The silence was painful. Dawn was breaking as the slate gray sky grew ever lighter in shade with every passing minute. I scanned the skidder row in front of me, where the now thinned pines met the hardwood drain. Without moving my head, I glanced over at my hunting partner, and caller, Nathan. I could tell by his body language he was getting anxious. We had set up close, maybe a little too close. The downed saplings and piles of pushed up brush had made navigation in the dark difficult. Now we sat quietly waiting for a sign that he was there. Last weekend, Nathan had, had him hammering away at every sound he made on the slate. Today was a new day. Maybe the 42 degree night had them shut up. Or maybe those guys Nathan had seen slipping out of this bow only area with shotguns had been back in here. My mind wandered back through the years of mornings spent hunting Tom, when he never made a sound. Long mornings spent running and gunning spots with our owl hoots, yelps, and cackles left unanswered. Endless afternoons spent napping in the woods in areas we knew he liked to be. I snapped to attention as a set of soft tree yelps broke the morning's silence. The calls echoed out across the pines and chased themselves down the bottom. I held my breathe to keep the sound of it out of my ears, that I might not miss a distant gobble. The silence was so heavy that my ears were ringing. We waited quietly, concealed in the brush. Surely he would get fired up any minute, after all, we knew where he lived. Sometimes the cold makes them gobble late, everybody knows that. Heck, he might not even fly down until late morning. I fingered my shooting tab nervously. I looked down at my longbow, running my eyes over the arrow, checking that I had clearance to draw and shoot. I stared out at the lone hen decoy, and as my mind played out the scenario, my heart began to beat hard in my chest. I could see his tall dark form slowly exit the dark woods. His skepticism turning into excitement as he broke into a full strut. I could here him drumming, dragging his wings in a slow figure eight, an ancient dance older than cypress in this swamp. As he passed around the decoy, his fan slowly obscured my view of his head. I raised my bow slowly and came to anchor in one fluid motion. I focused slightly above midline through his tail feathers, and began pulling through the shot. As the arrow flew through my minds eye I was once again brought back to reality by a sharp cackle followed by a louder series of raspy yelps. There was no answer. Silence.
After a while, we slowly rose and collected our gear. We made our way down the forest service road, stopping to call occasionally in hopes of finding a player. As we moved down the road, we could see a power line ahead. We observed from a distance, slipping ever closer, watching carefully for any sign of a dark body. Nathan remarked that he had previously heard the gobbler moving towards the power line, down through the hardwood bottom. We finally peeked around the corner and out into the open. Feathers littered the ground, and I felt my face go red. "They killed him." , Nathan said. We stood there in silence. Finally, Nathan made his way back towards the road and I fell in behind. As we passed through gate, I looked up and saw the large green sign that read, "Archery Only".
I dropped the tailgate and opened my box containing my cast iron skillet. As the bacon sizzled we talked about the morning and our disappointment with what we suspected had happened. We weren't upset that the turkey was dead. As traditional bow hunters that hunt public land, we mix it up with hunters using firearms regularly. We were upset because we felt like the trespassing hunters had stolen our experience. As I piled the second egg onto Nathan's sandwich, he took a large bite, and after chewing for a moment he said,"It's alright, this is a fine consolation."