Category Archives: General

I Can’t Whisper

Looking at DaWayne, the outdoorsman, in relationship to my accomplishments in the great outdoors, I find am not without merit. I proudly display a trophy buck on my office wall. The year after the dam burst at Lake Blackshear and everyone said that there were no fish in the lake, I took my largest bass, a fat eight and half pounder. I have successfully hunted piney wood rooters with nothing but my pistol. Dove and quail have both found their way in to my game pouch on trips afield in the fall.  

Unfortunately, there is a deficiency in my outdoors resume, a deficiency that has been explained to me in no uncertain terms. The missing element on my resume is the wild turkey. My problem in the obtaining this missing element is that I can’t whisper. 

It is a problem that I have had my whole life. In my elementary school years, my teacher was constantly telling me to be quiet and to quit disrupting the class when all I was doing was whispering or what I thought was whispering. I have been blessed (or cursed depending how you look at it) with a deep voice my whole life. My voice has a substantial amount volume with even the slightest of sounds that I make. How does this tie into not being able to harvest a turkey? When it comes to hunting the wild turkey, I am very much the novice. Even though I am a quick study and the woods is like a second home to me, the novice turkey hunter needs a lot of on the job training which means hunting in tandem with a more experienced hunter. Communication between student and instructor is paramount; that is a soft, whispering communication is paramount. You see, a lot is made of a turkey’s eyesight being so good, but their hearing is also incredible. A wild turkey’s hearing is 10 times that of a human.  

Are you beginning to see my dilemma? I am a beginner turkey hunter with the need for instruction in the woods and I can’t whisper.  

Let’s add another element to my problem. I have been blessed with a girlfriend who is an accomplished turkey hunter with over 50 birds to her credit including a Grand Slam ( a Grand Slam consists of the taking of one of all four species of wild turkey native to the United States: Eastern, Osceola, Rio Grande, and Merriam). She is a consummate professional when it comes to turkey hunting. So, have any of you gentlemen out there ever tried to teach your wives or girlfriends how to drive a stick shift? If you have then you understand what I am confronted with. She has been so patient and understanding with me, but you can only spook so many birds with a booming attempt to whisper before nerves will begin to get frayed. It is kind of like when your wife or girlfriend on one of your 5 speed teaching sessions slips the clutch and stalls your truck out on a hill in traffic for the 15th time. Patience will usually win out and the lady in your life will eventually learn to use a clutch and to shift gears, but I believe it will take more than patience from my dear sweet girlfriend for me to harvest a turkey. Divine intervention was the words I believe I heard used. It seems I have other problems as well.  

The need for quiet in the turkey woods extends past my inability to whisper. My girlfriend is very petite. Her small body moves through the woods with the greatest of stealth. As she passes, there are no twigs snapping or leaves rustling. It is as if her tiny feet float across the ground not disturbing anything on her way. On the other hand, I am 6’ 3” and 260 pounds. My 13EEE hunting boots are not exactly ballet shoes. Following my girlfriend through the pre-dawn outdoors, attempting to mimic her every move and not step on a dry tree limb of some sort is just about impossible. No matter how hard I try, I still get tangled in a vine or pine top. After extricating my not so graceful self from an ensnarement, I look up to see my girlfriend with one hand on her hip giving me a “Mr. Spock” raised eyebrow. This is usually where I act like nothing just happened and motion for her to lead on. Did I mention that I have a very patient and understanding girlfriend?  

We finally reach the place where we are going to setup. She motions for me to sit down beside the tree we are standing next to as she goes and deploys our decoy. I quietly push back the leaves from the base of the tree with only a minimum of ruckus. She returns and floats gently down besides the tree without a sound. An hour later, my back is aching and I have no feeling in my feet. I glance over my shoulder; my mentor is sitting quietly. She seems to be as relaxed as one can be. One would think that she was asleep, but beneath her hunting mask, her sharp and clear blue eyes are ever observant. She looks like she could sit there all day. As for me, not only are my feet asleep, but so are my legs. I try to move ever so slightly, but with my tiniest movement my girlfriend’s eyes cut to me telling me to sit still.  

I see no relief in sight. My shoulder blade starts to burn where it has been leaning against the tree. I squirm a little more. I hear an exhale of disgust from around the tree. My bladder now decides to join in the party. The extreme need to see a man about a horse is causing spasms in my lower abdomen. Sweat is rolling off my nose and chin like Niagara Falls as I begin to tremble uncontrollably. It is about then that my girlfriend says, “Let’s take a break”. I answered as if it did not really matter to me, “Okay, if you want to?” Just before being swept away with the pain in my legs and back and the spasms in my bladder, I manage to get to my feet and find an appropriate tree to step behind and relieve myself on. 

