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In New Jersey there is a preserve where for a price you can hunt anything from mallards to imported aoudad sheep. Wild turkeys are also on the menu. I called the proprietor and asked him if I could arrange a hunt using a sling. I heard him remark irritably to his wife, "Some darned drunk is always calling me up with some crazy idea," but after we got further into the conversation, he became interested in the experiment. When I asked about fees, he waved them aside. "Any turkeys you get with a sling I'll give you," he told me generously.
My wife and I visited the preserve, set deep in pine barrens, half a mile down a dirt and sand road. The proprietor told me the turkeys were in a 40-acre section of swampland, surrounded by a 14-foot fence. "They won't fly unless hard pressed," he added. "We lose a few, but that's a good spot for them and they usually come back."
I was using my new sling with one-inch ball bearings as pellets, which I thought would be adequate to settle a turkey's drumsticks for him. A turkey is a big bird, and I could hit a tin pie plate at 30 yards pretty consistently with enough force to send the ball bearing through the plate. I thought I stood a reasonable chance.
The proprietor unlocked a gate and pointed toward the swamp, which was composed of scrub oak, pine and masses of holly, the red berries glowing against emerald leaves. "You're on your own." he assured me. "When you get tired, come to the gate and holler. I'll let you out."
I hadn't counted on the swamp and was wearing ankle-high boots. Bravely I started out, stepping from tussock to tussock and from dead limb to dead limb, heading for the high ground on the far side. Almost at once I began to see turkey tracks. I got so interested in trying to see where they were heading that I made the mistake of stepping on a dead branch that broke and let me down into the black swamp water and mud. I heard the scolding of a jay, the alarm call of a robin and the angry chick-chick of a chickadee. I wasn't the only one to hear them. In the distance came the unmistakable "tut tut" warning call of a turkey, sounding like a drop of water hitting a tin roof. I circled around and went toward the sound, putting a pellet in my sling and holding it taut between my hands to keep the pellet from falling out, a typical slinger's pose, which you may see immortalized on the walls of Ashurbanipal's palace.
Then black shapes were moving against the black mud, almost the same color but with a bronze sheen. They were scuttling along with their necks stretched out before them, long legs, thin bodies. I saw the red of the gobbler's wattles and moved to cut the birds off. There were one gobbler and two hens. The hens hadn't seen me and would make the best shot. I began to swing the sling.
They saw me then, all right. They seemed to drift through the trees, but they went astonishingly fast. In a second they were gone, their feet pattering on the dry leaves as they left the swamp and cut through the scrub oak.
Again I moved to cut them off, following them by the sound. When in position, I got down low to avoid the branches. Yes, there they were, but crouching I couldn't use the sling. When I straightened up, they were gone again.
After a few more attempts it had become apparent why wild turkeys seldom bother to fly. They can run like deer. They kept doubling back into the swamp while I blundered through masses of squirrel brier and the lower branches of the pines. If someone had been along to herd them to me, I might have had better luck, but after an hour or so it became obvious that a sling is no weapon to use in cover; it's designed for open country. I returned discouraged and found the proprietor standing at the gate; he had been watching me. "All right, now I'll fix things so you can get your turkey," he promised.
He turned loose a couple of dogs. The dogs went galloping through the swamp and, being a lot faster through mud than I was, they found the turkeys in no time. The turkeys tried to run, but the dogs were too fast even for them. Giving loud alarm calls, they went up in the air and lit in an oak.