I don’t typically name wild animals. I steer clear from giving cute and sometimes fitting nicknames to any of the deer that I spot on my trail cameras. There’s no Goliath, Eight Ball, Slick, or Wide Nine. They’re simply deer. I have nothing against the practice. Lots of people do it. It’s just normally not my style. I said, “normally.”
A recent column I wrote was entitled, simply, “The Runt,” about a young buck that my dad and I frequently encountered some years back. He got a nickname. Another buck Dad gave a haircut to with his .303 was lovingly referred to as, “Scar,” for a while. There was the crow several years ago that had such a wheezing and deep caw that we wondered if he was a chain smoker. Today’s tale is about a hen turkey from the fall of 2020 which we called, “Hop-Along.”
Sometime during the first week of deer season in 2020, my dad and I got on the radios. This is something we do every few hours during the long day to give each other an update as to what we may have encountered, if only to break up the monotony. On this day, Dad reported that he saw a female turkey walking through the stand of hardwoods he was sitting in. This in itself is not an unusual occurrence. However, Dad said she had an extremely bad limp. It could have been that a coyote got a hold of her, or she got clipped by a car. Maybe a hunter’s pellets got into her leg earlier during turkey season. The good news was that she seemed to get along okay, just not as quickly as normal.
By the end of rifle season, we received a healthy dumping of snow. I was poking along, not far from where Dad spotted, “Hop-Along,” when I noticed a hen turkey standing on a rock that had protruded through the white stuff. She sat there; her eyes glued to my every step. I closed to within 15 yards before she “cut” at me and jumped off the rock. She limped for a few steps before taking flight. The majestic site of a large bird flying was also proof that Hop-Along had nothing wrong with her wings.
The following weekend was the muzzleloader opener. I was pushing through a stand of oaks when I caught movement on a hill off to my right. It was a turkey, feeding on the acorns. She took a few steps. It was Hop-Along. I watched her for about 15 minutes, amazed at her patience and diligence in searching for acorns. She was somewhat blocking the direction in which I had wanted to go. Reluctantly, I slowly headed in her direction, with an old stone wall separating us as I got to within 25 yards. Again, she cut at me, letting me know she was there, but she did not run off. Rather, she seemed resigned to my presence in the woods. It was as if we had become acquaintances, if not old friends. I moved along.
I do not know whatever happened to Hop-Along. I did not encounter her this past season. Part of me is concerned she couldn’t get through last winter. However, I am grateful that I was able to spend a couple of glorious mornings in the woods with her, one of the few wild creatures to get a name from me. She deserves that.