As with many of the events that have shaped my life or left a lasting impression, this one was no different. It took place in my favorite spot.....the woods. It involved an act of kindness. The two main characters were as if scripted by Hollywood - a wise man and an eager kid. Neither of these two were me.
I was hunting with my 13 year old son on a guided turkey hunt with North East Wilderness Outfitters in Maine. Right from the start I hit it off with Chip Woodman ( owner) and his family. We ate our meals with them. We spent our evenings at their house.
It was on this initial trip I met Woody, Chip's father. We swapped hunting stories as easily as f we had known each other for decades. He took special interest in my son and took the time to get to know him.
It should be noted , back then, turkey permits in Maine had to be drawn for in a lottery and the turkey hunting scene was just starting to explode in Maine.
Woody had never shot a turkey. I don't think he had ever drawn a tag before. We were invited to stay an extra day to hunt if we wanted. Chip and Woody had planned to hunt the next morning but invited us to go if we wanted. Not as part of a guide/hunter arrangement, but rather as friends. We were thrilled to get the invitation.
As mentioned, this was when turkey hunting in Maine was a new thing. Most folks had yet to tag a turkey. Hunters everywhere in the State went to bed dreaming of bagging their first gobbler ever. In short, killing a turkey was a big big deal in hunting circles back then.
At daybreak, we watched 6 birds fly down. There were two nice tom's in the group. After an hour of careful calling the birds began to come our way. Slowly, but with each step...they came closer. I didn't draw a tag so I was just a spectator.
As one of the Tom's came inside of 20 yards, from my vantage point I could see my son crouched on one knee with his longbow up and ready for a clear ethical shot. Just beyond him, I saw Woody raise his shotgun and tuck his head down into the stock.
My son had no clear shot at the Tom. Woody had a shot but he held off hoping the Tom would offer a bow shot. The bird hung around for about 5 minutes but decided to go back to the group out in the nearby field. As he turned to leave, I braced myself for the boom of the shotgun. But it never came....
Later, when asked why he didn't shoot, Woody simply replied " I was hoping Dylan would get a shot with his longbow". When pressed why he didn't shoot even when the bird was clearly walking away, as only a wise and kind man can state in few words " If I shot, Dylan's hunt would be over. I have lots of time to get a bird".
Mind you, this was when taking a turkey in Maine was a new an exciting adventure ! Yet, this tall gentleman we had just met days before, gladly passed up a gimme shot at a gobbler for my son.
Perhaps, only hunters will get the significance of this act of kindness shared in the early morning turkey woods. It was not lost on me however. Right then and there....I knew I was in the company of a true sportsmen.
We had to leave that afternoon, and while saying our final goodbyes, I remember Woody shouting out to the truck as we rolled away, " See ya next season".
And we did. And for how many years after that I've lost count, but it was 15 at least. After each spring hunt was over, it was always " See ya next season".
A few days ago, I received the terrible news that Woody had passed away. I was deeply saddened I had lost such a good friend. I felt terrible for his family. I instantly remembered that first morning I hunted with him and he let that gobbler walk for the slim chance my son my get a crack at him with his bow.
There are fewer and fewer men of his stature and kindness in this world today. I felt lucky to have met him. A finer man I have yet to meet.
So that's my tribute to my friend Woody. There are countless other stories I could share of this man on my yearly visits, but the above act touches me as a hunter more than the rest. It was a long time ago and seems longer now since I heard news of his passing, but time or his passing will never diminish his act of unselfishness to a young hunter that first hunt many years ago.
Turkey season will never be the same for me or anyone who knew Woody. However, the sun will still rise. The sun will still set. Tides will come and go. Turkey seasons will roll around. If I'm lucky, I'll see another opening morning in Maine chasing turkey.
Who knows what the future will hold for any of us.....but Woody, thanks for all the kindness and friendship over the years.
See ya next season....wherever that may be.