M y eight year old cousin toward the hay barn. “Let’s shoot that bird.”
I closed the loading port on my BB gun and nodded. “Don’t scare it.”
The field lark worked its way through the grass toward the barn in the autumn chill. Like the hunters we were destined to be, he and I slipped off the porch and used Grandpa’s car for cover. Veterans of such great television series such as Combat and Daniel Boone, we’d learned the art of the Phantom Sneak.
I’ve used it hundreds of times since, sometimes successfully. Once, on my deer lease outside of Breckenridge, Texas, I crawled up on a flock of wild turkeys dusting in the shade.
In 1964 Cousin and I crawled across the mowed yard toward the gas pump Grandpa used to fill his tractors.
But in Breckenridge, I caught glimpse of the flock as they worked along a fence row toward a grove of live oaks.
We rose with our backs against the pump. Grandpa saw us through the kitchen window. “You boys don’t be messin’ around over there!”
The Breckenridge turkey chirruped and yelped, talking to each other as they pecked at the ground.
“Shhhh!” I acted like I was shushing Cousin, but I really meant it for Grandpa. I also did the army wave to get him to clam up.
Following the flock, a bug lit on my mustache, almost making me sneeze. I slapped my own face and it flew off, probably to be consumed by the big gobbler I’d targeted.
The field lark wandered across the track to Grandpa’s barn in the tall grass. It disappeared from view.
The Breckenridge flock gathered in the shade and settled in for a while. I dropped to my knees and began to crawl behind several low bushes full of stickers.
Cousin and I dropped to our knees and crawled under the fence to find the grass on the other side was full of sand burrs.
The grass behind the bushes on the Breckenridge lease was full of sand burrs.
Cousin yelped at the same time I shrieked like a little girl. We backed up, picked off the stickers, and resumed our sneak across the mowed grass and gravel drive leading to the barn.
I backed away from the stickers and picked them out of my hands and knees, then moved to the side to follow a rocky wash.
Once under the gate, Cousin and I creepy-crawled on our stomachs toward the tall grass. Our prey stopped to whistle, and I saw its head rise above the grass.
The wash led to a slight rise toward the resting flock. One hen raised her head and yelped.
We lay on our stomachs, our faces on the ground. “Did it see us?” I whispered.
I kept my head low, hoping a rattlesnake wasn’t using those same rocks to warm up.
Cousin whispered back. “I don’t think so.” We resumed our crawl.
I didn’t think the turkey saw me, so I resumed my sneak, keeping several low bushes between myself and the flock.
We made our way up the hill to the edge of the tall grass. Together, Cousin and I sloooowly raised our heads to see where the field lark might be.
I crawled up the incline to within forty yards of where the turkeys were resting. The brush was thick, so I couldn’t see them. I had to raise my head and find the big gobbler.
The hidden field lark made some noise, so we raised higher.
The hidden turkey made some noise, so I raised up on my elbows.
Suddenly, Cousin and I were face to face with a cat that had been stalking the bird. Only a yard away, its eyes widened and it yowled and leaped.
Suddenly, I was face to face with a bobcat that had been stalking the turkeys. Only a yard away, its eyes widened and it yowled, launching itself straight up in the air, like a hot-air balloon, it went up and up.
Cousin and I leaped to our feet at the same time the bird rocketed skyward. It floated away to settle in the pasture fifty yards away.
I strung a couple of words together and threw myself backward, trying to bring the shotgun to bear at the big cat that shot through the turkey and the flock exploded in all directions.
In seconds, Cousin and I stood there, hearts beating frantically, I thought I was going to have a heart attack in a Breckenridge pasture while the field lark wandered away as if nothing had happened, and the flock of turkeys disappeared into the landscape.
Cousin and I wondered whether to follow or to go back to the truck to change our underwear and debate the lesson I’d learned once again.
I hope I don’t have a refresher course waiting in the wings.
Email Reavis Wortham at [email protected]