RAYMOND — Daybreak is a sliver on the dark horizon when Lou Haskell parks his pickup truck on a rise and starts unloading his gear. It’s 4:59 a.m. Maine’s spring turkey hunting season opens with civil twilight, the half-hour before sunrise in Bangor. Which means technically, Haskell, 86, could have been hunting two minutes ago.

He’s not exactly impatient, but he’s eager. He has two new knees to try out.

On Feb. 14, Haskell had his right knee replaced, and then on March 7, the left knee. At his age, he might not seem like the most obvious candidate for such extensive surgeries and the recovery process involved, but his continued passion for hunting convinced his doctors that the surgeries would be worth it. This day, whether he gets a turkey or not, is the payoff for those surgeries and the long weeks of recovery and rehab.

In anticipation, a few days ago he put up the blind, a tent made of camouflage fabric, in a favorite spot not far from his camp on Panther Pond. His giant thermos of coffee and layers of warm clothing speak to the hours he’s willing to spend in that blind, waiting.

By 5:15 a.m., he has maneuvered, somewhat gingerly, into the tent, opened the flap and loaded his 12-gauge shotgun, a Mossberg 835. The chickadees have just started singing.

From Panther Pond comes the sound of a loon. Haskell can hear it, but barely. His hearing suffered from years in the Army, including 18 months in Korea during the conflict.

“I should have put my hearing aid in this morning,” Haskell says.

To lure his prey, he pulls out a gobbler, a noisemaker that mimics the call of the male turkey. In the spring, hunters are limited to taking two male turkeys. Hunting hens is allowed only in the fall.

Haskell can recite these rules. After retiring in 1987 as director of the housing program at Brunswick Naval Air Station, where he worked for 29 years, 11 months and two weeks, he became a volunteer with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. He taught hunter safety classes and recruited and trained other volunteers until 2007. Then he retired again. But not from hunting.

The rise where he has set up his blind is a reliable spot; he’s shot 26 turkeys since 2004 right in this area. But as the morning light brightens, only a chipmunk appears outside the blind. No one answers the call of the gobbler.

Haskell stands to stretch. The new knees are sore.

THERAPY, PAIN WITH A GOAL IN MIND

Twice a week, Haskell drives to Falmouth for physical therapy at Saco Bay Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy. When he arrived for his last appointment before the opening of turkey season, his team had a new item on the agenda, a date with an isokinetic machine that would stretch his left knee. Both of his physical therapists, Kurt Jepson and Samantha Reid, were well aware that he had an important date with turkeys coming up.

“You can sit on my deck and shoot a nice tom,” Jepson said. He produced a photo of a bunch of turkeys in his backyard.

Ethically, Haskell told him, he could not shoot turkeys in someone’s backyard, even from 100 feet away as the law requires, and with the homeowner’s permission. There would not be any sport in that.

Jepson got Haskell strapped into the machine. “All you’ve got to do is sit there,” he said, making adjustments on the machine to regulate the resistance. The trick was to get the knee to work but not to strain it.

“As long as you get done by Monday,” Haskell said.

Haskell’s left leg moved up and down, the knee bending and stretching. On this machine and on others, he’s a careful student, striving to do more.

“Lou is really good about doing his exercises,” Reid said.

As they move through the hourlong therapy session together, Haskell told Reid he hasn’t taken any Tylenol since Sunday. He’s using the Vitamin E cream on his scar tissue. There is pain, he said, which comes and goes, sometimes sharp, sometimes dull. But overall, his condition is improving.

Reid settled him into a different round of exercises, meant to re-educate his quad muscles. “Do you want something under your knee?” she asked. Haskell told her he was fine.

“If it gets to hurting, then I’ll holler,” he said.

THE CALL OF THE GOBBLER

Two hours pass in the blind. Haskell stretches another time. He speaks softly of the quiet and the wait of hunting, both in and out of a blind. “Sometimes I roll up my jacket and make a pillow and go to sleep,” he says. Once, he woke up to a dog licking his face. He’s seen bobcats and coyotes.

He started hunting in 1945. He was 14 and lived on a 60-acre farm in Pownal. Hunting was a part of the culture, but in his family there was no one to teach him how to hunt. “My dad was crippled,” Haskell said. “He couldn’t walk on rough ground at all, so I was out by myself.”

He hunted birds that first time and got himself a partridge. He knew how to get the meat off the bird from processing chickens on his family farm. He’d learned a lot there and on neighboring farms, where he earned his first salary – $1.25 a day.

