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Tis the season

Most people rely on calendars to tell the seasons. Bass fishermen know this is folly.

Despite what the calendar says, spring officially arrives when bass make their pre-spawn migration toward shallow spawning areas. Summer begins when post-spawn bass move to offshore haunts. Autumn starts when cooling water urges bass to gorge before winter sets in.

Hunters use other natural phenomenon to gauge the seasons. Whitetails usher in autumn when they shed their velvet. Spring comes when the first gobbler sounds off from the roost.

My daughter, Valerie, now 23, was stuck on calendar time throughout her teens. She had an open invitation to hunt with me, but didn't show much interest until she graduated high school.

The following year, she asked to go turkey hunting. I was a little surprised, but I shouldn't have been. Valerie had seen the longbeards I had brought home from my springtime hunts. She looked wonderingly at the dark, iridescent feathers, the coarse, stringy beards, the blue and red skinheads.

She had listened to me recount my adventures. And, she had heard primitive gobbles ring down from the ridges around our home while waiting for the school bus.

I soon found how joyful it is to walk the turkey woods with your daughter when you are both dressed in full camouflage. I'm 61 and far removed from Valerie's generation. We view the world from vastly different perspectives.

But in the turkey woods, removed from the machinations of society, we are one with the hunting experience and share the same emotions. For a few precious hours, we are like minds, and the world makes perfect sense.

It wasn't until last spring that Valerie got her first gobbler, one of three jakes that came to my calling.

As rewarding as that experience was, our most memorable hunt happened a few weeks earlier. In dim, predawn light, we walked through a neighbor's horse pasture to the foot of a tall, wooded ridge. We waited quietly, filled with hope that we would hear the morning's first gobble.

Maybe 20 minutes passed. First light brightened to daylight. Not a peep. I sent a series of yelps up the steep hillside and was greeted by silence.

We gradually worked our way up the ridge, stopping to call and listen every 70 yards or so. I called again when we crested the ridge. A hard gobble shot back so close the ground trembled.

Valerie and I immediately plopped down next to the nearest tree trunk. I looked up and saw two hens only 25 yards off. Somehow, they hadn't seen us.

The hens yelped softly. I was surprised that the gobbler didn't answer them. I suspect that he had already bred them, which is why he didn't respond to my call until we got so close.

I filled the air with excited hen talk. The gobbler thundered back. He was just out of sight, over a rise that dropped into a hollow. We waited, barely breathing. The gobbler stayed put. I called again. The gobbler shook the leaves with a resounding retort.

The hens yelped and bobbed our way, looking for the forlorn hen that was so agitated. One of them passed 10 feet from Valerie's gun barrel.

I let the hens pass and called again. The Tom thundered back. Moments later it stepped into view in full display. It was the first strutting Tom that Valerie she had ever seen, and it was a huge, mature gobbler.

I guessed the range at 60 yards. The 3-inch load of heavy shot would do the job, but it's farther than I care to shoot. I didn't like the odds with a novice hunter holding a single shot hammer gun sporting a bead front sight.

Too far," I whispered. "I think he'll come closer."

The gobbler had other ideas. He disappeared below the rise, but continued to gobble almost every time I called. He showed himself again a few minutes later. This time he stood tall, neck outstretched, looking for the stubborn hen.

"Too far."

He slid down behind the rise.

Suddenly, a string of five hens marched almost in lock step on the crest of the rise 35 yards away. I was elated.

"Those hens might pull the gobbler closer," I whispered.

Instead, the gobbler sounded off and the hens streaked to him on a dead run. After that, every time the gobbler answered my calls it was farther away. Then the woods were silent again.

Valerie was about to explode.

"I wanted that gobbler so bad I couldn't stand it."

"You'll never forget him and you'll always want him," I said.

I didn't tell her the whole truth.

I didn't tell her that long after I was gone, after her youth had faded, she would see that strutting Tom in her mind as clearly as she had seen it that morning.

Valerie would realize that the gobbler was hers forever the moment she laid eyes on him.

She would also remember how the ground shook. And that her dad was sitting right next to her on a morning when the world made perfect sense.

Mark Hicks is a contributing writer for BASS Times and has competed in BASS events.