Thursday, April 10, 2008

Idle Preseason Turkey Thoughts

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A few days ago, as I sat trying to puzzle out where the spring gobblers in my hunting area would be, I had a very strange but wonderful thought.

It’s quiet. There is no noise. The phone isn’t ringing, no one is ringing the door bell, and right now, it is a world without sound. Everything is silent.

I sat there thinking about silence and what it means to me. It is a cedar swamp just before dark, as I count down the waning minutes to the end of legal shooting time while hoping a bruin will show up before the day is done.

It is a tree stand in October, and a hush has fallen over the land as dark clouds gather to the west, the first indication of a coming storm. It seems as if everything is holding its breath, and there I sit, reveling in the sounds of silence.

Silence is that hush we all hear and feel as we step in front of a pointer. We know the thunderous roar of a ruffed grouse is imminent, but there is that split-second when all is still. It’s a wonderful moment in time.

There is no better evidence of silence that when fishing brown trout during the Hex hatch. The fish has been timed by the soft hissing sips as the big trout lips a big mayfly off the surface. We know in five or 10 seconds the trout will rise again for another sip, and we hope in that momentary slice of silence, that the feeding brown trout will take our imitation rather than a natural drifting beside it.

It hasn’t happened this year, at least not yet, but when I work a gobbler, it comes slow and cautiously to the call. He will often gobble or double-gobble, but it’s those long seconds or minutes when the bird moves but doesn’t gobble, that put us on the edge of our anticipatory seats.

We can see him coming, white head glowing in the woods 100 yards away, but an awesome silence has dropped a mufflied blanket over the woods. The bird disappears from sight, and you know he is circling, and yet you can hear a pin drop.

And then, ever so softly but it seems so intense and loud after the silence, comes the “hhmmm-phfft” as the gobbler drums and spits nearby. You know he is within 10 yards because this barely audible sound is often overlooked, and then more silence. The bird is moving, you are sitting still, and suddenly, there he is over your shotgun barrel. A slight adjustment, a soft click as the safety is taken off, and then the blast of a 3-inch 12 gauge shotgun.

There may be silence again, but the ringing in your ears from the shotgun discharge has caused its own noise. Slowly the hearing returns to normal, and you kneel, in silence, over a gobbler that you just killed and examine the beautiful feathers, the full beard, and the spurs.

Silence is sitting on shore, early in the spring, and watching a buck and hen steelhead spawning on a shallow gravel bar. There is an intricate underwater ballet going on, and the the hen and buck roll on their sides as she emits a golden stream of eggs and he a white jet of milt, and then the ballet ends. There isn’t a sound made to draw one’s attention to this underwater action, and there is little thought of hooking that male fish.

This is a ritual as old as the many generations of steelhead before it, and only rarely is there an audible splash. It is like watching an old silent movie, and that makes watching this scene much more wonderful.

So many folks surround themselves with noise. Me, I much prefer silence to noise. I want to hear no man-made sounds, and if a buck easing through the woods happens to crinkle a fallen autumn leaf or step on a brittle twig, I want to hear it.

It’s the silence that captures my soul. The unexpended flush of a woodcock twittering up through a tag alder run is my kind of noise. If I can’t or won’t shoot, the silence fits me as perfectly as a hand in a glove. It is the one thing about fishing and hunting that I’ve come to seek, to nurture while it is there, and to remember when it isn’t.

Posted by Dave Richey on 04/10 at 08:06 PM
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