A Tale Of Two Brothers: The Conclusion

Christmas In April

Duncan Dobie | May 2, 2021

Eli Mason often told his nephews, “Ya’ just don’t know how good something is until you don’t have it any more. Turkey season is like Christmas in April.”

This stark reality hit the boys with both barrels two days after the Rendezvous. They never got a chance to apologize to Uncle Eli for fighting at the cookout. Eli Mason was taken in an instant by a massive heart attack while feeding his horses in the barn. He was 46 years old and had always stayed in excellent physical condition. Everyone who knew Eli was stunned. Tragedies like that weren’t supposed to happen. Uncle Eli was larger than life, and the boys were devastated.

Some of Eli’s closest hunting friends refused to speak to the boys at the memorial service. This made things even worse. Bobby Lee was the exception. Despite the boys’ obvious faults, he felt a tremendous sense of compassion because he knew how much their uncle had meant to them.

After the service he pulled them over to one side.

“Boys, I know those glorious days you spent with your Uncle Eli were some of the best in your lives,” Bobby Lee said. “Now you’ve got to try and figure a way to go on without him. He couldn’t stand to see you two fighting, yet he never stopped loving you or hoping the fighting would end. It was Eli’s greatest wish to see his two nephews reach an age and level of maturity where you would put all this hostility behind you and start giving each other the brotherly love and respect you deserve. That was his fondest hope…”

Large tears started streaming down the cheeks of both boys.

“You two know Eli Mason was a turkey hunting legend around these parts. Now that he’s gone, if you ever want to honor him and his legacy and regain the respect of all his friends then you need to make yourselves a promise right this moment to turn over a new leaf. Promise yourselves no matter what it takes you’ll never fight again. Do it now to honor his memory. You’re both young adults now, and you’re going to face a lot of adult responsibilities. Make him proud. Don’t let him down…”

With that Bobby Lee turned and walked away.

Cooper looked at his brother with teary eyes. “It’s mostly my fault…”

“Let’s don’t talk about blame,” Dansby said. “Let’s bury the past and put it behind us. Uncle Eli has plenty of animals at his place that need taking care of. Let’s go feed some horses…”    

• • •

A month later the boys spread Uncle Eli’s ashes on a beautiful hardwood hillside near a hollow on Rawls Island, the spot he always referred to as Houdini Hill. The hillside overlooking the flat hollow was about 200 yards from the steep ridge where the turkeys often roosted, and it contained several dips and ravines in which an approaching gobbler could and often did pull a disappearing act just when a hunter thought he had him coming in a string.

Only a few days were left in the season, but they had done very little hunting since the Rendezvous.

“Lots of scratching around here,” Dansby said. “And look, there’s a big gobbler track.”

“It’s the perfect place to do this,” Cooper said. “His spirit will always live here. Every time we hunt here we’ll know it.”

“God bless you, Uncle Eli,” Dansby said, looking up.

Just as Cooper emptied the last of the ashes, a booming gobble reverberated across the hollow a little over 100 yards away. It was immediately followed by another on top of the first.

“They’re paying their respect,” Dansby said, half smiling.

The day was warm, and the woods were soothing. The boys walked over and sat on a large boulder jutting out of the ground. They were dressed in civilian clothes and neither had brought a gun or a turkey call. Hunting was the last thing on their minds.

“Remember how we used to complain to Uncle Eli about how short turkey season is?” Dansby mused.

“Yeah, I remember,” Cooper said. “I used to bug him all the time about why the season couldn’t last 365 days a year.”

Dansby smiled. “And I always complained about not having a fall season like they do in Alabama.

“Uncle Eli always came back with a good answer,” Cooper said. “‘If deer season or turkey season was open all year long, you’d get awful tired of it,’”

“Yeah, I remember those words well,” Dansby said. And then he’d add, ‘The Good Lord gave us a short season so’s we could spend the rest of the year hoping, planning and remembering all those good times. That’s what makes it so special.’”

