A Gobbler For Brother Gibbs
As Raymond Gibbs fights for his life, he recently checked first turkey off the bucket list, something he’s been trying to do for 14 years.
God’s timing is perfect.
It took 64-year-old Raymond Gibbs, of Cordele, 14 years of turkey hunting before he finally sealed the deal and killed his first gobbler. It all came down on Friday, March 27, 2020 when Raymond squeezed the trigger on a Dooly County longbeard.
“Fourteen years of waiting and waiting. There were times I thought about selling everything, I think I have every kind of turkey call ever made,” said Raymond.
The story of Raymond’s first turkey goes way beyond finally witnessing a gobbler “drop like a sack of rocks.”
“It was my first and possibly my last turkey. I may be alive next turkey season, but I just don’t know,” said Raymond.
For the last four years, Raymond’s health has been deteriorating. In December 2019, doctors at Emory in Atlanta sat him and his wife Cathy down and told Raymond that he needed to go home, get his things in order and be prepared to die.
“If you don’t think that will knock your socks off. That puts real life in your sights. It was me the doctor was talking about, not someone else,” said Raymond.
If Raymond was designing a set of blueprints for his life, and for his turkey hunting career, it certainly wouldn’t have been written the way it turned out. However, along with God’s perfect timing comes His perfect plan.
“It all really started in May 2016,” said Raymond. “I went to a gastroenterologist in Macon, and they sat me down and told me at the same sitting that I had nonalcoholic cirrhosis of the liver and pulmonary fibrosis of the lungs. So we started there with medications, watching it and did all kinds of testing.”
Doctors said Raymond would likely need a liver transplant at some point, so they established a good relationship with the doctors at Emory in Atlanta. That way, when it came time for the transplant, his name would already be on the list. From first being diagnosed in May 2016, Raymond’s condition continued to worsen.
“I get so tired physically sometimes,” said Raymond. “Not being able to get up and go outside, it’s hard. I look out there, and it’s so sunny and pretty.”
One of Raymond’s symptoms is a shortness of breath. He must be on oxygen full time, which made for another challenge in his continued quest for his first turkey.
“The shortness of breath has gotten worse lately,” said Raymond. “I have a little small tank I can take with me hunting. I can walk fairly well, not a long distance. There’s good days and bad days. Some days I can’t hardly get up and I have to lay around all day, and some days I can get up and do fairly well, just piddle.”
Raymond said through his years of chasing a turkey, he’s become familiar with GON and studied countless articles.
“I have been a member of GON since you had paper covers,” said Raymond. “I’ve read every article GON has put out about turkey hunting.”
Even with the great articles that GON has published on turkey hunting over the last 14 years, Raymond said it seemed like every bit of that information would leave his brain when it was crunch time.
“Every time I would hear one gobble, I would panic,” said Raymond. “I wouldn’t know what to do, even though I had read it. I didn’t know how to set up. I had one coming one time and I set up on the wrong side of the road. He came in behind me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I’ve learned a lot.”
In recent years with his worsening medical condition, Raymond started relying more on other people to take him hunting.
“They’d say, ‘We’ll get you turkey,’” said Raymond. “I told them I’m bad luck. I counted it the other day, and I think there’s about six people who have made an effort to get me a first turkey.”
Raymond’s chase for a longbeard even poured out into the GON circle. Last season, he had a hunt on the calendar with GON writer Donald Jarrett and Bobby Knight, two of middle Georgia’s finest turkey hunters. However, Bobby broke his foot right before the season started, and the trip had to be canceled. Raymond was crushed, but to make matters worse, he had just received another dose of poor medical news that suggested he may not live to even see the 2020 turkey season.
“In the first of 2019, they told me I had a rare lung disease called short telomere syndrome,” said Raymond. “They know very little about it. We’ve been throwing medicines at it. Most of them I can’t take because of my other conditions. There’s not really a treatment or anything they know to do for that particular lung disease.”
By February 2019, Raymond needed a liver transplant.
“All my doctors meet together when it’s time for a possible surgery,” said Raymond. “When they all got together, the anesthesiologist said, ‘Nope, I won’t put my stamp of approval on the surgery. If we put him on the table, we’re probably not going to get him back off the table.’ So my chance for a liver transplant was denied.”
Raymond’s health news continued to go down hill. Probably the hardest day of Raymond’s life came just two days after Christmas 2019.
“It was Dec. 27, I’ll never forget it. We went to Emory to the lung doctor and did a lung test,” said Raymond. “We went over all the blood work and the CT scans and X-rays. This doctor is a good Christian man, and he said, ‘All I can tell you now is go home, fill out your will and get everything in order and get prepared for death.’”
Raymond and his wife thanked the doctor and made the long drive back to Cordele.
“I didn’t tell anybody for a while, just family,” said Raymond.
Raymond has attended Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Cordele his entire life.
