Special to The Courier

Four generations of mountain turkey hunters: On porch, from left, are author, author’s great uncle Charle Cloer and author’s father Carl T. Cloer Sr. In front is author’s son, Carl T. Cloer III.

A farewell hunt

Editor’s Note: This is the second half of a two-part reflection on five generations of turkey hunting by Courier contributor Dr. Thomas Cloer Jr.

Sounds of an old gun

ou’ll have to carry my gun and cushion. I couldn’t pull a greasy string out of a cat’s rear,” Dad complained as I met him for the last hunt.

“Of course I’ll carry your gun and cushion. I’ll carry you if I have to,” I said with a bravado that served to obscure my fears. I knew Dad had just gone back to see the doctor.

The author’s father, Carl T. Cloer Sr., with a huge gobbler bagged just prior to his death.

The author’s father, Carl T. Cloer Sr., with a huge gobbler bagged just prior to his death.

“What did the doctor say about the kidney?” I queried.

“He said it was malignant son, and I have to go back for them to keep checking to see if it spread.”

“They probably got it all,” I said. “You will likely outlive me.”

The morning looked threatening as we left in our four-wheel-drive vehicle, three hours before daybreak. Dad never liked to go into the woods at first gobbling time. He wanted to first sit in the vehicle and sip coffee, and then be in place and be ready long before the first little wren awakened.

“It looks like it might rain Dad. You got your raincoat?” I asked.

“I got it, Tom. This cool air goes through me like a dose of salts through a widow woman,” he said. “I can’t take anything, old hunting buddy. You would get more help bagging a gobbler on these old rough ridges today from a little child hunting companion than from me.”

“Bull,” I said.

“This may be my last season,” he said as we sat and sipped coffee as we had for 45 years.

“You remember when you got the gobbler from the Penitentiary Cove?” I asked between sips. “I remember you had tied a Merita bread bag around a shot place in his throat to ward off flies, and he was hanging in a blooming dogwood tree when I arrived back at camp right on top of the highest mountain. That was in 1959, Dad, many years ago.”

“No wonder I’m as weak as pullet water,” he joked. “I’ve been around for several frosty mornings.”

“Let’s start making our way,” I said. “I’ll carry everything. You just take your time and ease along. Try not to be a pain in the butt,” I joked.

I carried our guns, our cushions, Dad’s turkey decoy and my flashlight. We eased silently over the ridges and through the woods as we had on April mornings through five different decades, in four different states, in all types of terrain and in all kinds of weather. I had thought before about the finite nature of our companionship and about how I must endure the inevitable when it came. I always pushed that thought aside, but not this morning. This morning, I knew.

Ahead of us in the darkness my light caught the tiny reflecting tack I had stuck on a maple sapling just above Dad’s old blind on the ridge near the beautiful flowing creek. We came to the blind, and I put the cushion in the fallen logs, rearranged the cedars, and set up Dad’s decoy. I had always before shot off like a coon dog smelling hot scent, and in a hurry to get to my own place before daylight, but not this morning.

“Everything OK?” I asked after he eased down slowly onto his big cushion.

“You’ve fixed the best blind I’ve ever sat in,” he said. “You know I appreciate it.”

“I know you do.” I said. I wanted to stay, and I searched for something to delay my departure.

“You better get to your blind,” Dad scolded. “I think I see it breaking a little in the east.”

“I love you,” I whispered in a low voice as I circled and walked back to the edge of the blind.

“I love you too,” he weakly whispered back.

I bent over and kissed him, and he put his huge, calloused sawmill hand gently on the side of my bearded face. Dad’s hands were amazingly huge in relation to mine. I walked away looking back at Dad’s little dim light as he tried to find the old slate caller, his camouflaged gloves and homemade face mask.

As I sat in my blind that morning, I tried to imagine the future; I pondered the meaning of life. The blooming buckeyes, the greasy green maypops, and the delicately beautiful trillium seemed to lose their luster this particular morning. The cardinals called loudly beside me, their pointed, hooded heads looking like Ku Klux Klan members. They had always brought a grin to my face, but not this morning. Mirth had turned into melancholy. Sweet April held her comfort from me.

Then, without any warning, it suddenly started raining. I worried about Dad. The rain beat down on my gun barrel and the sky grew ominously dark. We were so far from our vehicle. Doggone it! I wanted so badly for Dad to get a shot at the old gobbler. I had not heard a sound, but I was a good three-fourths of a mile from Dad. The gobbler might have gobbled, and I wouldn’t have heard him in the steep terrain.

