This turkey season will make 36 years I have been chasing the wily old bird. Man how things have changed!
The year was 1982, and it was Kentucky’s first wild turkey hunting season. I was working in Washington, D.C., as a lobbyist for the Untied Mine Workers of America. My lifelong friend Leonard Fleming, a safety director for the UMWA, and myself were following in the footsteps of our fathers.
Tom Fleming, Leonard’s dad, and Toby Brewer, my dad, were the best of friends and hunted and fished together for years. When my dad lay in state at Moore’s Chapel, Tom was the first man through the door. Anyway, Leonard and myself had planned our first turkey hunt together in the mountains across from Fishpond Lake at Payne Gap near Jenkins. To my knowledge, that was the only place turkeys were to be found in Letcher County at that time.
I brought David Saltz with me from Washington to hunt with Leonard and me. Although Leonard had hunted with me for years for deer, squirrel, and rabbits, this was a new adventure and we looked forward to it. We had scouted the mountain for several days before season opened and we were full of hope that we could be the first to harvest a wild turkey. We weren’t so sure about Saltz, who was a “city slicker” who had never hunted before.
The night before that 1982 season opened, we had a snow that is sure in the record book for that time of year. Saltz, who was staying at my house, and me pulled out to pick up Leonard and to eat a breakfast that Leonard’s wife, Norma, had fixed. Gravy, bacon, sausage, fried taters, and cathead biscuits, and homemade jelly were on the list. We ate like pigs. The snow was high, the wind bitter cold, but we were not concerned. We parked across the road from Fishpond and hiked into the mountain. Sure enough we found the turkeys, but not really knowing what we were doing caused some problems, which my game warden friend, and always a true friend, Jerry Coots told me about later.
I had a long beard in my sights. Remember we never had turkey guns then. Leonard and myself hunted with 30-inch, full choke 12-gauge Browning shotguns. We loaned Saltz the same kind of gun. My problem was, I had number two shot shells, which Jerry told me later was illegal. He said if I’d had a number five shot, I could have gotten my turkey. I haven’t used anything but five shot since. I can’t remember if Leonard got a shot off or not. Thirty-six years is a long time to try and remember. Things have changed in those 36 years, as Saltz and Coots have left us.
The guns and clothing have changed, but my love for the Flemings is still strong. I have always enjoyed being friends with the Flemings; they have always treated me like family. Norma has fixed me some meals that others would kill for. She has been like my sister, and I have always been welcome in their house. I watched both of Norma and Leonard’s children grow up into fine people.
Although the miles and years have taken their toll, I have hunted in 15 turkey-hunting states and killed well over 300 turkeys. Leonard is now very sick, but at this time of year my mind always wanders back to that first turkey hunt with him. Leonard, if we never hunt together again on this side of life, I know we will find each other again.
Take care my friend.