The Quest For Blackbeard Part 2: Turkey Hunting Fiction Series

"Second Chances"

Duncan Dobie | April 12, 2018

Ellis Holloway III was a third-generation landowner. Even though he was accused of having been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, which he couldn’t deny, he had set about early in life to do more than live off the family inheritance. He had always been a hard worker, and he loved the land he had inherited. He was known as a tough businessman. He had worked hard to keep the farm that he fondly called Harmony Grove in tip-top condition.

Harmony Grove had been named after a large pecan orchard on the property that had been planted by Ellis’s grandfather.

Ellis Holloway detested people trespassing on his property without proper permission. As a result, Swede Reynolds had been given wide latitude in dealing with poachers almost any way he saw fit. In recent years this had caused some problems, as some of Swede’s tactics had been a little over the top. A year earlier, he had caught a deer poacher red handed and had handcuffed him to a tree in a cold November rainstorm for three hours until the game warden got there to arrest him. Big Sam had been on a stakeout, so another game warden had come in his place. Big Sam did not approve of Swede’s methods, and there was no love lost between the two.

Other locals with questionable motives who were highly suspect had their tires mysteriously slashed while parked just across the fence from Holloway land. Ellis Holloway knew that Swede sometimes bent the law, and he had warned Swede about the consequences if the trend continued. But Swede was a master at catching trespassers and poachers, and Ellis Holloway needed someone like him. What’s more, a reputation like Swede’s was the best deterrent he knew of for keeping potential poachers on the straight and narrow.

Two weeks after Cliff and Freddie were surprised by Big Sam and Gene Hobbs, Big Sam’s green DNR pickup pulled up in front of the long pole barn that stood near the 8-acre lake on Holloway property. It was about 9 o’clock on Saturday morning, and Mr. Holloway was overseeing the repair of some hydraulics on a large John Deere tractor.

A very nervous Cliff Conway was sitting in the passenger seat next to Sam. Freddie Burns was supposed to be with Cliff, but he had failed to show up at their designated meeting place. Big Sam was not happy with Freddie. He planned to follow up later. The truck rolled to a stop, and they got out.

Mr. Holloway and two men holding tools were standing next to the tractor.

“Mornin’, Sam, what brings you out to the farm today?” Ellis Holloway said.   

“Morning, Ellis. Morning Ray,” Big Sam answered.

Ray, a local mechanic who did a lot of work on the Holloway farm, nodded and smiled at Big Sam.

“We came to talk to you about a little business proposition. Ellis, I’d like you to meet Cliff Conway.”

Mr. Holloway stepped over and offered his hand to Cliff.

“Glad to meet you, son. Let’s see… Conway… Don’t I know that name?”

Suddenly Ellis Holloway’s demeanor changed from night to day like a man who had stepped too close to a rattlesnake. His friendly smile disappeared.

“Wait a minute… Are you…” He turned to Big Sam. “Is this…”

“Yes, Ellis,” Big Sam said. “This is the young man I was telling you about.”

Ellis Holloway put his hands on his hips and got in Cliff’s face.

“Why does everyone want to poach on my farm?” he said, raising his voice. “What is it about Harmony Grove that you poachers find so irresistible? Can’t you find somewhere else to do your dirty work?”

Cliff was determined to stand up straight and look Mr. Holloway in the eye.

“Sir, I came to meet you in person and apologize and tell you that I want to try to make up for what I did.”

“What do you mean ‘make up’? How can you make up for what you did? Did you steal any of my game?”

There was that word again. Steal. The same word Big Sam had used. To his way of thinking, Cliff was not a thief, and he certainly didn’t associate what he had done as stealing. He hated the word.

“No sir. I’ve never killed anything on your property. And I came to tell you that… well, I’d like to try to make up for what I did by working around the farm for you. I realize how wrong I was. I can cut hay, or plow or do anything else you say.”

“What? Now I’ve heard everything. Why in the name of common sense would I allow a convicted poacher to work on my farm? You think I’m crazy?” Ellis Holloway shrugged and turned to Big Sam.

“Hear him out, Ellis. He means what he says.”

“I’m not a convicted poacher, Mr. Holloway,” Cliff said. “I could have been arrested when Big Sam caught me, but instead he gave me a chance and told me that I would have to apologize to you face to face. I know you don’t like people trespassing, and I don’t blame you. I’ve had some time to think about what I did, and I want to make it up to you. Please let me do some odd jobs around here. I’ll work hard and gain your respect.”

“Gain my respect? Ha! That’ll be the day. Tell me something, son. Just what is it that makes you want to sneak on my land and hunt my deer and turkeys? Is it the thrill of getting away with something? Is it the danger? After all, it can be quite dangerous. I have a caretaker that used to be a drill sergeant in the Army. He’s one tough dude, son. You don’t want to mess with Swede. It’s a good thing Sam caught you instead of Swede.”

