Somehow my son Charlie, age 15, talked his mother into letting him skip church last Sunday to go turkey hunting. Yes, it’s that time of year. Saturday was opening day for youth hunters in North Carolina, and the date had been boldly marked on Charlie’s calendar—and therefore mine—for months. Sadly, Saturday was a washout, with rain and 20-mph winds. Charlie’s disappointment hung over our house like a cloud on Saturday. His misery, coupled with his four to five hours of relentless pleading to hunt on Sunday—Palm Sunday, no less—eventually won over his mother. So Alice got up Sunday morning and went to church alone. Charlie and I got up too, but much earlier. Determined to be in position before the turkeys left their roosts, Charlie dragged me out of bed at 5:45 AM. He firmly directed me into my camouflage and boots and just minutes later, I was stumbling down the trail on our farm in the dark, still mostly asleep, trying to match his pace. We walked about a quarter of a mile as the light crept into the morning sky, finally reaching a thick clump of briars, privet, sweet gums and poplars that Charlie had identified weeks earlier as a perfect spot to set up.
Charlie set up two decoys about 25 yards out in the open meadow as I settled into the briars, hoping I’d picked a soft spot conducive for a long sit. He took position in front of me, loaded his gun, and pulled his mask over his face. He turned to me and asked me to be silent and still. I nodded consent. Charlie is a hunter. I’m his supportive father. He pulled out his turkey call. He has become quite proficient at calling turkeys with a mouth call, a thin potato-chip-sized diaphragm containing three reeds that he slips in his mouth to produce clucks, purrs, putts, yelps, kee-kees, and chalk-chalks. I’m a novice, but to me, Charlie sounds just like a hen turkey in mating season who is seeking the company of a mature male, a tom, Charlie’s prey. In addition to the turkey sounds, Charlie is quite proficient with owl hoots and crow calls, both of which are used to locate turkeys; the turkey reveals his location when he spontaneously responds to these sounds. Hear these sounds for yourself at this link.
As the day dawned, Charlie and I saw it would be beautiful. The green shoots of early April were exploding everywhere around us and the flowering understory trees were flaunting their blossoms. We could smell the dirt beneath us and the wafting scent of the pollinators sharing their fragrance. The birds woke up and rejoiced with us as we welcomed the warming sunshine, the blue sky, and the sharp crispness of the air that, in North Carolina, is only experienced in the early morning. I realized I did not envy those sitting in church but decided not to share that thought with Charlie.
After soaking in the gift of the dawn, Charlie hit it hard with his call. Immediately a male turkey hammered back with a sharp, aggressive gobble. A sound all his own, the tom’s gobble jangled like a rapid-fire dinner bell; it lit up the whole woods, and our hearts pounded as we grinned at each other.
For the next hour, Charlie tried to call in that tom. He called and the turkey gobbled back. Again and again. But he wouldn’t come closer. No number of clucks, cutts, yelps, or purrs produced a tom. Charlie was getting a little frustrated, and suggested that we move to another spot. I discouraged him, telling him to relax and give it time… like I was doing. I was very relaxed, having decided that lying down amid the muscadine vines, gum balls, and clover would minimize the likelihood I would spook a bird. I was cherishing the day, still rejoicing with the songbirds and enjoying the warm sun on my camouflage-covered back. Before I knew it, I was fast asleep.
A loud gobble woke me up. I glanced at my watch and realized I had been asleep for an hour! Charlie was gone. A text from him made it clear he had ignored my advice to relax and give it time. He had abandoned me to my slumbers and moved far up the hill above our little meadow to try to scare up another gobbler. I sent him a message, “Gobbler near me! Sneak back down here!” He declined, telling me he was moving to yet another spot. That was fine with me. I was content to watch the clouds passing overhead and listen to the leaves rattling in the trees. Rolling over on my side, I studied a small platoon of black ants furiously undertaking an important project in the dirt just inches from my nose. I might have drifted back to sleep.
Another text from Charlie swished in, waking me up. He was apparently pinned down up on the ridge by four juvenile male turkeys (jakes) responding to his calls and roughing up his decoys. Serves him right, I thought. It was then that I heard the leaves cracking. I glanced up and there he was. Just 50 feet away, a mature tom turkey was walking straight for me. I froze and he kept coming. He stepped right past my “bedding area,” turned into the meadow, and proceeded to put on a show. Lowering his wings to the ground and fanning out his tail, back, and breast feathers, he suddenly looked three times his previous size. The brown, green, and gold iridescent color in his feathers was dazzling, and the blue, red, and white colors of the skin of his head and neck were rich and deep. He marched. He swaggered. Back and forth he strutted. He was magnificent! I was wide awake, glad Charlie was far up the hill.