She has not given up on me as a turkey hunter. She gave me one of those little chairs that you put next to the tree now to hunt from so I can be comfortable while I am in the woods. I am contemplating going to a lighter weight hunting boot for turkey hunting instead of my heavier deer hunting boot in an attempt to be a little bit lighter on my feet and less noisy. This leaves me with just one problem left to solve if I am to fulfill my outdoorsman’s itinerary; to learn how to speak in whispers. How can something that a child can do so easily be so hard for a man of 47 years? Perhaps I should keep my mouth shut and say nothing at all. I do not believe that would solve my problem. The need of the novice to ask questions of his or her mentor is far too important. There are way too many things that go on during a successful turkey to let go by without explanation.  

So, it seems this off season, I must incorporate into my practice sessions with my slate and striker some time to practice just talking softly. The difficulty of harvesting a wild turkey is hard enough, but with a handicap such as mine it is near impossible. I know there is an answer out there if I search long enough. There are cough silencers for those who cough and hearing aids for those who have hearing problems. Maybe someone will come up with an aid for vocally impaired turkey hunters who can’t whisper. 

Keeping Pace with Stephen

Union, South Carolina is a quiet little town in the upstate that flows as peaceful and unhindered as its neighbor, the Tyger River. The people of Union do not let the worries of the world today conflict with the way they live their lives. The only worry most folks have is finding a parking space at the Friday night football games. In Union, there is time for everything, and everything has its own time. They believe this is God’s country and it was made to be shared with family and friends. The folks of Union have never met a stranger. Everyone has a pace all their own that dictates their life, except maybe Stephen. The steam rolling 42-year-old employee of the United States Forest Service is wide open compared to most folks in Union. His zest for life touches more than just his everyday routine; it is rooted deep in his love for the outdoors. Being a six-time S.C. state turkey calling champion and the current S.C. State Chapter President of the National Wild Turkey Federation are just a few of the ways Stephen’s intense love of the outdoors has manifested itself. 

Stephen was born in Anderson, S.C. Six months later, Raymond Cobb, Stephen father moved his family to Carisile after getting a job with a textile mill located there. Stephen lived in Carisile until he got married and moved to Union some 23 years later. It was these years of his youth that helped mold him into the man and the outdoorsman that he is today. Stephen credits a resident of Carisile, Bill, with helping a young Stephen in focusing his ever-growing energies towards the great outdoors and turkey hunting in particular.  

The moment that probably changed his life forever was when Bill gave Stephen his first turkey call. It was with that very same turkey call that he harvested his first gobbler. Stephen was just 15 years old and did not have a driver’s license. Stephen rode his bicycle to the woods that day. His intense desire for the outdoors was prevalent even then. Hearing Stephen’s words about Billy made me think of all the countless other outdoorsmen (myself included) who too had someone to open the door to the mysteries and the adventures of the great outdoors. This is a debt that some of us forget to repay. Stephen has not forgotten and attempts to do for his own son as well as others exactly as Bill did for him all those years ago. 

It was that first turkey call that sparked a lifelong obsession with the pursuit, the understanding, and cumulatively the conservation of this the wiliest of game animals, the wild turkey. It was a natural progression for Stephen to start competing in turkey calling contests. He won his first of over 80 competitions at the age of 13. To Stephen’s credits are six S.C. Turkey Calling championships. He claims the pinnacle so far of his success at turkey calling was done this year. He was in 1st place after the first day of the competition at the Grand National championships in Nashville, TN. An unfortunate slip on the second day dropped him to 5th place just a mere 8 points out of first. This is something that Stephen plans to remedy in the future. 

Stephen also has a job tailor made for one with interests like his. He works for the United States Forest Service at the Enoree Ranger District of the Sumter National Forest, which is a branch of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. As a ranger, Stephen helps in the management of the Enoree Ranger District. When talking about the U.S. Forest Service, the words, “Caring for the Land and Serving the people”, will always be foremost in the conversation. I cannot picture Stephen doing anything less. 

Stephen is not a one-dimensional person. His energies and passions spill over from his love of hunting into his home life. His lovely wife of 23 years, Elizabeth, and his 15-year-old son, Martin, will attest to that. I could tell from the short time I spent in their home that Stephen and Elizabeth were a well-matched couple. They seemed to be extensions of one another with each complimenting and supporting each other the best they can. With Stephen practicing his turkey calls for hours on end before a competition, one would have to be very understanding or at the very least deaf.  

Stephen and Martin have a relationship that is enviable in this day in time. From the time that he was able to go, Stephen had him in the woods every time he could. A bond created between a father and son while hunting lasts a lifetime. A child raised in an outdoors environment learns about self-worth and self-discipline at a young age. He or she is taught that they are responsible for their actions and the decisions that they make. Sportsmanship is probably the most important thing that is learned for it is woven throughout the learning experience. You can tell from just meeting Martin one time that he has learned his lessons well.  

Somehow, Stephen still has time to give back to the community. If he is not coaching little league, or he is serving up hash at a 4th of July celebration, I am sure you can find Stephen supporting his community in any number of other ways. He also manages to find time to play church league softball. The only thing that slows Stephen down is that there is only 24 hours in a day. 

