Fiscal Year

By Radcliff Menge


We are far enough into 2024 that most New Year resolutions have been abandoned. But given the natural cycle of fall, Christmas, and the close of winter’s hunting seasons, our unofficial corporate calendar begins and ends in March. Business concerns aside, early spring in Alabama is a particularly great time to start the clock over. I’ve been doing it for more than 30 years. Indulge me then a bit of new year reflection and resolution.

Every hunter and angler probably has a story about how they got hooked. I’m certainly no different, and I’ve told the story of my first turkey hunt so many times that it’s likely you’ve heard it from me already. For the uninitiated, it goes something like this. When I was twelve, my grandfather figured I was old enough to sit still in a turkey blind. I thus graduated from dove stools and deer stands to what was, in our family, serious business. 

New St. Stephens, Alabama is just up the road from Old St. Stephens, once situated at a natural shoal on the Tombigbee River, now long abandoned. New St. Stephens was built on higher ground, and while not exactly thriving, marches on. Heading west, Grandaddy and I turned left at rattlesnake junction – so called for the stop sign used to display “trophy” diamondbacks – then hung another left at the big hickory tree. We followed the powerlines into the pines and ultimately arrived at the cabin he’d built.

I’d like to tell you there was some big ritual to the whole affair, but Grandaddy and I went to bed  at 7:30 and woke up without ceremony at 4:00. Over breakfast of lemon icebox pie and coffee, he instructed me simply to do everything he told me and not to shoot until he said so. Then off we went into the cold predawn darkness of March in Lower Alabama. I didn’t have the first clue what to expect.

As I’ve done many times since, we stood in the woods listening for turkeys and waiting for the sun to rise. I didn’t know what a turkey gobble even sounded like, and I was nervous I might miss it. But right on cue four turkeys gobbled in a line stretching a quarter of a mile along the ridge we were standing on. The sound was unmistakable. We built a blind next to an abandoned logging road and my grandfather began calling. He told me the turkey we were calling would walk right up the road, and he would instruct me when to shoot. “Don’t move until I say so.” 

Sharing a loblolly trunk with Grandaddy as a backrest, I watched in earnest as the wise old turkey did exactly the opposite of what we expected. He walked through the woods parallel to the road, smart enough not to show himself until he was practically on top of us. My grandfather’s eyes were glued to the road on our right. The turkey crept by our left flank at what we later paced off as 15 steps. My grandfather never saw him. Nor did he see the turkey’s second pass through the woods opposite the road he was watching. An hour of silence went by and then he finally wondered aloud why that turkey had never materialized.

Grandaddy and I hunted together every spring for the next 13 years until he died, and though there were many more turkeys and many more stories, we often reminisced about that first morning and a bird who took on an almost mythical status. I can still see him clearly in the pale morning light, 31 years later. 

In the years since, I finished law school, got married, and moved to New York, where my father-in-law noted in our wedding reception’s guest book that “there isn’t one damn turkey.” Opinions vary but he had a point. The dictates of a new legal career meant that I missed a spring or two of turkey hunting. 

In the interest of enjoying the sport vicariously, I turned to Tom Kelly’s Tenth Legion. It’s the closest thing to the Holy Gospel of turkey hunting, with a central focus on the sport as practiced in Lower Alabama. Until my mid-20s I had never actually read the book. Turkey hunting was something I did because of some prehistoric compulsion. I didn’t really feel the desire or need to explore the associated literary canon. Stranded as I was in Manhattan, things had changed. 

In his final thoughts, Kelly considers the phases of turkey hunting and the very real idea that you can possess a turkey without having killed him. Immediately I thought back to my first hunt. Through the years my story had taken on the classic tenor of the “one that got away.” In reality, I already had the turkey. He was mine the moment he stepped into the clearing, so close I could see the steam rising off him. Nothing more was required. 

Eventually we left New York and moved to Birmingham. I suppose my father-in-law was right that the city didn’t suit me. Or maybe it suited me a little too well and I didn’t like the way things might turn out, like a guy at a bar who realizes the bartender knows his name and preferred drink. It was time to settle up and find a new place to hang my hat. 

The move had two discernible benefits. First, I was back in turkey country. Second, I had a more reasonably balanced life that allowed for creative pursuits. Thus Tom Beckbe was born in the evenings. Partly to recapture some of the nostalgia that I had for those spring mornings growing up, but also because I was confident then – and I know for certain now – that my experiences, unique as they had been, were universal. If I wanted a jacket and in time a brand that truly spoke to me as a sportsman, well there were probably a lot of other people who did as well. 

Ultimately I’m driven by a deep love for our natural world and the simple, pure joy of the chase. My new year (spring) resolution is thus to recommit Tom Beckbe’s support of sporting life and culture. In the coming year our support for habitat conservation will grow. And we’ll continue to use our platform to showcase great writing, photography, and videography from voices in the outdoor community who share our interest in the intellectual exercise of the chase. 

I hope that you’ll join us in those efforts. At the very least, I hope you get outside more this year. I’m committing myself to that as well, starting this week. When I step into that predawn Alabama darkness, waiting and hoping to hear a turkey, I’ll think of the immortal words of Tom Kelly – “I’m glad I lived to see it—one more time.” 

About the Author
Radcliff Menge is CEO and co-founder, along with his wife Mary, of Tom Beckbe.