Shortly after 7 a.m., there’s a distant gobble. Haskell tries his gobbler call again. As the minutes pass, it seems the gobble from outside gets closer. Or maybe not. He drinks coffee and waits. Then at 7:40 a.m. comes the sound of a hen and a sudden ratcheting up of gobbles, close by. Peeking out of the blind, Haskell spots the tom, about 18 yards away, its blue-hued feathers gleaming in the morning sun. His gun goes up within seconds and the shot resounds through the blind.

He moves as swiftly as he can to get out of his chair, through the zippered door of the blind, and out to the path where the injured turkey lies. It takes a second shot to kill the tom, but Lou Haskell, on new knees, has taken his first turkey of 2018.

BACK AT CAMP, REMINISCING

After stopping at the Hilltop Mini Mart in Raymond to register his kill for a $2 fee, Haskell seems ever so slightly disappointed to find that he is the second successful turkey hunter in the region; the first signed in and got his tags about an hour earlier. After the paperwork, Haskell drives back to the camp on Panther Pond that he has owned since 1978, where his wife, Anne, is waiting with cookies, coffee and a clear case of admiration. Her husband had left her a note before he left, starting with: “4:40 Knee some better.”

“I’m convinced he’ll outlive me,” Anne Haskell says as her husband sits down to take off his hunting boots. Representing Portland, she served eight terms in the Legislature, split between the House and the Senate. She and Lou met 14 years ago. She was widowed, he was divorced.

When they were courting, they had one of those cut-to-the-chase conversations over a game of cribbage, putting the question to each other, “What bothers you the most?”

Her answer: “If you get between me and my family.”

His: “When you say that you are going to do something, that you do it.”

They looked at each other. These answers sat well with both of them.

“I think we ought to get married,” he told her. She agreed. Thirteen years ago, they wore simple suits to be wed at their church in Portland – his gray, hers white. It has become their tradition to wear those outfits on their anniversary.

THE DECISION TO HAVE SURGERY

Hunting together is another tradition. Anne has been hunting since her 20s, although she says, “I don’t hunt as vigorously as he does.” In 2012, she got a moose permit, and in 2013, he got one. Each succeeded in taking a moose.

She understood why he wanted the knee replacement. Two years ago, they had discussed it with his doctors, and ultimately settled for a corticosteroid injection to increase mobility. That steroid shot had been effective, but only up to a point. By last fall, it had gotten harder and harder for Haskell to make his way over the rough ground. The invitation of the woods was more risky to accept. He modified his hunting, staying close to the edges.

“I was using a walking stick,” he says. He mimes the slow movements, the way he had to stop, get himself balanced and then lift the gun. He asked Dr. Peter Guay about knee surgery. He explained how hard it was to hunt, and how he was not ready to be done with it.

“He is still quite active,” Guay said, even with very arthritic knees. When they decided to move ahead with the surgery, Haskell asked to schedule the replacements in time for hunting season.

“I said, ‘Hunting season isn’t until November,’ ” Guay recalled. Haskell corrected him, told him about spring turkey hunting. Could they do it in time to get him rehabbed? It usually takes six weeks after the surgery to resume light activities, Guay said, and 12 weeks for full activities. They timed the surgery for turkey season.

“That is the one thing he wanted to do,” Guay said. “That is his life.”

THE PARTRIDGE AND THE FOX

After weighing his freshly shot bird – just about 18 pounds – Haskell sits down to process the turkey on a picnic table outside the Panther Pond camp. He dunks it in a big bucket of just-boiled water to make the feathers easier to pluck. While neatly pulling out the feathers with deft fingers, he talks about why he hunts.

“I like the challenge,” he says. “Being able to figure out what animals are doing. To learn more about them. Part of it is just being out there and enjoying the anticipation of seeing animals, even though you might not actually want to take one that day.”

He keeps plucking, moving over the bird’s breast, and brings up a story that he had told at physical therapy.

An animal kingdom drama had played out in front of him one morning while he was deer hunting. He spotted a partridge in the leaves in front of the blind. He was tempted; a partridge breast makes a fine hunter’s breakfast. Suddenly, the partridge went flat on the ground. He watched. It seemed to have disappeared into the leaves. Flat as a pancake, he said.

Along came a fox. It trotted through, sniffing, yet somehow missing the partridge. After it passed, the bird rose like a phoenix from the leaves and fluttered up to the safety of a tree.

“What do you think I did?” Haskell had asked. “Did I take the partridge?”

This had the feel of a riddle out of Aesop’s Fables, but the unspoken question was, what kind of hunter am I? What kind of a man? At physical therapy, the answer wasn’t so obvious. On Panther Pond, after a morning in and out of the blind with Haskell, it was clear.

The partridge had evaded the fox. It had shown him how it survives. Maybe they would meet again, on another day. But on that day, he left the brave bird safe in the tree and sat quietly, enjoying the woods where both felt so at home.

“Days like that,” Haskell says, are why he got new knees.