Just to Listen to the Turkeys Fly Down...
New Years Eve.
Sweet to revelers and nostalgic folks.
Just about the end of the line for deer hunters in Georgia.
The rut is long gone and the deer are scarce, for sure. Oh, you can still find some does - you can even find them bunched up at times.
Go find a buck. Heck, find any buck.... much less a good one. A real good one...
My brother Ronnie and I have access to a small property in south Georgia that we have hunted for many years... we keep a low profile on the property and just enjoy having the place to hunt and enjoy. Heck, we even have the use of a Civil War era house on the place - fireplaces in every room, tongue and groove floors, walls and ceilings - just a great place to hang out.
Ronnie found himself there on New Years Eve recently. He spent the night on the 30th of December, knowing that he would have to go home the following afternoon to enjoy the turning of another year with the family.
He told his wife Carol prior to going "I am just gonna go up, hunt this afternoon, spend the night and then in the morning... I will go to the swamp just to listen to the turkeys fly down and then come on home.. I will be home before noon, for sure." That was a lie, but he did not know it at the time!!!
No deer were seen that evening - it was one of those cold, cloudy afternoons with the winds gusting to 20 mph - first one way and then the other... with rain forecast to fall later that night.
Ronnie enjoyed a supper of leftover Christmas dinner at the fire that night, while the wind howled outside and then finally the rain blew in - and off Ronnie went to bed.
As he drifted off to sleep, Ronnie could not know what lay in store the following morning. In peaceful dreams, he saw big old gobblers roosted over the swamp, red heads glowing in the new morning light... long flowing beards swaying slowly under plump, 25 pound bodies!
The morning dawned crisp and cold, stars glittering in the darkness as Ronnie peered out the back porch long before daylight. A stiff frost lay on the ground and the old thermometer on the porch hovered around 30 degrees.
Ronnie relaxed at the kitchen table, black coffee in hand as he prepared for his hunt. "Gonna be a cold one", Ronnie thought to himself - "better get out the coveralls".
Ronnie made his way down the red clay road we have walked hundreds of times... down to where the creek crossed under the dirt road. The frozen tire tracks crunch underfoot as Ronnie hears a doe blowing out in the agriculture fields that are part of the property. "Go home", she seems to say, "it is late in the year and we are tired of you!". Turning south, Ronnie followed the creek for about 250 yards to a very productive spot that we have hunted for the 20 + years we have been on this farm. Climbing a tree next to the silently flowing creek, Ronnie is less than 75 yards from the tree where he killed his very first 8 point buck - some... what now... let's count backwards... almost 20 years ago now... my, how time flies.
Dawn comes stealing into the swamp, driving the blackness out of the black water haunt that is home to so many different animals.
Ronnie is a good hunter. Slow and steady on the stand, he waits very patiently. Always focused, no coffee, books or other distractions are allowed on the stand. He will not stand for them.
He is also a selective hunter. He is generally able to immediately identify a good buck with just a glance. This morning, however, he fails in that regard. Badly.
The turkeys are there and they do, predictably, fly down well after daybreak.
Ronnie relaxes and watches as the day comes to full, bright light. It is a windy morning and the swamp is noisy not only with the wind but with all of the birds, squirrels and other critters.
He watches as three does thread their way out of the swamp and into a fairly new clear cut that is not part of the farm we are allowed to hunt. They are but grey shadows as they fade into the vegetation - likely all pregnant now and looking for food to sustain the new lives that will appear in the spring.
The morning advances long now... watch now, Dear Reader, as Ronnie knows he must wind the hunt up, make his way back to the house and enjoy another coffee before he heads home for the day.
Gathering his items up, a small eight pointer that Ronnie has watched all year long appears at the edge of the clear cut and comes down the slight hill into the swamp.
"Better cut that out, buddy", Ronnie thinks to himself as the buck slides down the muddy hill - some hundred yards distant, "someone will shoot you walking across that wide open cut down in broad daylight - you got lucky you were not spotted out there. Good thing I am a nice guy - you get a free pass in this swamp - at least for the next couple of years!" The young buck uses the same path into the swamp that Ronnie has seen him use numerous times over the course of the season.
The buck slowly feeds along the west side of the swamp, pausing here and there as Ronnie puts his grunt call and rattling antlers into his pack... time for this hunter to head for the hill and then on to the house...
He pauses as he waits for the buck to move on down the swamp - no need to frighten the little fellow... I will just wait for him to pass on out of sight.
Ronnie glances over his shoulder and the deer is moving away now - but he is moving slowly, as he picks his way through the underbrush. The buck wades the creek and as he comes out the other side, Ronnie is PARALYZED!!!!!
That is NOT the little eight pointer - AT ALL! Ronnie notices a left side G2 that is well over 12" in height!
His mind spins out of control -what the heck was I doing... was I half asleep... was I not paying attention... how did I let him get so far down the branch... my goodness!!!!!!
He notes, seemingly way too late - the buck, who is now about 125 yards down the swamp and heading away, has antlers that are tall and well outside the ears!!!
Ronnie drops the pack like it is made of molten steel and grabs up a very well worn Savage 110 in 30.06. The rifle shows its age, as does the Simmons Aetec scope that has sat atop the action for close to 20 years.
Rifle up now, Ronnie watches... heart pounding, as the buck moves through the cover, unaware that his final moments on this earth are close at hand.
With just a nudge on the 2 pound trigger, 150 grains of jacketed lead leave the muzzle.
With a scant 130 yards to go, the end result is very swift.
Shot high, fairly well back on the right side of the shoulder in a quartering away shot, the buck is dead before the bullet exits the front of his other shoulder.
A soft splash is made as he settles gently into the black water. A new eddy is created as the cold water swirls around his body... tinged slightly red with blood, but the water is so black you can hardly see it - even if someone were there to try.
Ronnie climbs down and is shocked when he approaches the buck. A great main frame 4 x 4 with a lot of stickers, palmations and other "junk".
Ronnie marvels at the mass and width of the beast.... and then begins the task of dragging the deer out of the swamp.
Christmas came late for this hunter on this bright, cold day - New Years Eve morning spent - "just listening to the turkeys fly down".
I just want to say that I hope God blesses every one of us with good luck and even more importantly, good friends and family to share our memories with. I was not there that morning, but Ronnie is a superb story teller and I have heard this story more times than I can count - and consider all portions of this tale to be factual, in spite of the fact that several versions of the events have, at times, been influenced by hops and barley - but there is one irrefutable fact: that boy killed a beast that morning that was almost allowed to pass by unmolested!!!! Ronnie is 6' 4" and 200 lbs - these pictures hardly do this buck justice...