew I would never forget this morning’s hunting. Maybe hunting home was not just something you could do, but a place. Always, it would be people who made a hunting home. Sometimes, you find one another. I’d been blessed.