“Hunt turkeys in Hawaii?” I asked when my friend Linda Powell at Remington called. “I’m available!” I said. If the Big Island was our destination, she could tell me we’d hunt grasshoppers because I’d never been there. And the fact the trip would be co-hosted by longtime outdoor media friend and turkey-calling champion Ray Eye meant things couldn’t get better.
Ray had hunted Hawaii in the past with outfitter and local outdoor television host Jon Sabati, who he’d linked with again for this trip. I was intrigued to learn we’d be hunting not only turkeys but, if time permitted, feral sheep. I anticipated emails on the island’s booming Rio Grande turkey population and maybe a note or two on Hawaiian culture. Instead, reports focused on sightings of a “feral clown” coupled with suggestions to watch our backs.
What? I wondered as I clicked on images of a shockingly repellent, camo-clad clown lurking amongst Hawaiian flora. While one never knew what to expect on a Ray Eye excursion, this hunt was already in a category all its own. One email came with a “Feral Clown Sign” photo attachment displaying Reese’s Pieces “droppings”—conclusive evidence a clown was there. Clown reports continued until our departure, along with a few hunt updates. The place we’d hunt—the famous cattle-producing 150,000-acre Parker Ranch—was loaded with gobblers.
And then I landed in Kona on the evening of March 24, 2008, without my bags.
The next morning I wished my buddies luck—Gordy Krahn of North American Hunter, Jay Cassell of Field & Stream and Linda and Ray—then waited for sunrise, grabbed my camera and went exploring, eager for a glimpse of the island in daylight. Our house was on a hill, surrounded by exotic foliage with the ocean in the distance. As I canvassed the neighborhood, dogs barked and I swore I heard turkeys yelping. Ray’s playing a trick, I thought. No, he wouldn’t be hunting here. I followed the noise to three strutting gobblers taunting the neighbor’s dogs just beyond the length of their chains. I snapped away, thinking Ray & Company could have hunted from the porch. I picked flowers for the house, including the exotic plumeria used to make Hawaiian leis, and hibiscus and poinsettia.
At midday, Ray told me the tale of his unsuccessful morning hunt as we sped to pick up my bags and the last member of our crew, Andrew McKean from Outdoor Life. Later, Andrew and I dug out our camo, then the three of us hurried to meet everyone for lunch. But first, the two of them caught me touching up my nail polish. I said it was for good luck, so they asked me to paint their pinkies. “You know I’ll find a way to use this,” I warned.
After lunch the fog rolled in and visibility rolled out. We hunted just in case. But then came the rain. Everyone returned to the Jeep empty-handed except Gordy, who somehow tagged a gobbler. Too hungry to go home and change first, we asked a gas station attendant where to go for dinner. We ended up at Merriman’s, which we discovered was a premier island attraction upon entering severely under-dressed. Surprisingly, we were welcomed by the maître d’, and even the chef visited us to ask about our hunt.
The next morning Andrew and Jay left with their guides, and Gordy teamed with Linda, Ray and I to hunt an area Ray said would be “the spot.” Jakes galore came to our calls—and even a wild pig—but no longbeards. The afternoon was a repeat performance, though it was tough to feel sorry for oneself in Hawaii. As far as the eye could see, green grass and yellow fireweed stretched against a backdrop of blue sky and puffy white clouds. I etched the scene in my memory, silently giving thanks for the natural beauty of paradise.
The two good-luck pinkies performed their magic. The next morning, Andrew downed a gobbler, and so did everyone else, except me. All I had were a few carefully selected lava rocks and knew it was a “no-no” to mess with Pele and that post offices in Hawaii receive countless packages a year from people sending back their rocks. So I packed my two pinecones.
Thinking the “tomfoolery” behind us, the next day we swapped guns for fishing poles. Ray checked on his latest round of Jeep repairs as the rest of us packed sandwiches. A feral clown jumped out of one of the bedrooms—all decked in camo—laughing and dancing through the house. In dodging it I flew over the cooler, which reminded me that messing with Pele maybe wasn’t the thing to do.
It was like listening to someone read a Dr. Seuss book aboard the Sea Wife II as the captain listed the types of fish we might catch: tuna, marlin, sailfish, shark, swordfish, spearfish, “red fish, blue fish.” I assured Andrew that painted pinkies also worked on fish.
A mile offshore, about the time Ray went below, we were joined by a school of dolphins. Out came the cameras. Leaning over the side of the boat were Linda, Gordy and Jay, then Andrew, then … the clown, who popped out of nowhere. I guess clowns like dolphins, too. He was on good behavior, and Ray was missing it. In other afternoon excitement, Andrew reeled in a tuna, the only fish of the day. As he hoisted it up for photos, we made a note to toast the power of the pinky.
That evening we attended a National Wild Turkey Federation banquet courtesy of Jon, who headed the Big Island’s NWTF chapter. Entertainment included watching Jon’s daughter Kimi perform the hula. Some of us lucked out during the raffle and Ray did well in the silent auction, sneaking away long enough to outbid the rest of us to win a loaf of Suzie’s famous banana bread and some Kona coffee.
The next day we hit the beach. The island’s tropical climate, inviting waters, active volcanos and sporting opportunities are enticing. Even the feral clown showed up to catch some rays as I waded in the shallows, marveling at the fish I’d seen only in my saltwater tank.
After lunch, Jay went to the airport and the rest of us went shopping. Linda and Andrew focused on the handcrafted native-wood products for which Hawaii is famous. Sales resistance being nonexistent in paradise, Andrew got a bowl and Linda and I got vases for our mantles. Back at the house Linda presented us all with leis, which we promised to wear on all future turkey hunts.
As we watched the sunset from our deck and prepared our final home-cooked meal, I thought, Home is where the heart—and the hunt—is. This camp felt like home because everyone felt like family. If only we could stay another day.
The next morning I went for one last walk and then I saw it—a bright yellow bird. I crept along the rocky roadside for a photo. Then I pulled down the camera, stepped without looking and stumbled. My right ankle snapped inward and my left knee crashed into the rocks. I sat there wondering about how to hobble back to the house. With the hospital list handy, Linda rushed me to a clinic for stitches and an ankle brace as the rest of the group stayed behind scheming on how to use the incident to stay longer.
Alas, a few hours later the realities of the real world descended. Ray was busy taping pieces onto the rental car as the rest of us packed. Then we headed for dinner on the water to glimpse one last sunset before boarding our flights home. Ignoring tomorrow’s “to-do” list a while longer, I just sat there—a drink in one hand, camera in the other, both injured legs propped on a chair—snapping my final photos of paradise. Bandages and all, it was the life. Perhaps this hunt was Ray’s clowning achievement.
A few months later, I ran into Andrew in deer camp. My bags didn’t arrive then either—and I fell on the last day. Maybe Andrew is bad luck. I’ll soon find out. Linda and Ray are organizing a reunion hunt this spring—something about South Dakota and Merriam’s. But perhaps I’m most anticipating pre-hunt reports on the status of feral clown populations, considering clowns seem to enjoy following Ray and his merry band of hunters. I think Mount Rushmore is about to be invaded.