Then both boys said it at the same time: “Turkey season is like Christmas in April!” They looked at each and smiled. A large tear rolled down Dansby’s cheek.

“Only it’s better than Christmas if you exist on this planet for only one reason—to hunt turkeys,” Cooper said.

They went home that day with a renewed spirit and a renewed sense of closeness. Uncle Eli had owned six quarter horses, five small Mexican burros and three dogs that required considerable attention. The boys had moved into his house with their mother’s permission to take care of his animals and property, and they were doing an excellent job.

Bobby Lee stopped by the farm late one afternoon to check on the boys. He found them working in the barn. They were always glad to see him, he was a direct link to Uncle Eli.

“How was school today?” he asked.

“It’s still there,” Cooper said.

“Yeah, less than three months and we’ll be out for the summer,” Danby added. “We’re counting the days.”

“Have you been hunting much?” Cooper asked him.

“A right good bit,” Bobby Lee answered. “I killed a nice one on Saturday morning. He weighed 18 1/2 pounds. I roosted him the night before, and when he flew down, he landed right in front of me in a little clearing 30 yards away. How’s that for a gift? In all my years I’ve never had that happen. I hadn’t been in the woods 15 minutes.”

“I wish that would happen to me sometime,” Dansby said.

“You gotta be in the woods to make it happen,” Bobby Lee said. “Y’all haven’t been hunting any, have you?”

“No, we haven’t felt much like hunting,” Cooper said.

“But seeing you sure makes me want to go,” Dansby said.

“What’s stopping you?” Bobby Lee asked.

The boys looked at each other and didn’t answer.

“Look, I know it’s tough, but that’s what Eli would have wanted. I’m sure he’s proud of the job you’re doing taking care of things around here. Tomorrow’s the last day… Why do you two go over to the Island and see what’s stirring over there. It’ll do you good.”

“What about school?” Cooper said

“You’ve got a good hour and a half before you have to leave for school. And even if you go in a little late… I don’t see any harm.”

“We’ll give it some thought,” Cooper said.

“No, don’t give it any thought. Do it! Promise me right now you’ll go in the morning. Tomorrow’s going to be a gorgeous day. May be a little rainy,  but still a gorgeous day. You need to go.”

Dansby looked at Cooper. “It is the last day.”

“Okay, we’ll go,” Cooper said.

“I expect you to call me sometime tomorrow and tell me how it went.”

“We will,” Cooper promised. “We’ll call you on the way to school.”


The boys came in on the old logging road on the back side of Rawls Island 30 minutes before daylight. They quietly slipped out of the truck and listened for 15 minutes. They had planned to split up and hunt separately, but suddenly the darkness was cut by a deep reverberating gobble from a bird over on the steep side of the ridge.

They both stood listening. Cooper cupped his hands around his mouth and owl hooted. The darkness was cut by another immediate gobble.

“That’s got to be Sweeper!” Dansby whispered excitedly. “I’d know that deep voice anywhere.”

“The question is, what’s the best way to get to him?” Cooper whispered, silently slipping Uncle Eli’s shotgun out of its case from the back seat of the king cab. He slipped three shells into the magazine as quietly as possible and shucked one into the chamber and made sure the safety was on while Dansby was uncasing his gun.

Cooper had insisted Dansby use his Remington pump since he planned to use Uncle Eli’s old Winchester. Dansby quietly loaded the magazine, slid one into the chamber and also checked to make sure his safety was on. Cooper rested the gun across his arm and reached into his pocket and pulled out the good-luck 1884 silver dollar Uncle Eli had given him when he turned 13.

“Call it,” Cooper whispered as he flipped the coin up and put it on his arm in the dim light from the cab of the truck.

“Tails…” Dansby whispered.

“Tails it is,” Cooper whispered. “You get first crack if we get him in. Come on. We’ve got to set up before he flies down. I’ll set up 30 yards behind you and start the calling.”

Dansby was flabbergasted. “What did you say?”

“You get first dibs, Brother. You won the toss.”

