The Shotgun 2
Part 2 of a Fiction Series: “Education of a Turkey Hunter”
Conditions were perfect. It was cold and clear. I was leaning against a large pine, well camouflaged but a little chilly. A light breeze was blowing, and the temperature was probably in the high 30s.
My knees and feet were pulled up tight against my body, and the old 12 gauge was resting across my left knee. The shotgun seemed to be anticipating any pending action that could come within the next few minutes.
I was comfortable, sitting on a small waterproof cushion, and I knew I could remain in that position for at least an hour if necessary. Daylight had slowly begun to open up the woods about 15 minutes earlier, and it was close to fly-down time.
On a hunch, I had come up the old logging road trail an hour earlier and quietly tip-toed a short distance around a hardwood ridge that opened into a small heavily wooded valley that led down to a large cattle pasture. Thanks to an old friend of Tom Dixon’s named Herb Peterson, I was hunting a paper company tract that Mr. Petersen had made arrangements for me to hunt on.
I had scouted the area a week before and had found a lot of fresh scratchings and plenty of droppings and a few feathers. A stand of large, mature pines filled the short flat in front of me before it dipped sharply down toward the open pasture. A gobbler was roosting about 100 yards straight ahead in one of the pines. He had let loose just as the faintest rays of daylight began to penetrate the dark woods, and he had gobbled four more times since.
I had a strange feeling this might be the mature gobbler I had nicknamed Old Blue Boy. Minutes earlier I had planned to owl hoot just as the woods began to lighten up, but a real owl saved me the trouble. He had been down by the edge of the pasture and hooted several times. The old gobbler in the large pine right in front of me could not hold back. He had to show that owl who ruled these early morning woods. Another owl answered from across the pasture, and the gobbler I hoped was Blue Boy let loose again.
I thought, how lucky can a man get? This is almost too good to be true. I’m in a perfect spot, less than 100 yards from his tree. When the time comes, I hope I can shoot this gun half as good as Mr. Tom Dixon could.
Although my chances were excellent, I knew getting a possible shot would be a 50-50 proposition at best. After Old Blue Boy had gobbled, I heard the faintest sound of several other roosting turkeys talking nearby. Since no other bird had gobbled, I had to assume several hens were roosting close to my gobbler. Just an assumption on my part. There could be another gobbler or two close by, but I didn’t think so.
If my instincts were right, I knew I had a good chance of having Blue Boy fly down in my direction. And if he did, I probably would get a shot. But if the hens flew down away from me toward the pasture, he would almost certainly follow them. In that case, I would have to try to call him back, but I knew the chances of getting him away from those hens once he was on the ground were not good.
What would Mr. Tom Dixon have done in this situation, I wondered? For now, I had no choice but to wait and see how things developed. The next five minutes would tell the tale.
• • •
I can’t say why, but something had caused me to call Archie Phillips back about a week after I talked to him the first time.
“Hello, Mr. Phillips, this is Steve Jackson again. I was just wondering if you had any more thoughts about that old shotgun. Sometimes after you think about it a while, things start coming back that you might have forgotten about.”
“I’m glad you called,” he said. “I was thinking about you yesterday, but I didn’t know how to get in touch with you. Come to think of it, the gun dealer I got that ol’ shotgun from said he got it off an old woman who lived up in McDuffie County… near Thomson, I believe. I’m sure the man who owned the gun was her husband. Maybe somebody up there knows something about your Tom Dixon.”
“Thanks Mr. Phillips. I’ll check it out.”
Where does a man go when he wants to get information about a well-known hunter or fisherman in a certain area, or about hunting and fishing in general? In the old days, you could always go to the local fire station or barber shop. It was a fact until recent times, almost every fire fighter, as well as most local policemen, were avid hunters and fishermen. So were most of the old-time barbers until recent years where fancy salons replaced the traditional small-town barber shops. When I was a boy you couldn’t walk into a barber shop without getting all the local gossip on who was catching fish or who just shot a nice buck. So that’s what I did. I stopped in the local barber shop in Thomson. The minute I walked through the door I spotted several worn copies of GON on one of the chairs. Good vibes.
An older gentleman with a thick gray moustache greeted me as I walked through the door. “What can we do you for?” he asked in a cordial tone.
I introduced myself and told him I was looking for some information about an old turkey hunter from McDuffie County. His eyes sparkled. “Sit right down in this chair, and we’ll see what kind of lies we can conjure up.” He grinned broadly. “We love to talk turkey around here. In the meantime, looks like you can stand to get your ears lowered.”
