Saturday, April 25, 2015

'King of turkey hunting: Cousin Jake was the best'

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “King of turkey hunting: Cousin Jake was the best,” was originally published in the April 8, 1982 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

There are people who strive for total perfection in their chosen professions. There are those who, through some powers or happenings, gain total perfection without really ever trying.

The art of turkey hunting is truly a sport that requires total perfection if one is to be successful.

This is a story about a man I knew as I was growing up. He was probably the most successful of all the turkey hunters in the area. If some kind of record had been kept, he would probably have equaled the best in the state and maybe the nation.

I will call this man Cousin Jake. This was not his full name, of course, but a nickname that he gave himself. Everyone he saw, whether he knew them or not, he called “cousin.” So after a while, the name “Cousin Jake” was given to him by all who knew him for the rest of his life.

Heavy and hungry

Cousin Jake did not appear to be a man who was an expert in anything. He was a large man, heavy set, and with an extra large stomach. This was due largely to the never-ending hunger pains that he said he suffered from.

He wore no special or camouflage hunting clothing when he hunted turkeys. His garb was always a pair of overalls with a jumper. He never wore a shirt under the jumper or even an undershirt. Winter and summer, always, overalls and a jumper and high-top brogans. He usually kept about a three-day growth of whiskers. Three days without shaving for Cousin Jake equaled about 10 days for most men.

He also had the tobacco-chewing habit. He always had a “chew” in his jaw unless he was doing what he loved most, trying to kill that hunger pain that bothered him so much. He said chewing tobacco kept the mosquitoes and bugs away. Once the tobacco got in your system, the bugs and mosquitoes would not bother you, he said. And I believed that.

His turkey hunting equipment consisted of a small cow horn, about three inches long, with a short piece of fat lightwood splinter in the small end. He would rub the end of the lightwood with a short piece of slate. This turkey caller seemed as old as Cousin Jake. This equipment was always kept in the bib pocket of his overalls. Nothing else was kept there, not even his chewing tobacco.

His gun was even older than his turkey caller. It was a single-shot 12-guage. The stock had been reinforced by wrapping copper wire around it just below the trigger guard. The ejector that was supposed to eject the empty shells from the firing chamber had long since worn out. But this didn’t bother Cousin Jake – he carried with him a piece of brass, just a little smaller than the shells he used. After firing the 12-guage long tom he would unbreech the gun and then drop the small piece of brass down the barrel.

This would knock the empty shell loose and it and the brass would fall to the ground – but Cousin Jake had perfected the skill to the point that he always caught the brass. This kept him from having to bend over and pick it up.

Besides being a great turkey hunter, he was without a doubt, one of the best mechanics around. He drove an old pickup truck that looked like it would not go another mile. It looked like an accident waiting for a place to happen. Each of the six sparkplugs had a “jump spark” on it. This was to keep them from fouling, and delay the timing just a bit. No one knew for sure just how Cousin Jake kept this truck going, but it always carried him wherever he wanted to go.

Largest gobblers

Cousin Jake was not one to break the game laws. He always said that if he couldn’t kill a turkey legally, he would not bother to kill one at all. But he always managed to seek out the largest gobblers, always the ones with the longest beards. He had dozens of turkey feet tacked to the wall inside the hallway of his house. He always carried the longest beard of the year in his jumper pocket to show around.

Cousin Jake won all of the turkey-calling contests. He would pull the caller from the bib pocket of his overalls and after he was through calling and yelping, there was no doubt who was the best. He would show off a little by using his mouth or a fresh oak leaf from his overall pocket. Yes, sir, Cousin Jake was the king; no one would argue that fact.

The sound of his old caller and the blast of his rickety old shotgun is silent now. Cousin Jake was killed in a logging accident a few years back. A kind of sadness lingers when the old turkey hunters around home gather to swap their stories. But I know that somewhere up there Cousin Jake is hunting turkeys, and if the Lord himself is around for just a moment, Cousin Jake is calling him Cuz.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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