Cooper quietly closed the truck door and went sneaking off into the darkness with his brother right behind him.

They decided to set up in the flat just this side of Houdini Hill where they had scattered Uncle Eli’s ashes. They knew there was a 50-50 chance Sweeper might go the other way after fly-down, but no one had hunted this spot all season long, and they had a good feeling about their chances. They circled around the ridge to their right and stopped when they reached the flat.

“It’s your show, brother,” Cooper whispered. “Move on up about 40 yards, and I’ll stay right here.”

Dansby nodded and tiptoed ahead. He found an ancient dogwood tree whose trunk split into three sections, giving him good cover. He sat down and leaned back against the tree. He took out his slate and box call and put them on the ground beside him. Cooper started doing some light calling behind him. A booming gobble shattered the silence. Two minutes later they heard several birds fly down. Cooper gave a few soft clucks with his mouth diaphragm, and he was instantly answered by a heart-stopping, double-gobble. The both knew it was Sweeper, and they could tell he was not going the other way. Cooper called again, and this time two gobblers answered.

“Lord please help me stay calm,” Dansby thought.

The nerves and adrenaline were surging from the excitement of hearing Sweeper shake the earth.    

“It’s got to be Sweeper and his two buddies, the brothers,” Cooper thought.

He was right. A third gobbler started gobbling off to Cooper’s left.

Dansby was looking directly into the little rise of Houdini Hill. He decided to let Cooper do all the calling because they were coming in fast. They might appear at any moment and see him if he tried to use his slate.

“Please don’t pull a Houdini on me now,” he whispered. It was now light enough to shoot. He pulled his knees up tight against his body and rested his gun on his left knee.

Cooper was almost as excited as his brother. He felt certain that Lefty and Righty would come in following Sweeper, and that Dansby would get a shot at one of the three. Suddenly Dansby saw movement up to his left. It was one of the two smaller gobblers walking through the woods toward Cooper. The turkey was a good 65 yards out, and Dansby knew he had no chance for a shot. He couldn’t tell if it was Lefty or Righty, but every few steps the excited bird would stop and gobble.

Copper started doing a little cutting now, and Sweeper shook the earth again. Dansby concentrated on the two gobblers coming in directly in front of him while the out-of-range bird to his left continued walking around him. Suddenly Dansby saw movement straight ahead. A massive gobbler stepped into his field of view. The big bird would dart forward for several steps, and then stop and strut. It had to be Sweeper. Danby caught a glimpse of a second gobbler coming in just behind the first. Cooper was raising cain with his call behind him, and both birds were in a frenzy.

“Come on in big boy,” Dansby whispered, slipping the safety off.

Sweeper gobbled several times and continued his ballet performance, but he would not come any closer. The bird behind him walked around him and continued to approach Dansby, intent on locating the cutting hen 40 yards behind his position. It was one of the brothers for certain, but Dansby still couldn’t tell which one. The gobbler was closing under 30 yards, and Dansby had to make a decision.

“I either shoot the brother before he runs over me, or I let him go and hope Sweeper gives me a shot.”

Sweeper wasn’t coming any closer. At 20 yards, Dansby aimed just under the brother’s red head and squeezed the trigger. A second after he shot, a loud blast rang out behind him. Dansby’s bird was on the ground flapping its wings—he looked back behind him to see Cooper’s bird doing the same thing. Lefty and Righty had met their fate, but Sweeper didn’t seem to be too alarmed. As Dansby stood up, the huge gobbler retreated down toward the open bottom. He stopped in the very opening near Houdini Hill where the boys had scattered some of Uncle Eli’s ashes. The grand gobbler stood looking back toward Dansby. Cooper could also see him from where he was now standing. It was a special moment. Then Sweeper lifted his head, gobbled loudly, and turned and disappeared over the hill.

When Dansby reached his gobbler, he looked down and saw the makings of a double beard. He had killed Lefty. He picked up the nearly 20-lb. bird and started walking toward his brother. Cooper was standing over Righty with a huge smile on his face.   

