The mountains lying along the New York-Vermont border began as sedimentary deposits during the Precambrian era, eventually to be covered by layer upon layer of similar deposits. For eons they lay sequestered beneath the earth’s surface, until roughly 450 million years ago, when the collision of tectonic plates pushed these deposits upward. The intense pressure of that interaction metamorphosed the rocks into slate. I’ve hunted those mountains and on occasion dropped a loose blade of slate into my turkey vest with the unfulfilled aim to one day fashion my own turkey call from it.
The wild turkeys I chased have inhabited those mountains at least since the last glaciers retreated over 10,000 years ago, and probably were present before the last ice age. Otherwise they were absent only for a brief period around the turn of the previous century when unregulated hunting erased the species entirely from New England.
Around that time, chestnuts were the most common mast-producing hardwood in the eastern U.S., no doubt providing vital sustenance for turkeys, deer and countless other forest dwellers. They were erased by a blight, introduced from overseas. The chestnut’s absence provided an opportunity for other mast producers like oak and walnut to proliferate, oak being an important food source for wildlife and walnut being highly desirable for its wood.
Somehow through the vagaries of fate, a piece of walnut stock and a block of slate arrived at the workshop of custom callmaker David Halloran of Great Valley, New York. There he fashioned round discs of slate and affixed them to wooden pots of walnut, which he then engraved to commemorate the first wild turkey crossbow grand slam. Only 25 of these calls were made. One now sits in the museum at the National Wild Turkey Federation’s headquarters in Edgefield, South Carolina.
Another traveled in the pocket of my hunting vest for more than a decade. I’ve lost track of how many longbeards have fallen to its sweet, seductive sound: 50, 60, maybe more. It’s been the downfall of birds from Maine to California, Texas to Florida. So you can imagine how badly I felt upon looking in my vest, into the same pocket that faithfully carried that call for the last dozen turkey seasons only to find it empty.
I realize it would take nothing short of a miracle to find it. It’s only been three days, but in that span I’ve covered mile upon mile, anywhere upon the length of which the call could have fallen out. Maybe it was when I removed my vest to take pictures of and then load up the first bird of the season. Perhaps it was during the belly crawl that got me close enough to the edge of a field to sidle up against a tree and start my calling bout. It could have been while jumping across a stream, navigating cautiously over a barbed wire fence or haphazardly taking my vest off after a morning hunt.
So there it lies, somewhere in the woods of Maine. Perhaps someone else will find it and it will bring them good luck. More likely it will, over time, return to the earth. Eventually the shellac will wear away, water will seep into the wood and freeze, cracking the tight grain. Moss will grow on the slate surface and ever so slowly etch away at its polished finish. And though it’s just a few ounces, my vest will still feel noticeably lighter.
Bob Humphrey is a certified wildlife biologist, registered Maine guide and the author of two books on turkey hunting. He can be reached at: