A Wild Turkey Hunt Saved a Bear and Her Cubs

The sky is gray and winds blow against our faces like it's pushing us up the long winding mountain in search of shooting a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Momma has expressed to Dad and I that a wild turkey would be great for the meal because she's also preparing a special deer meat dish too. Our family likes wild meat and Momma is an expert at preparing the meats into a delicious tasty meal.

Snow flurries flitter against and on to our faces like hail bouncing on to the ground as gusts bite at our noses and faces. Many hunters suffer through a lot of hardships to prove they can hunt and kill their own meat to eat. They end up with frostbite hands and feet just to prove their point of being able to kill what they eat.

I've been hunting with Dad for years and I've never been able to shoot a turkey, deer, and bear or for that matter any creature. I'm not against someone killing an animal if they're hungry and in need of it for food; otherwise, I say, "Leave them alone," and allow them to let nature take care of their fate. Throughout the years hunters have laughed and teased me about being the only woman in West Virginia who hunts the mountains and won't "kill" a thing. It's the talk of the town and I'm known as the "woman" with a big heart.

There are too many people killing animals for the fun of it and leaving them to decay…this causes me to feel an aversion because critters have to struggle hard to exist and to live and many of them that are killed have young babies waiting to be nurtured.

We love nature and enjoy everything on this earth; especially, all types of critters. I can sit for hours watching a doe with her fawn, a fat raccoon with babies shuffling beside her, sit on a stump in the woods by a flowing stream and watch tadpoles developing to become frogs, crayfish scampering across rocks, tiny minnows playing tag, and to see a snake slither up a tree. Nature feeds my core and energizes me to the point of elation.

Wild turkey hunting is important in these West Virginia hills in the late fall season and a lot of people make extra money by selling turkey callers they swear by to lure the turkeys into a particular area. I've seen Dad work on a caller for several months before he gets it to sound exactly like he wants it too. He doesn't use just one caller but various ones and each has a particular name and a reason for why it is as it is, and Dad says, "You've got to train your lips and throat to get the right turkey sounds, sometimes I practice too much and my entire mouth hurts.

My crafting at making callers is not too good but Dad is an expert and he can call the turkeys and get great results too. I've watched him put turkeys in a trance and have them believe there are others everywhere in the area. We often laugh as we lie on the ground in wait for his luring calls to gather them in. People have to be patient and wait sometimes for hours to see a turkey, and then again, they can wait from dawn to dark and never see a one. A person may be asked, "Is it tiring to lie in wait all day and not see a turkey?"

We'll never forget the time a big gobbler strutted within inches of us and Dad was so inspired and taken aback that he watched and didn't even take a shot at it. He strutted and pranced like he was performing a ceremonial dance and he actually melted both of our hearts. Dad loves their gracefulness and their beauty, and he often tells me, "They're smart critters Millie and a person must be good to fool them…I believe they can see out of the back of their heads."

There's rumors some people here in the south prefer to hunt turkeys in the spring too but our family tradition is to leave them alone during the spring season and allow them to mate and reproduce during this time frame. We don't kill hens because it appears to us that there are fewer hens than gobblers.

We love seeing and watching hens with their young crammed under their drooping wings. It's great to see two or three hens with their young slowly treading along in the grass in wooded areas. We never thought that hens and their young travelled together with other hens but they do because we've seen them on numerous occasions.

They're such sneaky critters that I love sitting for hours watching them with their young; they display love and care for their babies and they're very protective of them too. They can be out in an open area and in a split second they're gone and the eye cannot find them anywhere. It's as though they vanish off the face of the earth.

I have fond memories of sitting in the Smokey Mountains with Dad when we were on vacation and as we would watch a hen with her young hiding in the edge of the woods as she was enjoying some special type of weed. We were never able to get close enough to see what type of weed it was; this could have been some valuable information for our future hunts.

It was as though the hen was teaching her babies what to eat and what not to eat. It was a wonderful experience for us to sit there for a couple hours as they feasted on an unknown meal. Her love and watchful eyes displayed an honorable motherly nurturing manner that would fight anything to protect her young. When she starts slouching big wings, the babies know to get under the umbrella of safety and to be quiet.

I've found out from my many viewings that most types of critter's love and care for their young just like human beings do and I'll have "no" part of anyone who kills natures critters for the fun of it. In our area some people hunt and cut off the hind quarters of deer and leave the rest for the scavengers.

We're exhausted and decide to stop for a rest when all of a sudden we hear a loud shrieking noise coming from over the way. Johnnie runs northward to see if he can see anything and I walk west; I finally see a huge back object lying in the edge of the woods in the distance. I cannot make out if it's a cow or something else…it never occurs to me it might be a bear.

"Johnnie, Johnnie, what do you think that black object is lying over there?" "Dad, Dad, do you see it? Whatever it is, it's in trouble"…I cover my ears because each piercing noise tells me the animal is in serious trouble and it's pleading for help. I cannot stand to hear or see a critter in trouble, and I turn to Johnnie and Dad saying, "I'm going to check it out to see if there's anything I can do to help it out, are you two coming with me?"

"Don't go too close Millie it could a bear and if you walk up on it, it might attack you. Let's all go together and scout out the situation first." Dad warns us.

"Dad, Dad, we have to help whatever it is…it's pain can be felt in the loud noise it's making."

My heart is up in my throat and excitement is in my veins, "I'm going to help that critter regardless of what it is," I whisper.

We all walk slowly toward the black object and when we finally can get a good view, we see it's a female bear trying to give birth to a cub or cubs. She cannot get up so we sneak around to where we can get a good view and we see the cub isn't coming out as it should; it appears to be hung in the birthing channel for some reason. Tears run down my face, and I say, "Dad, Dad, what are we going to do…she's suffering so much…the poor critter?"

The noise is piercing and she's slobbering from the mouth, which indicates to us she's been in this condition for a long spell...maybe a couple days…her life is in danger along with the cub. She's now only grunting like she's worn out and there's no energy left in her.

Dad says, "Millie keep an eye out for other bears because they say families usually stay together, then go get the rope out of the back pack…I'm going to try to see if I can go into the birthing channel with my hands and see what's got the cub hung in there. I'm going to try to pull the cub through the birthing channel if I can. "

Dad's first attempt at turning or finding out what the problem is fails, and he says, "Millie, I cannot hold the birth channel open, I'll hold it open and you see if you can turn the cup and then I'll pull it out."

My first, second, and third attempt fails but I finally make a good connection on my fourth try and I'm able to get the cub untangled from something holding it prisoner in the channel, and as I do and saying to Dad, "Pull while I shove and bingo the huge cub pops out and then another and another."

I cannot believe my eyes as the momma bear struggles to her feet and then falls back down. She's frail and has lost lots of blood and fluids, we must get her water, and I tell Johnnie, "Get the cooler out of the truck there's water in there pure it into the cooler and bring it to me."

I tilt the cooler of water toward the bears mouth and she starts drinking until she's drank every drop of the water in the cooler. Dad tells us to let her lay there for a while to see if she'll get up. Her breathing is fast and hard as she struggles again to slowly get up and she quickly begins to clean up her cubs. They were the cutest cubs and it was as though the momma bear knew we'd helped her, she didn't snarl or attempt to attack us. She may have been too tired and burnt out to bother with us too.

We had just experience a blessing right before our eyes as all of us stood there looking at the miracle with tears streaming down our cheeks, and Dad says, "Come, this is not killing the turkey we need for Thanksgiving dinner…we've got a job to do."

Dad looks at Johnnie and I smiling and says, "This just might cause me to give up hunting…this was such a miracle and we didn't get hurt. I cannot believe the momma didn't attempt to attack us!"

We find a nice place to sit in the thickets after we've spotted fresh turkey droppings and scratching's, and we've identified the foods turkeys usually feeds on. Dad starts to make these realistic turkey sounds and soon we hear a sound echoing back after Dad blows his caller and the biggest gobbler comes right into the opening at a distance from where we're sitting.

Johnnie and I don't have the time to say a thing until; we grab our ears at the loud boom, boom of Dad's gun and we see the huge gobbler fluttering on the ground. I didn't say a thing but my heart was saying much, and I whisper to myself, "This is the last time I'll participate in a hunt; my heart cannot stand it another time."

We're getting close to the house and I can see Dad's face glowing like a lit Christmas tree, and he starts to blow the truck's horn signaling to Momma that he's coming home and he has a turkey too.

I've decided to keep my secret to myself for the time being; but the next time Dad invites me go hunting I'll turn him down because seeing critters killed, kills me a little too each time I see it.

Writer of Short Story is Barbara Ann Smith