By DAVID RAINER

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Turkey hunters are indeed a rare breed. Postal carriers are said to endure all sorts of hardships to deliver the mail, but they’ve got nothing on diehard turkey hunters when it comes to pursuing their favorite game animal.

James Crowley of Fayette County started turkey hunting in 1978 and was immediately hooked.

“When I got started, I couldn’t even find a caller in Fayette, where I live,” Crowley said. “I had to go to Mack’s Bait Shop in Tuscaloosa. I bought a Lynch box call. There weren’t any diaphragm calls back then. There wasn’t any camouflage except for military camo.

“When I started, nobody would tell you anything about turkey hunting. I had to learn it on my own. But, you know, experience is the best teacher. We had a game warden, Rufus Dodd, who helped transplant turkeys from south Alabama. In the middle ‘80s and ‘90s, you

could go out and hear four or five different turkeys gobble. I was fortunate to start turkey hunting while my dad was still alive. I was able to call up about 12 or 15 for him to kill. I’ve been able to call up turkeys for my grandson. That means a lot to me.”

By the time Crowley had become a seasoned turkey hunter, his down-the-road neighbor, Scott Foster, thought chasing turkeys might be something he would enjoy.

“In 1986, I decided I was going to take it up,” Foster said. “James gave me a Ben Rogers Lee tape. He said, ‘If you listen to that, you’ll know all you need to know about the calling part of it.’”

The 72-year-old Crowley and 46-year-old Foster rarely hunted together. They had permission to hunt the same property in Fayette County, so they occasionally ended up calling to the same bird. Courtesy reigned, however, when either realized the other was positioned to hunt the gobbling turkey.

“We were rivals, but we were friends,” Foster said. “We had enough respect not to mess each other up. If I heard him calling to a bird, I would back on out. He would do the same. We used to leave each other signs. When my son got old enough to hunt, we’d go to the property and I’d say, ‘Well, James got one this morning.’ He said, ‘How do you know?’ See that feather lying across the road? He left me a sign. If I killed one, I’d take a feather and leave it on his mailbox. It was all in fun.

“James was a good hunter, a very good hunter.”

Everything changed last season for Crowley. One of life’s hardships put Crowley down but not out. He suffered a stroke at the end of the 2015 turkey season and basically lost the use of his left hand.

This year, instead of scouting turkeys before the season, Foster and Crowley went scouting areas to build blinds.

“We had to find areas where we can just drive up to the blind,” Foster said. “About 10 yards is about as far as James can go. He’s been doing physical therapy four days a week, but he has to have a brace on his left hand to keep it from drawing up.”

The hunters were sitting in one of those blinds well after daylight last week when one of the most memorable hunts for either hunter started to unfold.

“I think it was after my second call that the turkey gobbled,” Foster said. “I can’t hear, so I’m asking the 72-year-old man in the blind where’s he at. He said, ‘I don’t know, but I heard it.’ He turned his hearing aids up and I called again. After the third time, we figured out where the turkey was.”

The blind was built against several cedar trees near a gas line the pair hoped would be the turkey’s travel corridor. A decoy was added to keep the gobbler’s attention away from the blind.

“The turkey gobbled several times and then he started moving away from us,” Foster said. “About 30 minutes later another turkey gobbled to our left. I told him I was going to get out and ease up to the gas line to see if I could spot the turkeys.

“James is old school and not big on calling a lot, but I thought one of the turkeys was across a creek. To get a turkey to cross a creek, you’ve got to really get them fired up. So I was doing a good bit of calling.”

About two hours into the hunt, Foster was near the gas line when the turkeys gobbled about 75 yards away from the clearing.

“I eased back to the blind and told James, ‘We’re fixing to do this,’” Foster said. “I got behind the blind to call to try to get the birds right in front of James. It took another 25 minutes. Then I saw a red head pop up, and I said, ‘Here we go.’ Then I saw another one. And I saw another one. I thought surely to goodness he’ll get one of them. I said my little prayer right there.

“The turkeys almost got to the decoy, and something wasn’t just right. They turned around and were fixing to leave when he shot. When he shot, he hollered. I just sat there a second and took the moment in.

“He hollered again, ‘Did I get him?’ I said, ‘Yes, you got him.’ The next thing out of his mouth was, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ Then I reached into the blind and shook his hand. He shot that turkey with one hand.”

When he suffered the stroke last May, Crowley’s perspective on turkey hunting obviously changed. Before, he never even would have considered sitting in a blind, waiting on a turkey to walk up to the decoy. He would have been moving, setting up on the gobbler and calling him into his lap.

“It’s not as easy as TV makes it look like,” Crowley said. “They don’t show you all the times they don’t kill anything. But you will see some things sitting in a blind. I was watching a field and three hens were out there. One of the hens walked up to an ant bed. I thought she was going to eat some of the grubs (larvae), but she started dusting herself. Then she jumped up out of there like she was shot out of a cannon. She was pecking at her breast, trying to get those ants off of her, and then she took off into the woods. Stuff like that makes it fun.”

Now he has no choice..

“I can’t sit down by a tree like I used to,” Crowley said. “Hunting out of a blind with Scott is all I can do right now. Scott’s a good caller. When he first started, I gave him books and tapes. Now he’s paying me back.

“I’d just as soon have Scott out there with me as ol’ Michael Waddell.”

Photo by Crystal Foster

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