Holiday Hunt

My long time friend Pete invited me to come hunt turkey on his parent’s 80 acre property in Grass Valley, the land of pot farms, pasties, and Chuck Yeager.  We knew from the onset that the hunt might be trying, due to the frequent sightings of large groups of turkeys strutting across their driveway  growing fewer and farther between in the last two years.  Still, the idea of shooting my own bird for Thanksgiving was enticing enough so we packed up our supplies and accepted the invitation.

Highway 20 is a bit like a time machine.  You can still see the wagon ruts parallel the pavement in some stretches from the gold-rushing settlers.  It’s the kind of road that keeps you looking for Bigfoot on the shoulder, even if you don’t believe in that sort of thing.  We pulled into Grass Valley and after passing a long row of cabin-looking homes and front yards full of rusted machinery, ferns, and pines we pulled up to his parent’s home.  The first thing that grabbed my eye was this wood storage set a ways back off the main road. 

Something about it was timeless, and after staring at it a moment, I realized my cohorts were heading inside.  Pete’s Dad grew up in a rough part of London and even after 40 years in the states, carries a heavy accent.  He entered the kitchen clutching a weathered looking map.  The handwritten names and lines would inform our boundaries for the holiday hunt.
The acreage we had available to us was beautiful and wild.  Only a fire road looping full circle gave any indication of human presence.  The ground was free of anything from a grocery store and only a few small ribbons on trees could be seen delineating the properties from each other.  It was slow hiking; steep terrain, soft ground, blackberry bushes around your ankles, vines reaching and snagging around your legs, and heavy tree branches invariably laying down across your path of least resistance.  We worked our way down the wooded hillside and into a ravine where a tiny creek carved it’s way though exposed stone, spilling from one puddle to the next.

After a five minute practice session with the hand striker in the car on the ride up, I was designated the “caller”, and did my best to imitate the particular calls (there are over 15) for our time of year, region, and intent.  As you can see from the camo and bow below, this wasn’t Taylor’s first rodeo.


The stillness experienced in those windless woods is literally the quietest thing I have “heard” in my whole life.  A kind of quiet that screams and your own heartbeat pounds like a sub-woofer at a stoplight.  Found this Sierra Newt in the leaf litter, and assumed the coloration meant it was poisonous in some way.  A later web search showed that they excrete toxins through their skin that is of the same basic formula found in pufferfish, hundreds of times more toxic than cyanide.

After waiting in multiple posts and even building a quick blind for the camera on its tripod, we only heard one turkey call back.  We captured his attention but didn’t sing the song he wanted to dance to.

Lucky for most of us and unfortunately for natural selection, we live in a time when even those that can’t hunt in the field can feed their family.   I hear that most people only hunt their own Thanksgiving turkey once because the meat is smaller, stringy, and gamey.  Still, I felt a bit defeated to have my wife hunt the aisles of Raley’s. 

In the end, we had a great meal with friends and family and an evening with a lot of laughter. I’m grateful for my health, my home and the people in it, a job that I deeply love, and a man that lived a long time ago that died like a criminal even though he hadn’t done anything wrong.

I’m also thankful for the ability to get outside and on the river this year and come home empty handed.

By choice.

Happy Thanksgiving y’all. 

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