I knew he was roosted in the area, because I had flushed him the day before about 4 p.m., and I'd watched where he flew.

The next morning as the eastern horizon began to glow, I owl-called, but he wouldn't answer. He did, though, when he heard me walking in the leaves. He bellowed out a response from the next ridge over.

Knowing the knoll he liked to strut, I slowly walked 40 more yards and backed up to a tree just over the crest. He sailed from the roost ridge and landed 80 yards from me.

Fast and furious

I couldn't see him, but his gobbling and drumming sounds let me know he was in serious need of companionship. I clucked and he went crazy, drumming and pirouetting in my direction.

Company was coming to him, too. Three hens wasted no time getting to him, and soon the ancient ritual was under way — all within gun range. Before echoes of the shot had faded, I was standing over the fallen monarch — a fine, healthy three-year-old specimen with sharp one inch spurs.

I wasn't surprised to see the healed broken toe — probably caught it in a root. But I wasn't expecting the Number 6 shot lead pellet in his leg — just under the skin when I plucked him. I was shooting copper-plated 7.5's, so I knew he had been shot at, at least one other time.

Such is the reason a three year (or older) deer or turkey is a real trophy, no matter how big it is. They have been through a lot, and outsmarting one is not a daily occurrence in the typical hunter's life.

Wildlife has a hard way to go — it's no cake walk out there in the wild. And it was that way long before man was a dominant force on earth. Remains of mammoths found trapped in bogs are a good example.

Way of life

Natural predation is a way of life, occurring millions of times every second. Territorial battles are rough too. On the same turkey hunt this spring, my friend Jim called in three jakes and a hen. He shot the biggest jake, and the other two flogged him when he went down. The larger jake, which had obviously been dominant, had healed fighting scars all over his head and neck.

I caught a beaver one time with so many scars, his pelt was almost worthless. (I believe I was paid $3 for it).

While bowhunting a few years ago, I killed a spike with a football-sized flap of skin hanging down — no doubt, he foolishly challenged a larger buck. Another deer I killed while bowhunting in east Tennessee had an antler broken and hanging down. The reason it was still attached? A golf ball-size section of skullcap was hanging with it, by the skin. And the deer was otherwise healthy and behaving normally!

Which goes to show, wildlife is tough — they can take a beating and keep going.

I checked in a four-point buck at a check station one time — he was fat and healthy, except for a broken foot which had healed at a 90 degree angle from his leg. I killed a seven-pointer this year, that had a swelled, abscessed foot. He was walking on three legs — that's why I shot him A friend killed a deer one year, sitting in the same tree he'd shot him from the year before. He still had Steve's broad head in the shoulder, now healed. He was a four-pointer the first time, and a healthy, fat eight-pointer when he killed him.

Look both ways

Some don't make it though. Frequently, bucks lock antlers in battle and both eventually die. Occasionally someone finds one alive, usually emaciated and exhausted from trying to drag around the dead carcass of the other.

Cars kill a lot of wild animals, too. One year while a graduate student at Auburn, we necroposied a blind buck. One eye had been gored by another buck recently, and the other eye was missing, apparently from being gored in a prior year. The buck had been killed, though, by a car — we assumed because he couldn't see.

Birds are often killed when they fly into a glass window, one that reflects the surroundings. And then, there are freak accidents, like bucks hanging their antlers in forked saplings they are attempting to rub, or animals such as antelopes getting caught in fences. I found a dead squirrel one time, with a foot caught on a barb of an electrified barbed-wire fence.

Nature is raw — some think cruel. I prefer to think of it as real. Life and death are both important parts of a well-laid-out plan — one designed to recycle nutrients and connect up the complex web of a natural world.