The Turkey Shoot
By: Wendyle Andrews
Another thing that brings back fond memories of Russett was the Turkey Shoots that were usually conducted each year about Thanksgiving. The Russett Turkey Shoot was usually held on a Saturday afternoon and while it was on going, the Juniors and Seniors (mostly the girls) were selling Hot Dogs, Chili, Popcorn, Candy and Soft Drinks out of the Women’s clubhouse. The event was to raise money for the Community Christmas Party that took place on or a little before Christmas Eve. The Christmas Program was held in the Gymnasium and was generally a short play with some musical numbers performed by the students from the First Grade rhythm band to the Seniors. A large Cedar Tree was decorated as a Christmas Tree. At the appointed time the whole community would come to the Gym for the Christmas Program and a big paper sack of Fruit, Nuts, Bubble Gum and Hard Ribbon Candy was given to everyone who came. If there was anyone in the community that could not be present, their sack was sometimes sent by school bus to their homes the next day. Everyone had a good time and had any notion they were breaking any laws about the separation of School and Church.
The turkey shoot was held in this manner: D.A. Covington would put up a bull’s eye target at a distance of 25 steps. Mr. Covington was the maintenance engineer, bus driver and the person called for any time something needed “fixing” at the school. He could “fix” anything and I never really appreciate his abilities until I had to take care of my own (or my kid’s) stuff that is always in need of some kind of attention. He was long legged and his steps were more than three feet, so the bull’s eye wound up being about 30 yards rather than the regulation 25 yards. (I don’t know why he did not use a tape measure. (Probably because the school did not own one.) Mr. Covington was the Judge of the shooter’s cards and he called the scores. There were no appeals to his decision.
The target had a one inch black center (bull’s eye) with three rings in one-fourth inch spaces out from the bull’s eye. A bull’s eye was a score of four. The area in the next ring was a three and so on. A shot outside the rings was a zero. Each shooter got three shots with a 22 rifle (open sights only) and a perfect score was twelve. It cost $1.00 for three shots. The event brought in $110.00 in turkey shooting entry fees. A one-inch bull looks pretty small at 30 yards.
There was always a large turnout for the Turkey Shoots. Shooters would come from all over the area. It drew out the best marksmen in the area and a lot of want-to-be marksmen like myself. Lots of people came just to socialize and watch the event. It was truly a sophisticated red neck gathering. There were a half a dozen or so men in the area that were known as “sharpshooters”. We knew who they were and when they were shooting; we marginal shooters did not shoot. All of them were usually in attendance at the shoots and you got to see some good shooting contests. Most shoots required another shoot to narrow down the “ties” to determine the winner. There were usually two or three scores of twelve on the first few turkeys until the sharpshooters had all won turkeys. The Sharpshooters all had egos and would shoot against one another. The shoot for the “Tom” was the last shoot of the day. When a shooter won a hen, he couldn’t shoot anymore until he could shoot for the Tom. The “Tom” was always a beautiful humongous turkey and about twice the size of the hens.
This particular Turkey Shoot was just before Thanksgiving in 1955 when I was a High School Senior. More than likely I only had a $1.00 and I was going to shoot only if I could enter in to a shoot when none of the Sharpshooters were entered. There was not a good chance this was going to happen, but I was young, immortal and real stupid about this time and I also did a lot of daydreaming.
Leland Portman was the Superintendent and in charge of the “doings.” He was a good man. In addition to his duties as superintendent, he taught history to the Juniors and Seniors. He was a shade tough, but he was fair. If you got into any trouble with him it was your own fault. He had no qualms against busting your butt if you needed it. He never got me, but it wasn’t because I didn’t need it. I just never got caught. He taught history sprinkled with his own life’s experiences. Sometimes he would substitute for the other teachers if for some reason they were prevented from attending their class. He always taught sentence diagramming. It didn’t matter to him for which class he was substituting, he taught sentence diagramming. I would try to get out of class if I learned he was going to substitute for one of my Teachers. An hour of sentence diagramming was almost unbearable to me.
In 1955, Pete Winberry was way up in his seventies. From his youth, he only had one eye (the right one). Pete moved slowly because a lifetime of hard work and now skin cancer had taken its toll on him. He had come to the event, not to shoot but to camaraderize with his old friends and acquaintances and to watch the marksmen shoot. In former days, Pete was known as the best shot in the country with the possible exception of another one-eyed man named Fowler who lived over at Petty John Springs. There was always a debate among the Old Timers as to which one was the better shot. A few years before, Mr. Fowler had been run over by a cross country bus somewhere in New Mexico (I think) and killed.
