IT was turkey season, and I was returning home
from a scouting trip driving through one of
those lonely, almost-abandoned Southern mill
towns. The main street looked like something
from an old Western movie — a place once thriving,
now lost in time.
On the roadside, a tanned and weathered farmer in
faded coveralls stood beside his vintage truck. The hood
was up; it was a cold morning and there were no cars
passing by. Nothing was open in the town, and no garage
or station had survived there anyway.
I stopped and offered to help. He asked if I might take
him to his farm not too far away. He would retrieve the
truck later, he said.
There was only one road leading into the farm — a
narrow dirt track lined with a canopy of oak and hickory,
washed over in places by a bordering creek, and just wide
enough for my truck to pass through. Three hens and a
big tom scurried down the road ahead and then melted
back into the forest.
The farmhouse was small but friendly, the yard trim
and neat with beds of daffodils and hyacinths popping
up here and there. An old Farmall 230 tractor stood
under a tin shed. A big rooster and several chickens
pecked and scratched under a scuppernong vine.
The farmer tried to pay me, but I said I was happy to
help. I asked if he allowed turkey hunting. He said he’d
seen some turkeys in a 20-acre peanut field down by the
river. If I was so inclined, I could hunt there away from
the house. He motioned me back to my truck to show me
We drove along fields, hedgerows, and finally through
a wall of sumac and catclaw brier that opened suddenly
into the field. It was small and peaceful, framed on one
side by a languid river. Legions of bald cypress towered
above its banks and leaves spun slowly downstream in a
In the middle of the field stood a stunning persim-mon
tree of countless seasons. From its gaunt weathered
limbs, shriveled remnants of last fall’s fruit hung like
ornaments, red and gold and dappled. I saw the remains
of the fruit scattered around the ancient trunk. And I
saw something else: three-toed turkey tracks, scratched
earth, and mottled bronze feathers floating here and
there with the occasional breeze.
I thanked the farmer and said I would be under the
persimmon tree the next morning before dawn and
hoped not to disturb him.
Before light the next day I parked several hundred
yards from the peanut field and cautiously worked my
way down the rutted path to a spot under the persim-mon
tree. The whip-poor-wills were first to sing as black
turned to gray and the first faint rays of stippled light fell
across the adjacent hardwoods. The forest awoke with
its myriad sounds of spring. Canada geese flew the river
course and wood ducks squealed from their swampy
As the whip-poor-wills ceased, a hen sent out the first
of several soft yelps. A bold, full-throated gobble soon
followed. It rang through the forest and seemed to shake
even the old persimmon tree. Few words can describe
that magical sound and my heart, as always, began to
thump so loud I feared even the turkeys might hear it.
The sun soon spread its light in hazy streaks over the
field, and from their roost high along the forest wall,
three hens sailed down, followed by two timid jakes.
Then, like an apparition in the ghostly morning mist, a
massive gobbler suddenly appeared. Silently, regally, he
stood like a bronze statue at the forest edge, then walked
slowly, gracefully into the field.
Persimmon Tree Gobbler
Some hunters like to say they have seen it all,
but none could have imagined what happened that morning.
By Ro b e r t Re h d e r