Cliff was silent for a moment. Then he spoke.

“I just love to hunt.”

“Well if that’s the case, did you ever think about asking? I allow people to hunt and fish on the farm all the time. Well did you?”

“No sir…”

“What about your buddy? Er, what’s his name Sam?”

“Freddie… Freddie Burns.”

“Yes, Freddie Burns. Does he want to go to work for me as well?”

“He was a no-show today,” Big Sam answered. “He was supposed to meet us and apologize to you in person just like Cliff. I plan to find out why he stood us up.”

“Is he a good friend of yours?” Ellis asked, turning to Cliff.

“No sir. I’m not having much to do with him anymore, Mr. Holloway.”

“Well, we know he’s been all over my farm, and Swede is gunning for him. If Swede ever catches him…”

He glanced at Big Sam.

“That’s right, Ellis,” Sam said. “Cliff has given me his word he won’t have anything to do with Freddie any more. I believe him. That boy is bad news. It’s just a matter of time before he does something that’ll really get him in hot water. But I think Cliff has learned his lesson here. I think he truly wants to make it up to you.”

Ellis Holloway turned to Cliff and paused, then said, “Next Saturday morning. Seven sharp. We get started early around here on weekends. Be here at the pole barn.”

He turned around and walked over toward the John Deere.


• • • • •

Cliff was 10 minutes early the following Saturday. Ellis Holloway put him to work bush-hogging and cleaning up limbs and other debris near a newly planted 30-acre pecan orchard. Cliff loved bush-hogging with the old Ford tractor he was driving.

“Don’t tear her up, or you will be in big trouble,” Ellis had told him with a slight smile before he got started. “That’s the first tractor I ever used on this farm.”

“No sir, I won’t,” Cliff said. “I’ll take good care of her.”

Later that afternoon, as Cliff returned to the pole barn after putting in a full day, he saw Sam’s truck parked out front. Sam was waiting for him as he parked the Ford tractor under a small shed.

“How’d it go on your first official day?” Sam asked.

“Great,” Cliff said. “I love working on this farm. I saw three deer and heard some turkeys in the woods. I love bush-hogging and driving the tractor.”

“That’s good, ’cause I think you’ve got a steady job for the next few Saturdays. Ellis has plenty of work to keep you busy.”

“Did you ever talk to Freddie?” Cliff asked.

Sam frowned. “Yeah, Gene and I went to see him. He came up with some lame excuse about his truck breaking down, but we know better. I didn’t push the matter. After thinking about it, I don’t like the idea of Freddie coming here to meet Mr. Holloway in person or trying to work here like you’re doing. He needs to stay away from this place.”

“I agree,” Cliff said. “It wouldn’t be good.”

“What are you doin’ tomorrow afternoon?” Sam asked.

“I don’t have any plans…” Cliff answered.

“Tell you what, then,” Sam said. “I’ve been workin’ a farm over on the other side of the county where the landowner’s been having fits with coyotes. He’s asked me to come over on Sunday afternoon and try to bushwhack a few yotes for him. I’ve already killed two, but there’s plenty more. Lots of turkeys, too. I have a blind set up on a field where a couple of good gobblers are doin’ a lot of strutting right now. If you want to come along, I’ll do a little callin’ for you, and maybe you can tag a gobbler. If the yotes show up instead, I’ll have my rifle to deal with them. You interested?”

“That would be great. I’d love to go with you.”

“You got a shotgun?”

“I have an old Stevens 12-gauge single shot,” Cliff said.

“I bet it kicks like a mule. I grew up shooting an old Stevens.”

“It does,” Cliff said. “But I killed a gobbler with it last year.”

“Was it legal?”

“Yes, it was legal,” Cliff said, making a face.

“Just checking… I’ll bring a shotgun for you to use,” Sam said. “You probably won’t need more than one shot, but at least with my automatic you’ll have backup if you need it.”

“That would be great!” Cliff said.


• • • • •

Cliff and Big Sam reached the Maclean property about 2:30 p.m. After stopping and talking to Mr. Maclean at his house for several minutes, they drove down to a bottomland pasture that ran along a large creek. Big Sam parked his truck in the woods and got out. He took the automatic shotgun out of its case and handed it to Cliff along with three shells. Cliff noticed the wing bone turkey call hanging around his neck.

“You always use a wing bone call when you turkey hunt?” Cliff asked.

“Yep, ’fraid so,” Sam said. “I’m old school all the way. I love old stuff—old guns, old turkey calls… wing bones go back hundreds of years to the Indians. Nothing like calling in and killing a turkey with a call you made yourself.”

“You made that?”

“Yes, I’ve made a few dozen of ’em over the years, mostly for friends. Maybe I’ll make one for you some day if you’re interested in learning how to use it.”

“I would love that,” Cliff said. “I love to call, but I’m not very good.”

