Ralph Stuart (left) and Ray Eye.

(Part II-click here for part I)

“Nothing seemed the same, because nothing was the same,” I lectured myself as the nearly full-grown poult walked off to re-acquaint itself with its family…

By the time some basic underlying instinct kicked in and I shook the cobwebs loose, the family flock stood gathered, yelping and kee-keeing, in a clearing about 100 yards off. I did my best Jake-the-turkey-dog impression and ran into the birds to break them up once again. A hunter can never break up a flock of turkeys as well as a dog can and sure enough they scattered unevenly with one of the bigger birds flushing off to my right–by itself.

The re-call always take a lot longer on a second flock break and some times the re-call never comes at all. So I took my time assembling a hide from nearby fallen tree limbs before grabbing a seat against the trunk of a big white pine. Whether it was the early wake-up or warmth of the fall sun I’m not sure, but soon I drifted off into one of those light naps we often take, yet never admit to, while hunting, thinking about those who should have been sitting next to me but could not…

The adult hen caught me by surprise. Her yelping, though soft, was as jarring as the 5 a.m. alarm. When she got behind a tree at 20 yards, I pulled up and shot her when she stepped out. I no sooner reached the bird when my cell phone announced a text message: “Mark and I got into some adult gobblers this morning…call me–Dave.”

Just over a month ago, hunting buddy Dave Streb lay in a hospital bed in Buffalo, N.Y. Back then, taking part in hunting season seemed an afterthought at best, an impossibility at worst. Frankly, the thought of losing yet another hunting buddy was overwhelming. But he is not among the lost and we’ll be hunting together again soon as I will with other hunting buddies I’ve reconnected with over the past year…

Ray Eye–My personal turkey-hunting mentor and teacher for innumerable turkey hunters throughout the country, I first began hunting with Ray in 1984 when I was a young editor at Outdoor Life and challenged “Mr. Hot Shot Turkey Pro” (he didn’t like that characterization too much) to call in a turkey for me in New England. He took the challenge and called up three gobblers in two days back in the day when birds were scarce. After umpteen years of turkey hunting together, we each got ‘too busy’ and lost a couple of seasons. He’s been back the past two years and doubt that we’ll ever miss another year of hunting together.

Ralph Stuart–Outdoor Life hired Ralph as an assistant editor in 1985 and he an I became instant hunting buddies–have been ever since. Problem is, he lives in Maine and I don’t. Like Eye, Ralph has missed several turkey seasons, but came back last spring–for good. He did his usual thing–killing two gobblers in two days and then went back home. But he was back and that was cool.

George Hamilton–“Gigi” hunted with Ray, Ralph and I back in the mid-80s and then, too, got sidetracked by life. As a ridiculous happenstance would have it, George and I were back in the spring turkey woods two years ago. As per usual, he called in a wad of turkeys and I managed to pick out the only jake in the bunch.

****Dave Streb–We’ll share the woods again–December 26 in the Texas hill country to be exact–and I couldn’t ask for a better Christmas gift, well, save one…

Tarryn–No doubt her mom and I were more excited about Tarryn’s very first day in the woods as a legally licensed hunter, but not by much. (We admittedly helped prime the pump a bit by preparing turkey with all the fixins’–T’s favorite–the night before the hunt.) The task was formidable. It was opening day of fall turkey season and that October 1 was hot. After striking out all morning, I began to lose hope. That’s about when T’s mom, Kris, spotted a turkey running up a hillside. A short time later, we were set up atop the oak knob. Barely in position, I heard a gobbler yelp…and then Kris whisper: “Turkeys.” Then came the bang. First day, first bird and an adult gobbler at that. To watch that kid walk down the woods road toward the truck–a turkey as big as she was slung over her shoulder–is a site that will be forever etched in my mind and heart.

**That little kid is now married and stationed in Hawaii with her Pfc. husband, Austin. I plan on taking her out for turkeys again when I join Ray Eye there in just a couple of months. We’ll be on top of a volcano instead of a sun-drenched New York oak ridge. But maybe, just maybe the turkey hunting gods will smile on us again. **

Indeed, nothing seems the same because nothing is the same. But who knows? Perhaps they can get even better.