Suddenly, the raindrops grew much larger and increased in intensity. I jumped up to get my gear. Just behind me, a huge turkey gobbler putted in alarm, and flew behind a tree to his escape! The wily old turkey had slipped in behind me to my calling without making a sound, and was within 30 steps of me. Had I messed up Dad’s chances? Was this the old gobbler I had heard when I was scouting for Dad? Maybe it was a different gobbler.

The rain now beat down furiously, and was dripping from the brim of my hat. I started almost running in fear of Dad getting soaked. Thoughts of pneumonia and Mom’s potential rebuking caused me to go faster. As I came within 100 yards of Dad’s position, I whistled loudly, but received no reply. I whistled again and thought I heard something like a turkey clucking. But the rain interfered, so I couldn’t be certain. Little streams were already forming in the gullies; I hurried nervously, recklessly.

Boom! I heard the old 12 gauge! It was Dad! I could hear something, but thunder roared and confused my hearing. I dropped to one knee and listened and watched. The thunder stopped, and lightning flashed. I continued on cautiously toward Dad’s position.

Saying Goodbye

As the blind came into view, Dad was rising slowly, attempting to get to his feet. We met at the big black turkey gobbler lying in the soft, wet beech leaves near the beautiful flowing creek. The big bird’s feathers were iridescent even in the heavy rainfall. As I turned the heavy tom over, I saw his enormous spurs and 12-inch beard. I stuck out my hand, and Dad shook it weakly. Then we embraced, and held the embrace for an extended time as it continued to rain.. It had become our ritual to immediately share all the details involved in taking an old mountain monarch.

“He came the very first call I made,” Dad said, grinning, with an old familiar sparkle in his dark eyes. “And he approached directly from my rear. He gobbled and gobbled while standing 30 yards behind me. I finally stopped calling, knowing he was looking at the decoy. I started clucking soft-like. In fact, I was clucking soft-like when he walked slowly by me on the other side of that little gully. I waited till he got that big clown head behind a tree before raising the old gun.”

“You did it all precisely as it should have been done,” I commended. “Have you gone turkey hunting before?”

“Hey! Guess what?” he chuckled.

“What?” I asked.

“I was sitting there perfectly still when the little wrens started quarreling,” he chuckled. “Tom, one little guy actually lit and stood on my camouflaged gun barrel! I love those little fellers,” Dad said tiredly and softly.

“Listen! Hear that?” I said. “Those are the wrens talking again, Dad. They’re telling you they’re sorry for quarreling, and for you to come back and visit soon. They’re sorry and want to share your company again. Those are pleasant sounds of a closing season, don’t you think?” I asked as I walked under the dogwoods and wisteria.

Dad didn’t hear me, or else, didn’t think much of a closing season. He never liked goodbyes.

Dad died not long thereafter. The other kidney failed. I immediately went to a craft store looking for something meaningful to place on his funeral wreath that my wife and I would make. We had made Uncle Charlie’s funeral wreath out of muscadine vine and mountain laurel, with an old turkey call and spent 12 gauge turkey shells. It had matched perfectly with Uncle Charlie’s attire as he was dressed appropriately in the coffin to go hunting.

At the craft store, I was so taken with grief when I first saw what it was I wanted, the clerk must have thought some strange things about me. I wept quietly but profusely as I picked up the tiny and delicate artificial wrens, as small as little walnuts, and took them to the counter.

The little over-dressed lady at the cash register of the craft store was obviously uncomfortable when she noticed me. She tried her best not to make eye contact. She looked out over her gem-studded glasses held to her head by little shiny chains. She looked at the little wrens I had laid on the counter.

“I was thinking about an old hunting buddy,” I said, wiping my red eyes with a camouflage handkerchief, “and about the sounds of a closing season.”

I walked by Dad’s old log blind on the ridge near the creek just the other day and chuckled when I looked in the blind and saw Dad’s melted Hershey bars on his white tissue. It was an old innovative mountain man trick he had used for years to dissuade other hunters from using his log blind; it had always worked. As I walked away, I heard a sharp tweet, and turned to see two little wrens sitting on the oak branches I had placed on the blind for Dad’s last hunt. One had a brightly colored woodbine flower petal in his tiny beak. It might have been lining for a little nest; I can’t know for sure. But, I perceived it as an attempt to help me escape from a cloud of despair, and to show Dad the little wrens were sorry for quarreling at him.

“Thanks for coming, and thanks for the flowers; I appreciate your kindness,” I said back to the miniature birds as I returned to my vehicle with the generational torch.

Dr. Thomas Cloer Jr. is Professor Emeritus, Furman University. Furman offers an endowed scholarship annually, with Dr. Cloer’s name attached, to a promising student in the Department of Philosophy. The scholarship is endowed by a grateful Texas family “in appreciation for the guidance and concern demonstrated by Dr. Cloer.”