I sat bolt upright on the couch, wide awake. It was pitch black dark in the clubhouse, with only a very faint glow in the windows from the moon. Feeling around on the floor by the couch, I found my boots and retrieved a small penlight from the toe of one. The little light illuminated the room enough to help me find the box of matches and light one of the old-timey oil lamps on the big table. I'd gotten dressed by the time Clayton's alarm went off.
I walked outside to look at the sky. There was a half moon overhead, and it was hazy. No stars were showing. It was cool but not uncomfortable. Then I noticed headlights coming down the long driveway.
I walked back inside and told Clayton, "Get up, we've got company."
He just groaned. I walked over to the small table in the corner and lit another lamp. Looking out the window, I saw the pickup pulling in with a trailer and four-wheeler.
"Don't worry," I told him, "it's Mr. Bill."
I was glad to see him walk in the door.
Sign-in starts at 5 o'clock, and I was anxious to get started.
"Go ahead and sign in, Mr. Bill - it's five," I told him.
"No you go," he said.
"Is there anywhere in particular you want to go today?" I asked.
"No, you sign in first, then I'll think of somewhere to go," he answered.
"I want to sign out Shoot Yo Leg," then added, "I'll also sign out a portion of Ridge Road so I can park there and walk in to Shoot Yo Leg Road."
It's been a favorite place of mine at the club, until this year. The new timber company owners clear cut a huge amount of the place. One of the other turkey hunters, Billy McCubbins, called me back in the summer.
"It's going to hurt your heart, but I have to tell you, they're cutting Shoot Yo Leg."
I killed my first turkey on this club in the big hardwoods of Shoot Yo Leg. Nobody else hunted it very much because it flooded and was hard to get into. The "Pretty Place" was there, and the "Upper Swamp." Now it looked more like a war zone. Only a small parcel was left standing. Too wet for the big machines.
The name came when a former member got careless practicing his quick draw skills with a pistol on a deer drive.
Mr. Bill decided on River Road and the top end of Ridge Road. We wouldn't be hunting too far apart. After talking for a while, we wished each other luck and headed out.
Our walk from Ridge Road would be a long one through heavy timber and wet conditions. I would use the light only sparingly. We needed to get to our destination well before daylight and without making too much noise. Thankfully it was too cool to worry very much about snakes, and even the mosquitoes weren't bad. We stopped in a clearing to wait on the dawn, and the eastern sky was just getting lighter. Hopefully a gobbler would sound off nearby, and we'd know which way to go.
Orange, pink and yellow lit up the horizon and streamed sunlight down through the emerald green woods. The beauty of it when you have the time to stand there and soak it all in is almost incomprehensible.
Then a sound brought me back. A gobble!
He was back across a big cutover toward Ridge Road, where we had just come from. Forty-five minutes of hard walking.
"Maybe another one will gobble closer," I told Clayton.
The turkey didn't gobble but a few times, and no others sounded off. It was decision time.
Clayton wanted to take the big cut down out to Shoot Yo Leg Road, and I wanted to head back to Ridge. We laughed that we'd have him surrounded, then wished each other luck and headed out. It only took 15 minutes to walk back to Ridge in the daylight.
On the road, I slowed my pace and walked as quietly as possible, scanning the hard-packed sand for tracks. I watched the road ahead intently, and stopping occasionally called softly. A creek crossed the road ahead, and I wouldn't go beyond it.
At the creek, I yelped on my box call and got an immediate gobble from deep in the swamp. My spirits soared! Almost frantically I looked for a place to sit down, but there was too much water. Finally, I found a tree 20 yards from the road with not much cover, but it offered good visibility. He had already gobbled again on his own - closer.
When I sat down I yelped, and he cut me off with a gobble. It was happening fast. I got my gun up and started scanning the woods. My heart was pounding! Then I saw him coming - a big longbeard running toward me through the canes and little green bushes. The shot was pure instinct, and I can hardly remember it.
Clayton heard my shot and war whoop from Shoot Yo Leg - and smiled.
Dan Geddings is a weekly columnist for The Sumter Item. Email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.