Once again the cabin regulars are assembled, and in the morning — well before first light — the pursuit of Meleagris gallopavo will begin. Although given the irregularity of this odd spring season, the sly quarry may be seldom seen.
Wild turkey gobblers are extremely particular beasts, best located by their predawn announcement to any nearby hens that they are awake and available for some reproductive activity.
But temperature greatly influences their behavior. As a rule, the gobbling does not begin until the thermometer has remained at 60 degrees or warmer for several successive nights.
And in a spring that has delivered mornings of frost and snow in March, there’s no knowing how intense their lust will be tomorrow.
But bagging a bird is not the main point anyway. Though edible, wild turkeys have their drawbacks. Their diet is mainly acorns and bugs. And they are athletes — strong fliers and world class runners. The tendons in their thighs and drumsticks are like hacksaw blades.
If food were the object, one could do much better at the supermarket. A good-size bird can be had for less than $30 — a fraction of the cost of 10 days in a hunting camp.
What really matters, however, is the fellowship — on which it is impossible to put a price.
Especially during the first few days, when excitement fuels the enterprise, the atmosphere in the cabin is unfailingly congenial. But sooner or later — generally sooner — a subtle tension develops between those who have had success and those who have spent the last 10 hours or so watching squirrels and woodpeckers in the otherwise empty woods.
At which point conversation all but ceases and the disappointed seek comfort in soothing beverages.
We are hoping again this year for a revisitation by foxes. Three years ago, a red fox vixen chose the crawl space under the cabin as the place to birth her litter.
Days later, seven little ones appeared, their eyes barely open, no more than 8 inches long from nose to the tip of tail.
The mother we never saw. Most likely she was out at night, looking for a careless rabbit. Having no experience with humans, the kits were fearless around us. We fed them cat food out of a spoon but made no effort to tame them. Only sadness could come of that.
I had hoped that as adults at least one of them might return to the birthplace for its own parenting. But that hasn’t happened and may not again.
From the many dated photographs on the cabin wall, I can see that this springtime ritual of ours dates back 30 years almost to the day.
The harvest of game has been uneven from year to year, but the harvest of friendship has been consistent — and valuable beyond price.