I’m guessing you’ve recognized by now that my turkey hunting story is a story about investing. Some investors handle investment decisions like Charlie handled his turkey hunt. Others relax and give it time. Charlie’s method surely was exciting, and to him, it seemed like he was doing the right thing to scramble all over the farm chasing turkeys, relocating decoys, clucking and yelping. My method, lying in the brambles, dozing, drooling, and watching the clouds and the bugs was a little less exhilarating. Until the end, that is. My patience delivered me the miracle that is the strutting tom turkey. Charlie and I had different outcomes, and there is a lesson in that.
Relax and give it time. Perhaps this is sound advice for this world, this economy, and this market. Our investment committee at Bragg Financial maintains a long list of “lessons we’ve learned over the decades.” We have formalized some of these lessons as the Key Tenets of our Bragg Investment Philosophy. Still, many of our “lessons” are informal anecdotes, stories, or rules of thumb that our portfolio managers and client advisors share with one another from time to time as we do our work for our clients. “Relax and give it time,” or some variation of the same, is one of those informal but important ones. We suggest that investors “give it time” because it often takes far longer than we expect for investment and economic themes to play out. In popular trader’s lingo, “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”
An investor might guess correctly that a price trend (stock price, inflation, currency movement, oil price, or interest rates, for example) will reverse. Guessing when the reversal will occur is the harder part. Example: It was a great bet to short the technology-heavy Nasdaq at the end of 1998, right? After all, tech stocks were trading at record valuations; the Nasdaq index had risen for eight straight years, including a barn-burning 85% gain in 1998! A good time to short it? No! The Nasdaq soared again in 1999. How much? Over 100%! Only after 1999 would shorting have made sense. If you had any money left to bet, that is. Nasdaq returns in 2000, 2001, and 2002 were -37%, -33%, and -38%, respectively. Examples like this abound. And yet, we humans are eternally tempted to play the game. Don’t do it.
As Matt DeVries points out in his article about the first quarter, stocks and bonds had a great first three months. But we’re not out of the woods yet (sorry for the pun) and if history is any guide, it’s unlikely we’ll ever be out of the woods. We certainly never have been. If the banking crisis can be contained, we can go back to worrying about inflation. If inflation continues to abate, we’ll likely be worried about a too-soft economy and a “hard landing” recession. Add the looming debt-ceiling battle to that worry and before we know it, we’ll be into the next presidential election cycle, enduring the shrill voices that will surely accompany it. And of course, we can worry about Russia/Ukraine, China, the fraying of globalization, and the national debt.
There will always be something to worry about. We’ve got to work hard to push those thoughts aside and make sound investment decisions. As Mark Twain once said, “Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe.” He’s right! Let Bragg worry about the portfolio. As Frank Bragg always reminds us at Bragg, it’s our job to worry so our clients don’t have to. So where do we store our wealth during times like these? We think the best investment for the long term is owning stocks. Yes, the bonds and cash are important for liquidity needs, but we think stocks are the answer for long-term goals. Remind yourself that shares of stock are pieces of real companies where hard-working people are employed and given incentives to make progress. As we read about inflation, banks, interest rates, real estate, and Russia, people are going to work each day, solving problems, trying to move forward. The chart below shows the growth of the US economy since 1947. The trend is our friend.
Charlie hunted for 12 full hours on Sunday, stopping only for 10 minutes to scarf down a sandwich and apple that I hand-delivered to him in the woods (I threw in the towel after only six hours). He estimates he saw nine different turkeys, including brief glimpses of two mature males, and he thinks his calling efforts resulted in several hundred separate gobbles. He walked 5.3 miles, hunted from five or six locations, setting up decoys in each, and he experimented with multiple turkey calls. He didn’t kill a turkey, but it was a day to remember—he said it was the best hunt of his life. As for me, my day was far more relaxing. But I’m with Charlie. It was the best hunt of my life too.
I hope you find time to relax and enjoy your spring. Thank you for trusting Bragg with your planning and investing.
This information is believed to be accurate but should not be used as specific investment or tax advice. You should always consult your tax professional or other advisors before acting on the ideas presented here.