10:38 a.m. — STILL sitting on the plane IN Philly. I wonder if somehow I didn’t wind up on a Jet Blue plane instead of Delta. The plane was frozen to the ground and they couldn’t move it. Then the line for de-icing takes forever. The captain has told us it will be just about another 10 or 20 minutes since 7 o’clock every 10 or 20 minutes. I vow never to tell my kid that again! I’d be mad except that I really DO want them to get that layer of ice off the wings. As badly as I want to get to Florida, I want to die in a fiery plane crash even less. I make use of my time editing a story I have promised to get to my managing editor. As much as I’d love to close my eyes and nap, I want to die from being choked to death by my managing editor even less than a fiery plane crash. Maybe I’ve gained enough weight in my neck that her little hands can’t get a hold of my windpipe. I wonder…
11:01 a.m. — My plane finally takes off from Philly. Precisely 10 minutes earlier in Atlanta, a plane took off headed for Gainseville, Fla. with an empty seat on it. The ticket for that seat, in my pack, is still with me four states farther north.
4 p.m. — I finally arrive in Gainseville. One of my bags does not. In fact, it’s the bag with all of my camo and hunting gear. Dodd is waiting and tells me not to worry, we’ll scrape something together for an afternoon hunt. On the way to Jack and Bill Whitehurst’s family lodge, where we’ll be staying, I scarf down half of a rotisserie chicken that’s been sitting in the truck for a couple of hours. Not having eaten all day, and only Burger King in the terminal the day before, I believe this is the best damn chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life.
4:25 p.m. — We duck into the Gainseville Publix grocery store so I can grab a toothbrush and contact lens solution since all of that was in my lost bag. One quick tour around the store and I realize that the sorority I saw at the airport needs to come to Publix to do their next Rush. Man, Florida!
5:45 p.m. — Dressed in a short sleeve Realtree APG camo shirt, a green hat that says “TURKEY”, blue jeans and Muck Boots, I’m as close to being ready to hunt today as I’m going to get. Dodd has given me a Roberts Brothers glass and slate call to use, as well as one of Remington's 870 SPS Super Mag Max Gobbler shotguns, a mask and pair of gloves. Not sure what good the gloves will do when my white arms are exposed, but we’ll cross that bridge if we even come to it. We set out riding to see if we can glass a lone gobbler hanging out in one of the ranch’s many pastures.
5:57 p.m. — We run into James Hall, editor of Bassmasters magazine, who just got in around 3 p.m. himself. He drove, so he has all of his gear. Over his shoulder is slung a beautiful Osceola longbeard. It’s a good sign. Everyone is finding success.
6:45 p.m. — Dodd and I are riding and glassing. Approaching a sharp turn along a woods path, he stops the truck and I get out to peek around the corner with my binoculars. When I look, not 40 yards away are at least three or four turkeys, one of them a longbeard. I slip back, grab my shotgun and call, and sneak back to the corner. Dodd sits next to the truck and calls and scratches a little, too. I can just see one of the birds, the tom I’m pretty sure, marching back and forth as if it is not sure if it should come or not. The rented Yukon isn’t 30 yards away in plain sight, but if that gobbler gets to where it can see it, it will be too late for him anyway. Suddenly a hen flies up to roost right over my head. Another blasts off to my right. Alone, the final bird begins to ease my way, thinks twice of it and also flies to roost. I might have been able to slip just past the corner of brush and pulled out a shot, but that’s not how I want to take this first bird of 2007. At least not on the first afternoon of the hunt!
Stay tuned for Day 2 (or would it be 3?) of my hunt tomorrow.