April's Fool

By Mark Coleman

Sometimes hunting is about more than filling a tag. Going turkey hunting when you’ve never killed a turkey is not one of those times. For years the season in my state ran only the month of April, and when my friend Gerard called the evening of the last day of March asking if I wanted to hunt in the morning, I only briefly considered the incidentals. 

“You know how to hunt turkeys?” I asked. The question was legitimate. I’d never heard him mention killing one, much less trying to, and two guys wandering the woods not knowing what they’re doing was not a good reason to wake up early.

He didn’t hesitate. “Yeah, man.” 

“Seriously? You know how to call?” There’s no good way to verify something like this over the phone without sounding ungrateful for the invitation and I was, after all, a guy who’d never killed a turkey. Newbies can only be so picky.

“Is fried chicken greasy?” 

Parents, teach your kids that regardless of which side of the conversation they are on, confidence goes a long way toward credibility. Speak the truth with hesitation and everyone in the room will doubt you. Lie through your teeth with certainty and at least one person will believe you, which is generally enough to get what you want. Weighing a chance at bagging my first gobbler against a potentially fruitless morning in the woods, I let the silence hang in the air.

“Do you want to go or not? I’ll be by at 5:30. Gives us plenty of time to set up before sunrise.” The property he wanted to hunt was about twenty minutes from the house. Doing the backwards math, he was right. As long as we didn’t get lost, we’d be in place well before sunup.

I was still fairly new to hunting in general, having only chased dove, deer, and a few quail in recent years. Turkey hunting, I knew, was considered a challenge several levels above sitting in a dove field or a deer stand and waiting for the game to show up. Turkeys were smart and had excellent vision. You didn’t just luck into killing one. And as I would learn in seasons to come, you can dramatically shorten the learning curve by going with someone who knows what he’s doing.

Turning off the blacktop onto a dirt road, I found myself trying to temper a few stubborn doubts. “You sure you know where to go?”

“I scouted ‘em over the weekend. They’re roosting in a clump of pine trees a few hundred yards from where the road stops.” Gerard and I had been friends for years. He’s one of those guys that things always seem to work out for, and not because of extensive preparation or a surplus of skill. One afternoon in high school, he was goofing around at a friend’s house and broke a Ming Dynasty-era vase. While they were debating the merits of honesty versus a crafted tale of misfortune before our friend’s mom got home, a squirrel found its way into the house and when the dog was done chasing it, every other piece of art and sculpture in that room was in pieces. He’s that kind of guy.

We eased along, headlights chasing away the darkness in front of us. A long mud puddle covered the path ahead, short grass on either side offering a way around. Gerard gave it the gas and never twitched the steering wheel. We made it about halfway through the puddle before the truck sucked to a stop. 

Usually, when you shift into four-wheel drive, you know pretty quickly whether it’s going to help or not. He made the shift and we knew, or at least I knew, it would not. “Get out and tell me what it looks like,” he said.

I dropped into the shin-deep water and squished my way to the grass. “It’s not too deep but there’s no dry ground in it.”. He goosed it one more time and it rained mud. The truck stood its ground.

“Screw it,” he said. “We’ll get it out when we come back. Grab your stuff and let’s go.” He was right. It wasn’t quicksand and the truck would be here when we were done. No point wasting time on it now. 

I followed him through the woods toward our rendezvous with the bearded ones, the light still straining to peep over the horizon. After what indeed seemed like a few hundred yards, he stopped, looked around, and pointed to a tree trunk. “You sit there,” he said as he moved a few feet away and took up a spot against another tree.

We whispered in the darkness for a while, mostly me asking questions about what would happen when the light came up. He said the birds would fly down out of the pine trees and hit the ground, then he’d start calling and they’d come toward us and whichever one of us had the better shot would shoot. This sounded exactly like what I’d read in magazines and buoyed my optimism somewhat.

The woods in the pre-dawn hour are a special place. While most of the world sleeps, you are among the privileged few invited to the day’s premiere. There’s a sense of being let in on a secret, one that wouldn’t do any good to tell because no description, not even a photo or video could make people understand how all of the senses work together to stretch out time. Borrowing Hemingway’s description of something altogether different, daybreak happens gradually, then suddenly.

As light crept into the trees, dark shapes materialized in the pine branches. Gerard had indeed put us in the spot. Thirty minutes later, as if on cue, the dark shapes sprouted wings, gliding and flapping to the ground. Without any prompting from me, my pulse picked up. 

They hadn’t even folded their wings when they started walking away from us. Gerard worked a box call, at first tentatively, and then as the birds continued their march unabated, furiously. He pulled out a gobble call and shook it like he was trying to strangle it. The turkeys, for their part, appeared more certain by the second that their future lay far away from these sounds.

When we got back to the truck, the options for getting it on dry ground were few and quickly exhausted. We found some dead limbs and an old carpet square and wedged them under the wheels in various configurations, but the mud was in the mood for battle and our primitive weapons showed little resolve.  

In the lone bit of good fortune the morning held, this happened in the early days of cell phones -  they were called car phones at the time - and Gerard had one. 

“Who are you calling?” I asked.

“Ellen.” His wife, a woman of infinite patience and nobody’s fool. She worked at a bank and was exactly the person you’d trust with your money. In a word, she was the responsible one. The woods were still quiet and I could hear the phone ringing. When Ellen answered, Gerard made his case. 

“Hey babe, the road out here’s still muddy and we’re stuck big as Dallas. Come help pull us out.” She drove a Honda sedan, and despite our situation, or maybe because of it, this seemed like a bad idea to me. There was a long pause. 

“Pull you out? With my car? No. I’m at work, Gerard.” Another long pause, then the zinger. “You think you’re so funny. I’m not falling for your stupid April Fool’s mess.” 


Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you planned. Sometimes Plan B doesn’t work out either. In the coming years, we’d kill many turkeys on that property, but the first one would have to wait, as would a shower, breakfast, and the start of my workday.

He pointed the direction we’d come in, back toward the blacktop. “You start walking. I’ll tell the tow truck driver to look for the guy in camo sitting by the road.”


About the Author
Mark has been chasing birds behind his Brittanies for almost thirty years. In addition to occasionally writing for outdoor publications, he volunteers as head of the outreach committee for The South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative. His online presence is limited to a dusty Instagram account (@spentcartridge).