“I was going to that church before I was born,” said Raymond. “Mama took me in her belly. In 1964, I was 9 years old, and that’s when I was saved. I made a decision at a revival service to give my life to Jesus.”
Raymond has been a deacon at Pleasant Grove for more than 30 years, got married there and even sang in a Gospel group called Glory Bound that was based at the church. He’d been consistent in updating his church family on everything medically, but it was hard for him to share the latest news with his close friends.
“I got to thinking that I need to tell my church family. They can’t pray for me if they don’t know this latest news,” said Raymond. “We went to them at the end of January 2020.
“I ran across some Scripture in Isaiah 38 about Hezekiah, who got sick. God sent Isaiah to Hezekiah, who told him he was going to die. Hezekiah wept, and he cried out for God to extend his life. Isaiah was sent back to Hezekiah to tell him that God had extended his life for 15 more years.
“I have asked my church family to pray the prayer of Hezekiah. I didn’t ask for 15 years, but I asked that if it be His will, I’d like for God to extend my life whatever time He would see fit for me to have. I would love to see these grandbabies grow a little bit.”
When you spend just a few minutes with Raymond, you’ll quickly learn the love he has for his four grandkids.
“My 10-year-old grandson really likes to hunt and got his first deer this year, and me and him were sitting in the blind together,” said Raymond.
Raymond’s bread-and-butter has always been deer hunting. He started deer hunting in 1973 with a .30-30 Winchester lever-action rifle that his dad bought him. Raymond said he’s thrilled to now have the chance to pass along the deer hunting heritage to his grandson.
“Even while deer hunting, I have always been very intrigued by turkeys,” said Raymond. “When the hunting shows started showing turkey hunting, it just got in my blood. I just love to hear those scoundrels gobble. I said, ‘I am going to get me a turkey.’ That was in 2006.
“In 2007, I had the chance to shoot one. I was a total green horn. I heard one gobble, and there was a little island, and I knew he wasn’t going to cross the water.”
Raymond and his wife were set up on the gobbler, and things were looking like he may find success in only his second year of turkey hunting.
“Unbeknownst to me I sat down between the gobbler and some hens,” said Raymond. “The hens were doing their thing, so I got my call out and was copying them. Next thing I know he gobbled and about blowed my hat off. He was that close. Instead of waiting and having patience, all he had to do was take two steps and be in the wide open. I had to shoot what I thought was between two trees, and he flew away.”
Although Raymond was left frustrated that day, God’s timing is always perfect.
Raymond would end up killing his first turkey exactly three months later to the very day when the doctor at Emory told him to get his things in order.
“One of my hunting buddy’s name is Mark Wehunt,” said Raymond. “His son Jerry bought some property in Dooly County last year, and the guy who owned it before said there was some good turkey hunting in there. Mark knows I’ve been after a turkey all these years. He got with his son about letting me hunt. Well come to find out the property owner he bought the land from is a guy named Ken Pittman, and he goes to church with my daughter. He is a pastor. Brother Pittman said he would take me turkey hunting, so he made arrangements and got everything set up for us to meet and go turkey hunting.”
At 6:30 a.m. on March 27, Raymond and Ken were ready to make a life-long dream come true.
“He had a blind set up for me and had a little side-by-side that he drove me to the blind in, so we wouldn’t have to walk,” said Raymond. “We were hunting in a grass field, and it had clearcut bordering toward the north side.”
Daylight was silent.
“Between 7:30 and 8 we had a hen go to clucking. She clucked and clucked, but there was no gobbler that we could hear,” said Raymond. “The morning went on, and I’m guessing around 9:30, Mr. Pittman said there was a turkey on the edge of the clearcut.”
Raymond said the tom was probably 80 to 100 yards away.
“He stands there I guarantee you 20 minutes in one spot,” said Raymond. “He finally starts coming toward us and then turns around and goes back to the clearcut.”
The cautious gobbler was looking for a hen in the field and was reluctant to come much closer.
“Mr. Ken had called a little bit that morning. He called very little, just to let them know we were there,” said Raymond.
A few minutes later the gobbler showed right back up in the same spot where they first saw him, but this time he started to close the distance a little more.
“He was coming right toward us,” said Raymond. “He got just out of gun range, and he turned and went in the woods.
“Then about 80 yards down from us, he pops out of the woods. Mr. Ken said, ‘I’m going to give him something to think about,’ and he did a gobble with a box call.”
The gobbler went into immediate strut and started gobbling.
“This was about 10:30, and that was the first gobble we heard all morning,” said Raymond. “So here he comes down the edge of the woods just like he is supposed to. But again, he stops just out of gun range and goes in the woods. We listen to him gobbling, and he goes back into the clearcut.”
By 11 o’clock, it looked like Raymond’s bad luck with turkeys would continue.
“By that time we’re both getting kind of tired and ready to call it a day, and Mr. Ken said, ‘Let’s have prayer before we go. We should of done that first thing this morning.’
