Editor’s Note: Strickland probably has spent as many or more days in the woods hunting and videoing hunts as anyone in the outdoor industry today. Through his long career, he has had hundreds and possibly thousands of memorable hunts. So, we’ve asked him to tell us about two more of those hunts, for the next 2 days.
This is another one of those hunts that you remember for a lifetime. I was hunting with legendary outdoor writer Tom Kelly, who wrote for “Sports Afield Magazine” for many years and produced some of the finest turkey-hunting literature ever written. His books are probably in the library of almost every serious turkey hunter. Tom is one of those rare people with the gift of storytelling and is one of my hunting heroes. Tom and I were filming a turkey hunt at Portland Landing near Camden, Alabama, and had hunted several days together. Finally Tom took a turkey. Because the turkeys had gobbled so well, Tom and I had some time left. We sat down and talked.
Tom said, “This hunt reminds me of a chapter I wrote for one of my books called, ‘An Afternoon on the Handles,’ a story about the funeral of my lifelong best hunting buddy, Jim Hart Andrews, probably the best turkey hunter I ever met. I was a pall bearer and carried the handles of my best friend’s coffin to his grave.”
After Tom told me the story, we went to the cemetery where Jim Hart Andrews was buried. To hear Kelly talk about Andrews and to see him at his friend’s grave was really emotional. While he was at the cemetery, Kelly told me that he knew Andrews had gone to heaven. Back during the time when Andrews died, people would bury the dead pretty quickly, almost immediately after the person had passed away. Then the family would have a ceremony (a memorial service) where people would tell stories about the deceased, and the preacher presiding over the memorial service would tell the congregation if the person went to heaven or hell.
After the funeral, Kelly was alone in the turkey woods. At first light, he heard five toms gobbling their brains out. They would gobble to every sound in the woods, except to Kelly’s calling. They would gobble at hawks, woodpeckers, ducks and all the other natural sounds, but they wouldn’t gobble when Kelly tried to call them. Kelly explained that he was convinced that this hunt was a funeral celebration of the turkeys telling their story of Andrews’ safe arrival to the other side. Kelly told me, “No one ever said that a memorial service had to be conducted by a preacher wearing a black broadcloth suit and speaking the English language. To my way of thinking, those turkeys put on a performance to let me know that Jim Andrews had made it to the other side to heaven, and that all was right with the world.” To hear Tom Kelly tell that story gave me chills.
So, what started out as a TV show about a turkey hunt evolved into the story of two turkey hunters, the emotion Kelly felt after carrying his friend’s coffin to the grave site, and then Kelly going to the woods and hearing those turkeys that he and his hunting buddy had hunted together all their lives. What happened gave Tom Kelly the comfort he needed to deal with his friend’s death. So, the title of the show was “An Afternoon on the Handles” by Tom Kelly. Even today, I will have grizzled older gentlemen with heads full of white hair come up to me and say, “Cuz, I watched that TV show ‘An Afternoon on the Handles with Tom Kelly,’ and I cried through the whole show.” When people tell you that about your TV shows, you feel like you have done a good job of telling the story. I believe this was probably one of the best videos that we ever produced at Mossy Oak.