I’ve never felt bad for killing a turkey.
Outside of squirrels and rabbits, I probably hunted more turkeys as a kid than any other animal, but it was more about availability than an overwhelming interest in them. We hunted turkeys because they were there — and because the style of hunting fit into pretty much any 14-year-old’s budget.
As an adult I’ve leaned wholeheartedly into waterfowl and upland hunting, and turkeys have taken a back seat.
There’s a sense of adventure in waterfowl hunting I don’t get when I hunt turkeys. When I see a drake mallard I think about the journey he’s been on, all the things he’s seen and hardships he’s endured to get to where he is. When I see a turkey I think about turkey sandwiches.
The buyer’s remorse that so often comes along with taking an animal’s life has never struck me with turkeys. I don’t feel the same sense of love and wonder for them as I do for ducks and other waterfowl, but I do feel that sense of love for the places turkeys call home.
Turkeys give me the chance to hunt deep in the timber, something not often experienced by waterfowlers. And while the quarry may not be quite as enticing, the location keeps me buying spring permits year after year.
I don’t golf, or bowl, or play in a summer softball league and outside of a three or four-year period in my early twenties when getting drunk at the bar was my favorite pastime, hunting has always taken precedence. I choose to hunt over everything else, in part, because the stakes are so much higher. The life and death you hold in your hands each time you step into the woods is intoxicating.
That sounds morose and callus, but I don’t mean intoxicating in the heavy metal, high-fiving, big buck TV show kind of way. I mean intoxicating in a deeply meaningful, quasi-spiritual way.
I love to hike and bird watch, but it always leaves me feeling like there’s a pane of glass between myself and everything going on around me. I feel like an outsider, a passive observer trespassing on an ecosystem I don’t belong to.
But when you enter that same world as a hunter you cease to be on the outside looking in. The pane of glass disappears, and you have the great gift of melting into the ecosystem as a predator, no different than a bobcat or an owl.
And at the risk of sounding like a burnt out hippy, the oneness I feel in those moments is as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever had.
I’m always jealous when people tell me about religious or supernatural experiences. Erin isn’t religious per se, but unapologetically believes in ghosts and spirits. I’ve sat and listened with an indignant smirk to her and her girlfriends chitchat about ghost stories and ‘auras’ and the idea of something beyond.
I’ve never bought into this and like to tease them about silly beliefs, but when I’m in the turkey woods on a dreary afternoon listening to the wind knock branches together in the distance and crows gabbing back and forth overhead, I get a real sense of something larger than life looming around me. I used to think that feeling was the fear of something tangible — a bear or a mountain lion coming to get me.
But as I’ve grown more comfortable with the woods and my place in them, that fear has been replaced with tranquility, even in the presence of a spiritual mystery.
That’s why I love to hunt turkeys. To sit deep in the woods, feel the ridges of an oak tree against my back and know that I’m a part of something larger.
C.L. Sill can be reached at email@example.com