BLACK RIVER HUNT CLUB, S.C. –Davy Hite is not a vengeful man, but he had retribution on his mind.
Two days earlier he had spent 5 hours sitting on a mud flat in the middle of the Cooper River. A wrong turn and low tide had him lodged in pluff mud, a mixture of water, dirt and silt in what is known as the “Low Country” of South Carolina.
“There was nothing to do but wait until the tide came up,’’ Hite said.
One can guess there was quite a bit of thinking going on as well. Hite had a decent stringer in the well: Not enough to change the world but enough to make a difference in Angler of the Year points. He could have stomped the ground, but kicking pluff mud just makes a mess.
Instead, he resolved to make the best of it, and as soon as he was on dry ground take it out on the South Carolina turkey population.
Monday morning, following the Huk Performance Fishing Bassmaster Elite at Winyah Bay presented by GoRVing, Hite was once again sitting and waiting, this time on firm ground and instead of the tide, waiting for a long-bearded gobbler to answer his calls.
Sitting with his back against a tree was therapeutic. For the past two Elite Series events, Hite had been hearing gobblers sounding off into the woods around the St. Johns and those around all the fisheries of the Low Country of South Carolina.
“When you love the sound of a gobbler bellowing across the treetops at the break of day, there's an element of excitement you don't get too often,” Hite said.
“When you are trying to focus on fishing, then it's a big distraction. I’d rank turkeys gobbling at the top of the list for distractions on the water, just above jet skis buzzing all around you.”
He didn’t confirm or deny that a turkey gobbling or a jet ski was the cause of the distraction that forced him to run up on a mud flat. One thing for certain was listening to a gobbler shaking the leaves of the surrounding trees took his mind off pluff mud.
“If I hadn't been hunting it would have definitely been on my mind,’’ he said. “I was able to turn off the phone and unplug.”
The interest in his wrong turn has been huge. By Monday morning after the event a video he shot of his muddy feet had more than 165,000 shares on his Facebook.
“I may have dropped like a lead balloon in the standings but I soared on the social front.”
Even without the pluff mud and stuck boat, this was a hunt Hite would have taken anyway.
Turkey hunting seems to be a passion shared by many of the Elite anglers. But the job of an Elite and the schedule of tournaments allow precious little time for them to chase gobblers. When they get the chance they often take it.
When Clinton Stewart and Eric Lovell of Charleston, S.C., opened up their property near Georgetown for a hunt, the angler jumped at the chance.
He hoped the thrill of a turkey hunt would heal the muddy wound.
Hite counts his time in the turkey woods with his oldest son, Parker, as one of the biggest thrills of his life. Remember this is a Bassmaster Classic and Angler of the Year champion.
Parker was just old enough to go when Hite took him and sat him on his lap while he called in a big gobbler. The turkey yelled from the roost, gobbled on the ground and strutted in front of the two before Parker was able to pull the trigger.
“There’s nothing like that feeling in the world,’’ Hite said. “After it was over, Parker said, ‘Dad your heart was beating harder than mine and you didn't even have a gun.’
“He could feel my heart beating against his back. I was more excited than he was. I love just going. At one time I might have killed every turkey that came in. Now I'm a little pickier, I don’t go just to kill. The excitement of communicating with a wild creature, having a conversation and getting him to do what I want is enough.”
He proved that statement on this hunt. The morning started with turkeys gobbling in three different directions. But the deep, long resounding of a gobbler to the west would be the one he would listen to most closely. Every time a yelp was made, or cluck or a purr one of the turkeys around him would sound off.
It looked as if Hite would get some retribution in short order with a gobbler prancing in front of him. After an hour of calling and moving, two gobblers ran straight to him, crossing an open field and never checking up until they were within 15 steps.
If Hite had been a truly vengeful man, one of those birds would have paid the price. But neither of them met his requirements of sporting a long beard and long spurs (the mark of a 3-year or better turkey).
He let them walk, waiting for the big Tom that never showed itself.
“I knew I didn't have to kill those birds,” Hite said. “I also knew if I let them walk, like catch and release in fishing, someone else would be able to repeat that excitement this year or the next.
“It was good enough for me.”
Maybe the best part was he forgot about being stuck in the mud for a little while.
Or did he?
As he walked out of the cabin headed home after a long tournament, his last words were: “I’ll do my best to not run off the road and get stuck in the mud.”