“What do you use mostly?”

“A mouth diaphragm, but I have an old box call that sounds pretty good and a slate that somebody gave me. I use both of them some, too.”    

“Well, if things go the way I hope they will this evenin’, I’ll try to fool an ol’ gobbler into steppin’ in front of that shotgun. Meantime, this’ll take care of any other varmints.”

Sam uncased his scoped .308 bolt-action Remington Model 600 and slid a box of bullets into his backpack.

They walked down the treeline several hundred yards to a well-concealed brush blind Sam had made weeks earlier. They stepped inside and set up their portable stools. Sam put on his face mask and gloves and placed his shooting sticks in front of him. He put the rifle on the sticks and adjusted the height to his satisfaction. Then he loaded the magazine. When he was finished, he leaned the rifle against a large limb in the blind and said, “Let’s see if there are any turkeys around here.”

He put the wing bone to his mouth and made a series of light, perfectly timed yelps.

“Sounds awesome,” Cliff said.

“This one is made from a hen’s wing,” Sam said. “Most hunters prefer hen to gobbler bones because gobblers have larger bones and make more of a raspier, masculine sound. But I’ve made both kinds and called turkeys in with each of them.”

Thirty minutes later, several hens appeared on the treeline across the field 200 yards away. Sam studied them with his binoculars.

“Looks like our first customers of the day,” he said. “Maybe there will be a gobbler or two with them. Let’s watch and see what they do.”

Within minutes, nine hens and three jakes walked out into the newly plowed field.

Then Sam said, “Here come the big boys,” as he was looking through his binoculars. “Two of them.”

Cliff could barely make out two blue-headed gobblers as they walked out into the open and began strutting.

“Gonna be hard to pull either of them away from those hens,” Sam whispered. “But we’ll sure try. Let’s see if we can get their attention.”

Sam began calling a little louder.

The turkeys remained where they were, and nothing happened for 30 more minutes. Suddenly a loud gobble sounded in the woods less than 100 yards down the treeline from where the hunters were sitting. Sam answered the call, and two new gobblers stepped out of the woods and began walking down the treeline toward them.

“If I had a shotgun we’d get ourselves a double,” Sam whispered. “Looks like it’s all up to you.”

When they got within 40 yards, Sam called lightly one last time. The gobbler on the right continued walking toward the blind. When he was less than 30 yards, he stopped and raised his head. Cliff was ready. He squeezed the trigger. A loud blast rang out, and the turkey’s head and neck erupted in a volcano of small feathers. The second gobbler was instantly airborne and flying across the field toward the others as the first flapped on the ground.

“Nice shot, you smoked him!” Sam said.

All of the birds in the flock across the field stood with necks tall and erect for a moment and stared toward the flopping bird. Then they quickly walked back into the woods and disappeared. Cliff was beside himself. After his experience with Blackbeard several weeks earlier, he had been a little worried about getting buck fever again and blowing another opportunity. Now he knew he had redeemed himself. He jumped up and ran out to his flapping bird.  Sam followed.

“This is awesome,” Cliff said.

“Grab your bird, and let’s get back to the blind,” Sam says. “We’re on a roll. We might just luck up and see a coyote before dark.”

Sure enough, less than 30 minutes later, two coyotes trotted out across the field from right to left. When they reached the middle of the field, Sam got his scope on the second dog and squeezed off a shot. The animal rolled in its tracks and went down hard. Sam quickly bolted another round into the chamber and followed the lead dog as it changed direction and ran back toward the treeline. He fired once and missed. He quickly bolted in a third round and fired again. The coyote crumpled.     

“Talk about smoking ’em,” Cliff said. “That was amazing. I didn’t know you could shoot like that. I don’t know anybody that can shoot like that. ”

“I just got lucky,” Sam said with a big grin. “Jim Maclean oughta be happy.”

“What a day!” Cliff said happily. “We both won the lottery today! This is a fabulous piece of property. Do you have a lot of property like this to hunt on?”

“Let’s just say that being a game warden has its advantages,” Sam smiled.

Cliff grinned broadly. He grew silent for a moment. Then, with a more serious expression, he added, “Thanks for what you’ve done for me, Mr. Sam. When you caught Freddie and me, I thought it was the worst day of my life. First, I froze up and went to pieces when I saw Blackbeard, that big gobbler I was telling you about on the Holloway farm. Then you caught us. That was a double whammy. But I see now that it really wasn’t the worst day of my life. It may have been the best day instead. I actually almost got a shot at an incredible turkey—Blackbeard—and I got to meet you. I know this may sound fake or insincere, but I’ll never forget what you’ve done for me. I really mean it. You didn’t have any reason to trust me, but you did. This day means more to me than you’ll ever know.”

“I have every reason to trust you,” Big Sam said.

Then he added, “A lot of folks I know are expecting big things out of you.”


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