Stump Turkeys

Tom Turkey, Vermont

“Hey look, Bud. There are a couple of hens walking through that field,” I said to Sam as I was dodging RV sized crates while driving along the infamous Route 5 in Vermont.  It’s springtime in Vermont, and turkeys are on the brain.

Earlier in the day Sam and I had come across some a different batch of turkeys on a rutted up dirt road.  Two hens scurried in front of the truck, but the only other turkey, a jake, held back. Now separated from his lady lovers by a silver, gasoline-powered piece of metal, he became a little worked up. I rolled down the windows so Sam could see him better and I made a horrible hen clucking sound with my mouth. The jake immediately responded with a ferocious, adolescent gobble.

He worked his way behind the truck, and powered by love, he darted across the road to join the girls who had since put about 100 yards of distance between them and him. Clearly, the feelings were not mutual. His two-inch beard was not enough to cause them to swoon over his physique. I made one more cluck and he let out another gobble while still only a stone’s throw away.  Sam’s smile grew at the sound and turkeys were on the mind the rest of the day. So, when we came across the hens in the field beside what is left of route 5, he was already looking for more.

“Look at all those further up the hill -, ” he stopped midsentence. “Never mind, those are just stumps. I thought they were more turkeys.”

It was an easy mistake to make. The stumps were in the partially cleared woods along the edge of the field and were very dark. They certainly looked like turkeys at first glance. Sensing that he might be embarrassed by his mistake, my fatherly instincts kicked in.

“They sure looked like turkeys to me too,” I said.


“Oh, definitely. I’ve made that mistake before. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Did I ever tell you about the time I snuck up on a bedded log?” Giggles came from the back seat. He laughs now, but one day he’ll understand.

I was working my way along a hardwood ridgeline and noticed something out of place.  Strange as it was to come across a bedded elk in New Hampshire, I decided it best to put on the sneak. The leaves were dry, but the wind direction was perfect. Fortunately, the elk was facing the other way.

“The most important thing about sneaking up on bedded logs is to make sure the wind is in your face. Logs, especially sleeping ones, rely heavily on their sense of smell,” I said. Sam lost it. “You think I’m kidding, don’t you? See if I give you any more advice!”

The elk stayed put long enough to turn into a log, at which point I called off the stalk. It’d put together a solid game plan and could have closed the deal if I’d wanted but sending a $40 arrow and broadhead combination headlong into the side of a fallen oak seemed pointless, even if I’d successfully crept into range on a bed of dry leaves.

“Hay bales are another classic mistake made by people driving on treacherous Vermont highways. I’m constantly mistaking those for deer, Bud.”


 “Uh, yeah…who doesn’t? Did you know Papa has special glasses with antlers painted on them? Haybales are always bucks until proven to be only haybales.”

Sam’s laughs grew harder and he said, “That explains why Papa always sees antlers on fish.”

Bass, antlers, fishing

I am convinced Papa will be thrilled to learn he has earned this reputation with his grandson. Not everyone is good enough to see antlers on haybales, let alone fish. 

“What other kinds of mistakes do you make?” he asked.

“I don’t have time to tell you all of them, Pal. Trust me, you’ll make plenty of your own too, but at least you’re fortunate to have a dad that’s generous enough to share some of them with you. Papa and I are not alone, this happens to everyone. It’ll happen to you too.” I shot him an angry, but playful look.

“Ok, I’ll tell you about fern deer,” I said.

“Fern deer?”

“Yes, fern deer. Is something confusing about that?”


I let out a long sigh to make him feel inferior. “Fern deer, along with their close cousin, the Leaf Deer, are notorious for causing hunters to have mini heart attacks. It works like this – you are sitting in your stand minding your own business by playing on your phone or taking a nap, and suddenly you catch movement out of the corner of your eye. Your heart immediately races – sometimes it even stops!”


“Yes! Hunting is can be very hard on your health at times. That’s why you just learned in your Hunter Education class that it’s important to be in shape before the season starts. Fern deer have been known to be near fatal.”


“Good grief, Son. Because they make your heart stop! Then you pull up your binoculars to look and realize there is no deer there at all. What you saw was a fern blowing in the wind. But then you lower your binoculars and look again without them and swear it’s a deer moving.”

“I thought we weren’t supposed to swear.”

“We aren’t unless a deer turns into a fern. It’s acceptable then.”

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