On this particular day, I had not been able to enter a contest that didn’t have a sharpshooter, so I had not entered. Mr. Portman came up to me and asked if I was going to shoot. I told him that I did not feel I could compete with the sharpshooters. He understood my plight and changed the rules, as he was prone to do. He announced that only school students could shoot for the next turkey. I borrowed a rifle from Wesley Badgero (C.B. Forguson’s brother-in-law) and he quickly gave me instructions as to how the rifle shot and where I needed to hold the sights to hit the bull’s eye and I won the turkey with a score of eleven.
Well, I knew dang good for certain that I was not going to contribute another dollar to the shoot off for the Tom because I would not have stood a chance to win. At this time in my life dollars looked as big as wagon wheels and they were hard to come by. So when I announced that I would not be shooting, the other winners agreed that anyone could shoot for the Tom. Nobody immediately came forward because no one was stupid enough to shoot with this bunch. At last, they got after Pete Winberry. I remember Pete trying to beg off saying, “Boys I can’t shoot with you anymore.” “There was a time that I could but not any more.” Red Gastineau was prodding him the hardest. Red was one of the sharpshooters and had won his turkey on his first shoot. He and Pete lived over at Ravia and had known each other for many years. Red finally sort of shamed him into shooting by telling him it was for a good cause, it only cost one dollar and they needed a shooter. Pete reluctantly agreed and paid his dollar and was in line as the last shooter.
I don’t know what happened to the marksmanship of the sharpshooters in this particular shoot because by the time Pete was up to shoot, Red was in the lead with a score of eleven. Pete, moving slowly, went to his pickup and drug an old Model 67 Winchester single shot rifle from under the seat. Red was in a hurry to leave so he went to the turkey pen and got his hen and the Tom and stood there, in his New Overalls, with a turkey in each hand. He was going to leave with both as soon as Pete finished shooting. No one, especially Red, thought Pete had a chance to score even eleven. When Pete finished his three shots, Mr. Covington examined the card and announced the score was twelve. Pete had hit three bull’s eyes! Everyone was dumfounded. Pete got up from off the ground, looked at Red and said, “Red, is that my gobbler you’re holding there?” Red rather sheepishly told him that he guessed it was and further commented that this was the only time in his life that he remembered talking himself out of a turkey. Red who was a good-natured “Good Ol Boy” got as big a kick out of what had happened as anyone and I believe he was actually glad that Pete had won the turkey. The shoot ended with everyone experiencing a warm fuzzy feeling except the turkeys.
Now, I proudly went home with my turkey and a few days later we butchered it and Daddy took it to Madill and had it Bar B Q’d. I went somewhere for Thanksgiving and Momma, Daddy, Wanda Sue and Winford went to the Fred Cole home for dinner and took my turkey. I never got one bite of it. I am still a little miffed about this.
I mentioned above about the Christmas Tree. A few days before Christmas, Mr. Covington would take some of the senior boys and go out to find and cut a cedar tree about 15 feet tall to be used as a Christmas Tree. In 1955, just after lunch, Sylvester May, Marvin Cryer, Gene Underwood, James Sims and I (all seniors) went to get the tree. We went into the Chalk Hills West of Mill Creek (not the town) and found the tree in a matter of minutes and had it loaded on the old cut down International bus in a few more. Mr. Covington then let us lollygag around all afternoon in the woods and we got back to school just in time for him to get his bus in front of the school. We had stolen a half-day away from school. How sweet it was.
February 28, 2004
Post Script: March 17, 2004
Wanda Sue wanted me to give a copy of this to Fay (Covington) May. I gave her one and she corrected me on the given name of Mr. Covington. His name was Delno Author and he went by D.A. Fay said he also had a nickname of “Pug”. I never heard him called anything except Mr. Covington and somewhere in time I thought his given name was Leland. I know he had son named Leland who passed away during the Fifties and I thought he was Leland Jr.
Fay also mentioned the sternness of Mr. Portman and we reminisced that he also had a dry wit sense of humor. She reminded me of how his history tests once in a while had a loaded question. The one we remembered was “What color was George Washington’s White Horse?” We also remembered that some of the students missed the answer.