This story appeared in the Wilmington Star News on April 20, 1996 and received the second place 1996 SEOPA Excellence in Craft Award for Best Daily Newspaper Column or Feature.
Last year, a new section opened for gobbler hunting in eastern Pender County. Novice George Paylor asked an experienced turkey buff to lead him in his quest for a gobbler by teaching him the lore and showing him how to lure one in close. No expert, but a veteran of 25 years of chasing beards and spurs, the hunter accepted the invitation to call a turkey for George.
The first morning, a tom gobbled his soul inside out attempting to get the hen contained in a double glass call to come to him. Although he was seen, no shot was offered at wattles that burned red as flame azaleas and a head as white as a dogwood blossoms.
Second day found the partners at the edge of a field, watching two bronze barons display fans as round and full as a flamenco dancer’s sombrero. Gobble they did, but they would not come to the imitation hen concealed in a cedar box yelper.
And so, the season progressed. Turkeys were bumped by the hunters, when they walked one step too close to their roosting trees. Two toms with fans the size of Mack truck tires displayed out of range, distracting George from another with a 12-inch beard that sneaked silently in, pacing 30 feet off his right elbow. Under the telescopic scrutiny of the gobbler’s eyes, the caller dared not signal George to shoot. The caller took a bird, practically in self-defense, which just wouldn’t circle around into George’s firing zone. George’s son, West, hammered a nice one on the way to roost on the second to the last day of the season.
After hunting 20 days of a 30-day season, with bloodshot eyes from lack of sleep and chores that nagged “undone,” George remained turkeyless at season’s end.
But the lure of an April dawn’s sun burning the mists from a Spanish-moss draped cypress swamp, the smell of violets blue as a gobbler’s cheeks, and the triple-throbbing gobble of a roosted tom in place of an alarm clock are lures that bond hunters to game. April 13 this year was opening day, or Georges day as it’s now celebrated in the Paylor household. A hen tried to lead not one, but six gobblers away from the sultry competition of the double glass call. But jealousy eventually made the hen spoil for a fight over her lovers. In so doing, she brought a beau with a 9 ½-inch beard into gun range.
All of those days of pent-up desire rocketed the caller past George to the fallen tom. The caller was glad for the day, happy for having to wait through all of those star-filled pre-dawns, thankful that the bird was earned through patience, that most enduring tool in a dyed-in-the-wool turkey hunter’s bag of tricks.
Presenting the trophy to George, I extended a hand in congratulations. Incredibly, it was George who thanked me for helping him earn his first set of spurs. I was thinking it should have been the other way around.