Stephen’s accomplishments in competitive turkey calling have not gone unnoticed. He presently prostaffs for both Hunter’s Specialty and Realtree. For those of you who think that being on a prostaff for a major outdoors company would be the way to go, Stephen informs me it is not just about going on hunts and being on TV. You are a spokesperson for their business. Stephen must promote them wherever he goes. Sometimes it means giving up valuable hunting time just to go somewhere to represent them. Today’s outdoorsmen and women must be aware of the fact that hunting in the 21st century is not the same as it was when our father’s first learned of the outdoors from their fathers. Unfortunately, it has become a business. In order to keep from being washed away with the tide, today’s hunters must be intelligent as well as savvy in the ways of the business world. Stephen holds his own in this aspect. 

The upstate of South Carolina is a treasure-trove of outdoors adventures. From his home in Union, Stephen is but minutes away from a trophy buck, or a boss gobbler. In those same few minutes, he and his family can be at a little league baseball game, or tailgating before a Union High School Yellow Jackets football game, or a hash cook’n for some worthy charity event in the Union area. Stephen lives his life listening to the same song that his friends and neighbors listen to except he tends to play it a beat or two faster, and those who know him do not mind. You see, in Union, South Carolina, everyone has their own pace and that suits Stephen just fine. 

Report from the 2019 Turkey Season

Opening week of turkey season earlier this year was a disaster to say the least. I was bound and determined to get a turkey before the season was out; so much so, that I decided to enlist the help of a local legend, Buster the turkey slayer. Now as one might imagine having a nickname that ends in turkey slayer gives folks the idea this individual was somewhat of a good turkey hunter. I would later find out just how good! You see, even though we were old friends, I had never hunted with Buster before.
I enlisted his help purely on his reputation. Family and friends alike all claimed the man acted like a turkey at times so it was no wonder he could find them in the woods with little trouble. This was comforting to me seeing how my largest problem to date was locating them at all.

It may help you to envision my friend Buster if I tell you a little about him first, Buster is a good size man not to tall but somewhat round if you know what I mean. He spends all his time in the woods so he has that lumberjack look. Now ‘ole Buster promised me right off we would see some turkeys before the morning was over and that was something I needed to hear as frustrated as I was with my luck so far. It also helped me stay calm as I was trying to follow him through the woods. Following ‘ole Buster was a little like following behind a bull elephant in a tyrant. I kept asking myself how in the world is he not scaring everything within 2 miles from us the way he’s plowing through the underbrush and pine tops but, we just kept pressing on deeper and deeper into the forest. 

Just when I began to think all the stories I had heard about this man were fairy tales he stopped dead still in his tracks and began to shake all over. Scared, and stunned, I rushed over to ask Buster if he was ok. Just as I got up to him, he began to gobble louder and harder than any turkey I had ever heard in my entire life. Never before had I heard anything like it coming from human vocal chords. Certainly, we were not created to make a noise like that I’m sure, but there he was, Buster the turkey slayer, (a legend among turkey hunters) was standing there in the middle of that stand of pines shaking and gobbling like a turkey. Take a minute and let that sink in. Can you imagine what this must have looked like?  This full-grown man standing in the middle of the woods, shaking all over, and gobbling like a turkey, at the top of his lungs. Then, just as quickly as he began to shake and gobble, he fell quiet. As you may imagine, I began to feel like a complete fool; here I was with this nut standing in the woods watching him pretend he can call turkeys with his own voice. Then it happened, a Tom some 60 to 80 yards off began to respond to Busters antics. The next thing I knew Buster began to swing his hips back and forth moving in the direction of the Tom shaking his head slobbering and gobbling as if he had found a new friend. Soon the two turkeys, Um, I mean, Buster and his new gobbling buddy were carrying on a conversation only they could decipher. I stood there in complete amazement trying to take in all I was seeing and hearing, but I have to admit, it was hard not to roll on the ground laughing at all I was witnessing.

Not only had Buster fulfilled his promise of finding a Tom by morning, but now was in deep communication with this bird and daylight was beginning to break. A few moments later as we were closing in, Buster was motioning for me to sit down next to a big pine. Now, Buster had changed his calling tactics from gobbles and cuts to purring noises that could rival any wild hen turkey in the woods. I firmly believe ‘Ole Buster had this Tom completely believing another Tom was in his territory with a love-sick hen and we all know that Tom just couldn’t allow that kind of thing to be happening in his woods. After a few minutes of this I asked him if he ever used a turkey call. He gave me this weird look and said, “whatever for, none of them things can call turkey good as I can.” Moments later we could hear the crackling noise of the Tom as he made his way toward us. I couldn’t help but think I had witnessed a miracle of sort. ‘Ole Buster completely fooled that Tom without ever using an artificial turkey call of any kind. Every call he made were calls he learned to do himself over the years without ever using a single hand or mouth turkey call. It was then that he came into view, his head was redder than a Coke can and in full strut, looking for either his new date or some other Tom to kick some butt. I placed the bead on his red head, squeezed the trigger, feathers flew, and ‘ole Buster jumped up, and before I knew it he had my Tom and was walking back to me with a huge smile saying “now, that isn’t so hard is it’ I smiled back and replied, “No, Buster, not when you’re hunting with the turkey slayer.”