Redbuds are in bloom. Dogwoods will be in bloom in a few days. Irises, daffodils, and many other flowers adorn yards. Peach trees are blooming. Hummingbird and Martin scouts have arrived. Bluebirds are setting up housekeeping. Business is brisk at Bud’s Small Engine shop. Yards are needing mowed.

Daylight finds men and boys in the woods trying to “call up” lovesick tom turkeys. So far the harvest has been good. This follows a bountiful deer harvest. The sheriff reported more than 100 deer donated by hunters to feed the prisoners in the county jail. Reports of the satisfaction of the prisoners with this diet were mixed. Venison dishes appeared at the annual senior adult revival pot luck dinners this past week. Most also included some bacon and/or pork sausage. That seems to help. The one wild turkey salad that showed up on Tuesday was devoured quickly.

The fraternal order of turkey hunters gathers each morning at the Town Square Diner to share stories of the morning hunt. Not being a member, but sort of an unofficial chaplain, I interviewed a table of the hunters concerning the spiritual lessons of hunting tom turkeys. I felt that their insights should be shared.

They began by testifying to the joys of being out in God’s creation as His world awakens. Sounds and smells and sights confirmed to them that it must be the product of a great and good God, not blind chance.

They continued by telling me about how wise and wily the tom is. He is naturally cautious. His eyesight is keen. His hearing is sharp. But it is mating season. The laws of nature dictate that the gobbler calls and the hen responds by coming to him. The hunter attempts to reverse the process by making a call that duplicates that of a hen. Tom’s instincts are not to come to the sound, but his desire often overrides his wisdom. When that happens, he may get himself killed.

Bro. George then made the point that God creates humankind with an inborn sense of right and wrong, but often one’s desires and lusts will encourage one to reject the voice of his conscience. That is when we fall into sin.

Blake then suggested that the hunter in deceiving the tom is acting a little like Satan, the Old Deceiver. This suggestion was not well received.

Of course, the successful hunter often has to deal with another basic set of sins, those we categorized as pride. To continue to harvest the toms, one must be a skilled hunter. So, one may be tempted to brag about and even exaggerate his exploits around the table at the diner. The line between awareness of one’s abilities and pride is a narrow one. Even George admits to slipping across it a time or two. (He also noted that his success has contributed, on occasion, to some of his competitors falling into the sin of jealousy.)

Mike added that the toms had taught him a lot about such basic virtues as patience, humility, respect of others and being prepared. He noted, and the others agreed, that they do not even hear a tom every morning when they hunt. And when they do, the process of calling him up can be very slow. And when he does come around they may never get him to a place where they can get a good shot. The harvest cannot be rushed.

Every man at the table shared one or more stories about how they had been humbled by a tom. They declared that turkeys are not dumb. They are worthy foes.

Out in the woods, one may come upon another hunter. Here the Golden Rule kicks in. You respect his turf; you expect and demand that he do likewise.

Warren had shared earlier about the preparations he makes for having a good tom turkey harvest. He sets traps several months before the season to catch the natural enemies of the turkeys. This is to protect the nests and the new born. He wants to be the primary predator on his land.

Proudly, Warren reported on the success of his 10-year-old grandson during deer season: seven shots, six bucks and one wild boar. He is hoping that he has a similar turkey season.

The harvests are a “rite of passage” for young men, and some young women, in our area.

Bro. George also told us about how he had used hunting as an “outreach” tool for his church. When someone asks for him to take them hunting, he encourages them to attend church–the old principle of reciprocity at work. It has been effective.

The interview concluded with one more story from Bro. George. At a cool and damp sunrise service in the cemetery at Ethelsville a few year ago he was grumbling about how uncomfortable he was sitting on an metal chair. God chastised him by saying, “George, every morning this last week you have endured conditions more uncomfortable than these. Be quiet and celebrate your greatest hope.” That, George concluded, is exactly what he did.

Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.

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