I wasn’t planning on getting a haircut, but something told me to sit in the chair as he shook out the barber’s cloth and wrapped it around me. Two other barbers were cutting hair in the chairs beside me.
After I told him I could use a light trim, and after he started, he said, “Now, what’s this about an old turkey hunter from around these parts? We got lots a’ good turkey hunters in this neck of the woods.”
He said it loud enough so that everyone could hear our conversation.
“This may sound crazy, but I’m trying to find someone who might know something about a well known turkey hunter named Tom Dixon. I believe he might have been from Thomson or somewhere close by. I think he might have died around 2000. ”
“Why are you trying to look him up?” he asked loudly.
“I bought an old shotgun he used to own,” I said. “He killed a lot of turkeys with it, and I got curious about his life. I’d love to find out a little about him.”
My barber paused and thought for a minute.“Hal, you ever heard of a Tom Dixon hereabouts?”
Hal was cutting hair two chairs down. “Yep, I shore have…”
I couldn’t believe it. I almost fell out of the chair.
My barber said, “Well, don’t keep us in suspense. Whatdaya know about ’im?”
Hal thought for a minute. “I believe he used to hunt out on the old Moss Bailey place. Remember Mr. Bailey? One of the largest landowners in the county. Didn’t he have about 40,000 acres in one big tract back in the day?”
“Yep,” my barber said. “I do recall that Bailey owned a huge tract years ago, mostly pine timber. Paper company’s got it now, I believe. Good huntin’ land, and it also had several good bass lakes. They used to say that once you got on Bailey’s land off the main highway, it took ya’ 30 minutes to reach his house. That’s how big the place was.”
“And it always had plenty of turkeys,” Hal said. “Even had a few deer back in the days when there were no deer anywheres else.”
“Old Bailey… didn’t he make most of his money during prohibition?” my barber asked.
“He shore did,” Hal said. “Made a fortune from illegal whiskey and put it all in land. Smart man…”
“Whataya know about Tom Dixon?” my barber asked.
“He was some kinda turkey hunter, as I recall,” Hal answered. “That’s what everybody always said. I never knew him, but I knew people who did. He took a lot of folks huntin’ in his day. Loved to call in birds for other folks. They say he was a turkey huntin’ wizard.”
“Is there anybody around the area who might have known him?” I asked Hal.
Hal thought for a moment. “As a matter of fact, I believe old Herb Peterson knew him pretty good. Herb was quite a turkey hunter in his time, as well.”
My barber looked down at me and said, “Herb is a retired forester and timber cruiser. He’s gettin’ on up there in years…”
“He’s 85,” Hal offered. “An’ he’s a character. You’re right, Jimbo. Herb knew every good turkey caller this side of the Georgia line.”
“Why are you goin’ to all this trouble to find out about a man who you never knew or heard of before you got that gun?” Jimbo my barber asked. “Must be some kind of special shotgun. What is it, one of them fancy engraved foreign models?”
“You’re not gonna believe it,” I said. “It’s an old Stevens single-shot 12 gauge.”
“A single shot?” Jimbo said. His face lit up. “I’ll be danged. I ain’t seen one of those in years.”
“My daddy hunted with one,” Hal offered. “Good gun, but it kicked like a dad-burned mule.”
I smiled. Anybody who ever hunted with an old Stevens knew how bad it kicked, especially young boys.
“How can I find this Mr. Herb Peterson?” I asked.
• • •
I sat against the tree without moving a muscle. Off in the distance I heard two birds fly down only moments apart. I could faintly hear them clucking after they hit the ground and started walking away from me. Probably hens, just like I thought. Not good. Blue Boy will probably follow them once he flies down. Should I give him a little morning wake-up call and try to get his attention? Decisions, decisions…
The week before, while scouting the land, I had stumbled into a large flock milling around about 100 yards out in the pasture. There were several jakes, three longbeards that I figured were yearlings, and one huge boss gobbler that took my breath away—Old Blue Boy. He was holding court over at least 15 hens. The three younger longbeards stayed to one side, doing a little strutting on their own, and one of the jakes made a few feeble attempts to gobble.
Blue Boy took center stage. He was strutting and carrying on to beat the band. His beautiful blue head stood out against the green background like an over-sized spring violet. He was much larger and rounder than any of the other gobblers, and his long beard seemed to be dragging the ground.