“He prayed for me, my health, our nation, all the folks with this (COVID-19) virus, our leaders, our churches. The prayer just touched our hearts. We were out in the woods, there was nobody around, it was a beautiful day, and we just had a spiritual connection at that particular time. We said Amen, put our caps on, and he goes to gobbling.”
The bird was still in the clearcut, but in just a few minutes, Ken could tell the bird was closing the gap and headed back to the field.
“Mr. Ken said, ‘He’s coming, and he’s coming hard, so be ready,’” said Raymond. “Finally, we see him at the edge of the woods, and he steps out, and Mr. Ken says, ‘When he sticks his head up, you shoot him.’”
At that point the bird was at 40 yards.
“He sticks his head up, I pulled the trigger, and that 3-inch magnum knocked the snot out of my shoulder. I’ve lost so much weight and muscle tone that I got bones sticking out on my shoulder,” said Raymond.
Even amongst the impressive recoil from the 12 gauge, Raymond was looking to see if his 14-year dry spell was finally over.
“I saw that head drop back, and he dropped like a sack of rocks. He did not flop. After maybe 10 seconds or so, I guess his reflexes kicked in and he may have flopped his wings three times, but that’s it,” said Raymond.
“So we went and got him and thanked the Lord for the bird, for the day. Mr. Ken accommodated me with everything from getting me there, getting me back and dressing my bird for me. My wife brought my grandboys and our granddaughter, and Mr. Ken showed them everything about the turkey, his stomach, his craw, his gizzard. Mr. Ken was so polite, so nice and now he’s going to make me a mount with the tail feathers, feet and the beard.”
Raymond’s bird was a hefty 21-pounder, wore a 10-inch beard and had 1 1/16-inch spurs.
“For a first bird, that was just awesome,” said Raymond. “Everything happened that morning just like Mr. Ken said it was going to happen. He called the shots. It was just so smooth. I never got anxious.
“I’d like to thank Jerry Wehunt for allowing me to hunt on his property so that I could kill my first turkey. Without his kindness, I wouldn’t be telling this story right now.”
Since the kill, Raymond has had time to ponder why God allowed 14 years to tick off the clock before he was able to harvest a turkey. He agreed that an obvious answer would be that God was teaching him patience. However, Raymond says this wasn’t the lesson God was teaching him at all.
“I’ve learned that I can’t do everything,” said Raymond. “I think He has me learning that we can only do so much with our lives, but we need to do what we can with what we have to do it with. I can’t do the things I may want to do, so I am having to do what I can.”
Raymond knows that God’s ways are higher than his ways, and God’s plan is better than anything he could have ever dreamed up on his own.
“I am not going to let the sickness stop me,” said Raymond. “I may not have my music ministry anymore. I am a Gideon, and now I am not able to go speak or place Bibles in the hotels and motels, but that doesn’t mean I stop serving. There’s a different avenue He wants me to go down, and I just got to figure out which one it is.”
For now, Raymond says he has the ministry of encouragement, and the Lord reminded him that the telephone is a powerful tool.
“I can’t go out and go visit a lot, but I can pick up this phone and say, ‘Hey Brother Brad, thinking about you today and just wanted to call and say howdy,’” said Raymond. “I did that to a friend of mine. About four or five years ago, he had some strokes, and I hadn’t heard from him in two or three years, and I called him up, and we rekindled our friendship.
“Do what you can with what you got to do it with. Right now I have to use what I got to encourage other people, and that’s what I’m trying to do.
“As a disciple, I am a witness. A witness tells what they know and what has happened to them. All I am doing is trying to be a good witness.”
When GON learned of Raymond’s quest for his first turkey, we wanted to help tell his story and allow his message to reach and encourage others.
“If my story will help someone who is sick, maybe someone who is not sick but likes to hunt and fish, maybe it gives one person a little insight about Jesus and helps them understand the need for salvation.”
Raymond knows that when he passes, he will be at the feet of Jesus. The security of his salvation in Christ is what keeps him joyful during a time when he is physically and emotionally hurting.
“I don’t know how people go through life without Jesus,” said Raymond. “I don’t know how people get by without a church family.”
I promised Raymond that I will be praying the prayer of Hezekiah, that if it be God’s will that He will extend his life whatever time He would see fit so that he could spend some more time with those grandkids.
“My 10-year-old grandson wants me to take him deer hunting to Cedar Creek WMA,” said Raymond. “He has never seen tall timber with trees so big that two people could not reach around them. All he has been able to hunt is planted pines, so if I can I am going to do my best to get him there, if health will allow.”
I know my prayers may not get answered the way I want them to. The reality is that my friend may never see another sunrise from a deer stand, may never make it to Cedar Creek or watch another turkey drop like a sack of rocks. But it will be OK.
Raymond and I both agree. God’s timing and His plan are perfect.
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