“Congratulations, Brother!” he yelled. “We did it!”

Dansby was almost in a trance. “Did you see it? Did you see what Sweeper did?”

“I saw it.”

“Did you see where he was standing?”

“Yes, right where we scattered some of the ashes…”   

“It’s gotta be some kind of sign,” Dansby said.

“It is,” Cooper agreed. “Uncle Eli wanted us to know he was right there with us today.”

“That was some good calling, brother,” Dansby said. “We almost got Sweeper!”

“We’ll get him next time,” Cooper said. “I’m happy with Lefty and Righty. Is this Christmas in April?” Cooper asked.

“No, it’s Christmas in May!”

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Dansby asked. “It’s the last day of the season…”

“Couldn’t be a better day to do it…” Cooper said.

“What about school?”

“We can afford to miss one day.”

“Let’s go.”

Cooper picked up his gobbler and hefted it over his shoulder.

“What about some morels?”

“I think I just happen to know where we can still find a few. It’s not far from here.”

“You lead the way, brother.”



Less than an hour later the boys were parked next to the river at Henderson’s Pasture. They had driven home and gotten Eli’s wooden box containing his cooking supplies. While Dansby filleted out the breast meat and cut it up into small chunks, Cooper got a good blaze going in the fire circle.

“Two turkeys is a lot more than two of us can eat,” Dansby said as he finished cutting up the second breast and mixed in a few tasty morels. “Maybe we oughta save the second breast for later.”

“Let’s cook it all right now,” Cooper said. “It’ll never go to waste.”

So they did. Just as Dansby was taking the first batch of delicious, golden-brown turkey morsels out of the skillet, Bobby’s Lee’s familiar gray Chevy truck pulled into the pasture. He parked next to the boy’s truck and got out.

“How did you know how to find us?” Dansby asked with a look of surprise.

“Oh, I had a feeling you two might be here,” Bobby said with a grin. “I could smell those turkey breasts three miles away.”

“Well we’ve got more than enough,” Cooper said. “We killed Sweeper’s two bodyguards today.”

“I can see that,” Bobby said. “Congratulations men. What about ol’ Sweeper?”

“We saw him right where we put out Uncle Eli’s ashes,” Dansby said.

“I believe that,” Bobby said. “But Sweeper got away again, huh?”

“Yep,” both boys answered with a sigh.

“There’s always next year,” Bobby said.

Suddenly a red truck pulled into the pasture. It was Ben Statler, another of Eli’s long-time friends.

He got out holding a plastic water bottle and stared at the two turkey carcasses in the back of Dansby’s truck.

“Looks like somebody had a mighty good day,” he said. “Mind if I join in the celebration?”

“We’d love for you to join us,” Cooper said. “There’s plenty for everybody.”

“And there won’t be any fightin’ today?”

“No sir, that’s a thing of the past,” Dansby said.

“I’m glad to hear it,” Ben said.

“How in the world did you know we’d be here?” Cooper asked.

“You know… the jungle telegraph,” Ben said.

“The jungle telegraph? I don’t get it?”

“It’s the way the stars lined up this morning, son,” Ben said. “Today’s the last day of the season, and it’s only fitting that we pay our respects to your uncle.”

“There were no stars out today,” Cooper said. “It’s been cloudy all morning.”

“Let’s just say a little bird told me and leave it at that,” Ben said.

Cooper looked at Dansby. Dansby shrugged his shoulders. “It’s been a crazy day,” Dansby said.

“That’s why very few sane men ever turkey hunt,” Ben stated philosophically.

“What say we eat a little turkey and dedicate this day to our special friend Eli Mason and all the good times he brought us,” Bobby said.

“I’ll drink to that,” Ben said. He held up the water bottle and drained the contents. The sound of another truck could be heard, headed for Henderson’s Pasture…


Become a GON subscriber and enjoy full access to ALL of our content.

New monthly payment option available!


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.