“You’re the one,” I whispered. “If I get my sights on you, Tom Dixon might just come back and thank me!”
I had been easing through the woods when I heard a gobble out in the pasture. And there they were. I sneaked as close as I could to the edge of the woods and sat down next a large oak, watching them through my binoculars. It was around 11 a.m. I figured they might be coming into the shade of the woods before much longer, so I dug in and waited, hoping they would move in my direction.
Of course that never happened. Something spooked them, and they all made a speedy, fast-legged retreat into the far woods near a large creek bottom way off to the right. A moment later I looked across the pasture to the far left and saw a lone coyote standing a few feet from the tree line. I watched him for a couple of minutes, then I retreated deeper into the woods and set up against another large oak. I waited until dark, hoping the flock, and especially the huge gobbler I had dubbed Blue Boy, would come back into these woods to roost, but they never did. As I walked back to my truck in the deepening darkness, I felt good about my chances in the days and weeks ahead.
• • •
So here I was, a week later, debating about whether or not to call lightly to the roosting gobbler I believed to be Blue Boy. Before I could make a decision I heard him fly down. I got my binoculars on him and got a quick glimpse just as he walked out of my view. It was him all right. No mistaking that large round body and thick beard, and he went the other way after the hens.
Just my luck, I thought. No such thing as having it easy. In my mind, I had pictured him flying down right in front of me and me making a perfect shot. Not gonna happen like that, I told myself. After sitting there another minute or two, I whispered, “What would Mr. Tom Dixon do now?”
He would have followed them, I thought. So that’s what I did.
• • •
Mr. Peterson lived in a large, sprawling country house on a dirt road west of town. Since everyone said he was hard of hearing, I decided to chance driving out to his place without calling first. When I got there, I saw him out in a small, fenced-in garden area to one side of the house. He was sitting in a chair with a hoe in his hand, enjoying the day.
“Would you be the famous Mr. Herb Peterson?” I asked as I approached.
“Depends on who wants to know,” he answered.
“My name is Steve Jackson, Mr. Peterson. The good folks at the barber shop told me you knew Mr. Tom Dixon fairly well, and I’m trying to find out a little about his turkey hunting. I’m hoping maybe you could help me.”
“Tom Dixon, you say?”
“Well, you sure got my attention,” he said. “I haven’t heard that name in a month of Sundays. Whatdaya wanna know about him?”
“This is kind of crazy, Mr. Peterson. I live down near Darien. A few weeks back I bought an old shotgun from a pawn shop. Tom used to own it. I found a note inside the gun he wrote saying he had killed 49 gobblers with that gun in 49 years. That really made me curious, and now I’m trying to find out something about him.”
“What kind of gun you say it was?”
“It’s a Stevens 12-gauge single-shot,” I said loudly. “Painted green.”
“Son, now you really got my attention,” he said, standing with some effort. “Let’s go sit on the front porch and get Martha Jo to fix us a glass of tea. You got that gun with you?”
“No sir, but I’d be glad to come back and show it to you some time.”
“He loved that old gun somethin’ fierce,” Mr. Peterson said. “He had all kinds of huntin’ rifles and shotguns, but he never would hunt turkeys with anything else.”
We walked over to the porch, climbed the steps and sat down in two rocking chairs. He yelled through the screen door, “Martha Jo, would you mind fixin’ two glasses of iced tea? We got company.”
He looked me up and down and asked, “You a turkey hunter?”
“I try… I have a lot to learn…”
“Nobody ever learns it all, son. They teach us something every time we go to the woods.”
“Mr. Peterson, what kind of man was Tom Dixon? He had to be an incredible hunter.”
“You got that right. He taught me how to be a turkey hunter, not just how to kill a bird, but how to be a turkey hunter, and I’m just one of many. He was a one of a kind and a good friend.
“I miss him.”
A short, stout, energetic and attractive lady with gray hair came through the screen door with two glasses of iced tea.
“Martha Jo, this is Mr…er… What’d you say your name was, son?”
“Steve Jackson. Hello Mrs. Peterson.”
I stood as she put the glasses down on a small table and shook my hand.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Jackson,” she said. “Since you two are talking turkey, I won’t interfere.” She smiled and went back into the house.
Mr. Peterson sat back in his chair and sipped his tea.
“Sit back and relax, son. If you want me tell you a little about Tom Dixon, you may be here a day or two…
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