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|Pat Finnegan's turkey hunt in a mighty storm on Ellis Cliffs|
On the last day of turkey hunting season in Adams County recently, Pat Finnegan was hoping to end the season on a good note.
Instead, he found himself being led by an old gobbler into a mighty storm spawned out of the west that fell trees and power lines throughout Concordia Parish and Adams County.
Finnegan, from Hattiesburg, has hunted property along Ellis Cliffs south of Natchez for 21 years. He and his son, Trey, 18, were there on Sunday morning, May 3, when the sky turned black and generated wind gusts of up to 70 miles per hour, resulting in wide spread damage throughout the region.
But thanks to text messaging and his Blackberry, Finnegan was able to stay in contact with his son at the camp in Adams County and with two of his daughters back in Hattiesburg.
At 6:23 a.m., Finnegan, in the woods, sent a text to son Trey back at the camp, "I hear a gobble."
But by 6:47, Finnegan said the "turkey went silent," and he noticed "an eerie, hot feeling in the air." His daughter Christi sent him a text about wanting a tattoo. He replied and jokingly gave "her a hard time."
A hunting buddy, George, wondered how the hunt was going. "They gobbled a little early," Finnegan replied at 7:13, "but they are quiet now" before adding that he "just heard one at Bob's Bottom...get back with you..."
At 8:32 a.m., Finnegan updated Trey, "The big turkey is playing me like checkers. I move to where he last gobbled and he gobbles where I just left...I had been battling with this turkey for one hour and 15 minutes now" and the turkey was winning.
"LOL (laugh out loud) stick with it," Trey responded.
At 8:46 a.m., Finnegan sent this message: "I think he's (turkey) at feeder on bluff now. Going to cut through Bob's Bottom then walk to the bluff road."
At 9:35, Finnegan asked Carla what time the stormy weather was expected to move into Natchez.
Finnegan said that as soon as he sent the text the turkey let out "a loud gobble right across the ridge from me...I set up on him and we battled for what seemed like an hour. Thunder was starting to roar and it was a race against what I thought was just a thunder shower. I moved on him as he was heading to the bluff rapidly all the while answering my calls.
"I got to the edge of the bluff and I heard him gobbling not 60 yards in front of me heading down the bluff. I proceeded down the bluff after him and he shocked me by gobbling and flying up to the roost at 9:38 a.m. I knew he didn't see me, then I realized he was a hell of a lot smarter than me."
Finnegan said the sky instantly turned "an eerie greenish black color" and he could hear "the winds rushing to the bluff. I hurriedly reach the top of the bluff. The whole battle with him seemed like an hour but in reality from the time I first heard his gobble across the ridge until when he gobbled and flew up was only three minutes. He gobbled over 100 times in that period."
When Finnegan reached the top of the bluff he noticed that the weather seemed to be less threatening. He wrote Trey: "Come get me on the bluff road."
Trey responded: "OK."
At that moment — 9:39 a.m. — Finnegan said "all hell breaks loose. The strongest wind I have ever witnessed started coming across the bluff, blowing limbs and all sort of debris." He tried to make it to a small clearing at the edge of the bluff in route to "an old high road bed that has a lot of downed trees in it from previous storms. I could not walk or stand upright in the high winds, so I had to get down on my knees and crawl. I had to lay flat several times as huge limbs and debris flew over and by me."
Concerned about Trey who was now in route to get him, Finnegan realized that "my phone was about fried." He quickly punched in a messge to Trey: "Stay at the camp till storm passes, it's bad, I'm next on high road right up from Rice Bran camp stand. I love you."
Crawling 70 to 80 yards to an old sunken road, Finnegan found a "small indention in the clay bluff of the road. I could stick part of my head and shoulders in it and I tried to get my soaked phone to tell my son to get to safety, unaware he was already out trying to find me. Trees were leaning all across the road blocking him from getting to me. He got my text and headed back" to the camp.
"All the while trees were falling across me on the high road and to my left was the opening that I crawled through. The temperature was freezing. I was soaking wet and I realized large hail about the size of nickels or big cat's eye marbles had covered the lower half of my body."
Finnegan peaked out of the small indention he sought cover in as the intensity of the storm increased. Hail hit him "on the head. I decided I had better unload the gun and put it over me, but I realized it had never been loaded. That damn turkey was to win whatever the outcome was."
For 10 minutes, the storm raged and appeared to be intensifying.
"Trees were down all over the top of my head," Pat recalled. "I was more worried about my son than anything. I then started thinking I might not make it through this as debris and trees were continuing to fall and fly all around me...I manage to get my fried phone out to send a message in case I didn't make it" so his family would "know where to find me."
Wet, cold and shaking, Finnegan wrote Trey: "It is bad. I'm on blue gate by George's." Finnegan said he then had "a long talk with our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ."
As he cut through the woods in ankle deep water to a field a couple of miles away where his truck was parked, Finnegan observed "there was not a dry spot to walk on. Then the worst lightning storm I have ever witnessed started. It was striking trees right next to me and all around and thundering louder than I have ever heard. When the hair on the back of my neck and ears started to stand up I knew it was time to do something quick."
On a flat covered with water and in the deep woods, Finnegan came upon "a pile of old wet and rotted trees that were matted together. They had been blown down by Gustav. I crawled up into them. It wasn't the best place to be but all I had."
He text Trey at 9:51: "Stay at camp till storm passes. It's bad. I am next to bluff on high road right at Rice Bran camp stand. I love you."
While waiting for 30 minutes "in that log jam," Finnegan said "me and Jesus had another long talk." Although the lightning began to subside and the wind to ease, the rain continued to pour but "I had a feeling it had passed. I thanked Jesus for getting me through."
He sent a message to Trey at 10:03: "Come get me on the bluff road."
Finnegan poured water out of his turkey vest and gun, and for the first time loaded his shotgun, whipped out his turkey "diaphragm call and started wading my way towards the truck, cutting and making turkey calls as I went."
Unable to get down the main road due downed to trees, Trey cut a path through the woods and found his dad.
"I was so relieved he was okay," said Finnegan.
Realizing just how important his phone had been in the storm, Finnegan found himself "protecting my phone more than me" to stay in contact with Trey.
Finnegan emailed his daughter Carla in Hattiesburg to let her know he was okay. She had informed him that the National Weather Service predicted the storm would hit at noon, but Finnegan said "I had been stuck in it from 9:38 a.m. when the gobbler flew up until 10:11 when my son rescued me 73 minutes later. It seemed like it had been a whole 12-hour day."
Trey managed to get within 60 yards of Finnegan's truck.
"We hugged each other," said Finnegan. Both were drenched and their phones were "fried."
Finnegan left his truck parked in the woods due to the downed trees, and he and Trey got in Finnegan's four-wheeler and slowly worked their way to the camp. Much time had been spent during the preceding months cleaning up the property in the wake of Hurricane Gustav. Now even more work lay ahead.
Though it was still raining, the sun peaked through the fading storm. Then Finnegan heard another turkey "gobble."
Instinctively, he grabbed his gun. He looked at Trey. They smiled at one another. Finnegan put the gun aside.
"The fat lady had sung loudly that day," said Finnegan. "I knew he would be there next year for us to battle again. But the turkeys won again this hunting season."
Finnegan said he has "learned a lot from turkeys, especially this year, but I think the 'Big Bluff Tornado Turkey' taught me the best. Next time a storm threatens and they fly up to roost, I'll head back to the camp. That big boy got me and knew what he was doing all the time."
|Frank Morris Murder Series|