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Talking Birds



Nursing a second beer I nestled deeper into the vinyl, cradled by the indent made by patrons over the years. I was meeting with Todd, an acquaintance through mutual college friends. He’s a fellow sportsman who’s spent a great amount of time in the woods, and around these parts he’s something of a Turkey Guru. We agreed to meet for a hunt during the upcoming Michigan season, and he would be helping me bag my first Tom. As our discussion developed, I spilled all the details on Adventure Deficit, and what’s transpired over the past year.

Speaking on the variety of disciplines in Adventure Deficit’s target audience, I mentioned mountain bikers, rock climbers and paddlers, backpackers, skiers, and alpinists. In the same breath, I also included hunters and anglers. Todd set his beer down, leaned in closer and gave a couple slow, stern taps to the table.”That’s exactly what I’m talking about man! Hunting belongs in that conversation too!” We continued back and forth, focused mostly on the closing divide between tree huggers and the red plaid gang. Until recently, the outdoor industry and traditional sporting world were formed from completely separate camps. The us vs. them paradigm is shifting though, thanks to groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers who unite sportsman, champion public land access and advocate for policy changes in both Washington and the state level. Todd and I care deeply about these issues, and I was glad to learn we shared common thinking.

I went on to explain the common thread behind any adventure isn’t as much about the who or the where, but the what. The “what” remains consistent across the board. Regardless of discipline or scale, all outdoor adventures carry the common elements of story. It’s all there, and if someone takes the intentional time to reflect on their excursion, they’ll identify a life-lesson, I promise. My entire project was founded upon this mindset. The A.D. mission is entertain, educate, and inspire folks to get out there and create their own stories, finding personal restoration and growth in the process. We call it “taking your medicine”. I needed to take mine by hunting turkeys, and was stoked to have Todd on board.

We stood up to head for the bathrooms when I heard the music playing over the cieling speakers – it was Peter Gabriels “Solsburry Hill”. If you’re familiar, the hook goes:

“Son,” he said, “grab your things, I’ve come to take you home”.

It’s said this song is a parallel Gabriel’s own life during a moment of extreme uncertainty. He had recently left Genesis, his former band with Phil Collins to pursue a solo career. Further along, we realize these words are spoken by a sage old eagle who encourages the young Gabriel to leave everything he once knew to follow a new path, another life, his destiny. Every time I hear this song it hits me square in the chest. You needn’t be a lyrical meister to gather the heft of his situation. There’s no time to wait, he must decide. If he takes up the eagle’s offer life will never be same. It’s stirring because everyone yearns for this proposal. Try not getting excited the next time someone interrupts your day with “Grab your stuff, I’m taking you to your destiny” It’s a call to adventure. It felt like some kind of sign that Todd and I were being called into this story together. We shook hands and secured plans, and left the bar in anticipation for the upcoming hunt.

Three weeks later we were in my truck pointed north towards the Huron-Manistee National forest. We offloaded our things at my cabin, camo’d up and headed out for an afternoon scout. The terrain required crossing a couple of stream beds which took awhile. We burned a lot of calories slogging through the heavy mud to find dry areas where birds might be strutting. Todd used a variety of calls, and every so often would stop to try to locate a horny bird. No such luck, but we did see a variety of wildlife and other sign including mallards and wood ducks, Canadian geese, squirrels and raccoons. We put in a few hours by sunset, and it wasn’t until we were actually leaving when Todd came jogging back to the truck to tell me he’d seen a Tom crossing the fire road. We watched that bird walk into the woods with a good idea of where it would roost for the night. It left a good feeling about the morning hunt.

Back at the cabin, we fired up the Camp Chef and prepped dinner while enjoying a couple cold Two Hearted Ale’s. Elk burgers and cheddar venison brats were on the menu, courtesy of Todd and his successful hunts last year. The aroma of hunting camp filled the nearby woods as the elk patties sizzled on cast iron. Jim, the other half to my cabin partnership stopped by after his evening hunt to join us for dinner. The three of us ate, talked and enjoyed some camaraderie. Jim left as the mercury dove back into winter temperatures. After turning on the propane, we fired up the heater and retired to the cozy warmth inside. We passed time tying flies and paging through old Field & Streams. There’s something about the lack of cell service and rough hewn pine that finds you taking to the simpler activities before turning in. It’s fun learning new things from old magazines. The cabin’s stack dates back to ’97, and Bill Heavey was just as funny then as he is now.

At morning the temperature read 23 Degrees. April 29th and well below freezing. That’s #PureMichigan for you. We drove out to the place where we had seen the Tom. We quietly pressed the truck doors shut and Todd used his owl locater call. Gobbles erupted from the darkness. We stalked and called until we verified their location and set up in front of a big tree 150 yards away. At first light we could hear them jumping their roost, flapping to the forest floor. Todd flirted with them for 15 minutes or so while they searched for us, the primed hen. Their gobbles carried alarming intensity as the two birds came strutting in from the distance, puffed-up like bullies. Their feathers were out, and they had the wet sheen of a couple freshly-dressed Michelin tires. For the first time I saw in real life what I’d seen before on television. I centered a bird though the scope and watched in awe as its waxy face turned lipstick red in vibrant contrast to the drab spring woods. It let down its feathers and gobbled again, agitated with our lack of cooperation. Admiring both birds undergo the process of inflate, deflate and gobble, I prepared to shoot when they closed 50 yards. The shot never came though. They stopped at 67, turned and walked away. Just like that, over. This yin-yang of swelling anticipation coupled with immediate let down had me feeling like a little kid who’d been teased, introduced to colorful bowl of candies only to have it placed right back in the cupboard. Acting out wouldn’t do a thing, and I’d have to wait a year for another chance.


However improbable, I’d be remiss to skirt the connection to Solsburry Hill and Peter Gabriel’s eagle, telling him life would never be the same. My pair of Toms making their clean exit is now etched, and I can still hear their gobbles echoing. This hunt was merely sampling of something bigger. The mocking words of those talking birds seem to be telling me, “You’ll never be the same”. It’s true, and I can’t hardly wait to get back out there.

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