Can anyone that is 60 recall the excitement of their first successful hunt? Oh, we recall that it was exciting, but the roller-coaster, butterfly-in-your-belly excitement? I’m not so sure. I see it in the eyes and hear it in the voice of youngsters that I introduce to outdoor sport, and, happily, I share their adrenaline.
It was the opening of youth turkey, and we got a good start. Still, the crease of light was on the horizon as we pulled up to the gate. My grandson, Trent, and his father, Steve, had arrived to the selected turkey haunt. Compelled by beckoning toms, we hiked in darkness toward an upper field. Already off the roost, toms strutted in the field as we prepared our first set.
There were occasional rumblings of turkey calls off in the distance like a passing thunderstorm. The majority of turkeys had headed for higher ground—directly away from our hide. There was a group near at hand with a single hen, and we gave them our best effort, knowing that if we botched the opportunity we wouldn’t disturb the turkeys farther away.
Trent sat up against a Douglas fir, and I mirrored him on the far side. Using local callmaker Pat Tulley’s double-sided pot call and a hardwood striker, my efforts received immediate response. I soon had toms headed right for Trent. Then, stymied at the barbed-wire fence, they put on a show for Trent and the hen mannequins I had set for them.
From the opposite direction, however, another tom challenged off in the distance. It was on our side of the fence and, apparently, had no obstacles in its path. Its last gobble was close enough to convince me to move Trent.
“Hold still!” had been drilled into his head, and now, with toms in view, he balked! “Move around here!” I urged once more.
I kept my calling quiet and at a minimum, knowing this tom had to be close.
Had all of the rustling and movement busted us? I thought. Doubt began to creep in. Then, a noise like the purr of a barnyard chicken and a deep thwump hummm of a drumming tom. Turning my head slowly, I spied it—a glowing, blue-white head bobbing through the brush. Like a periscope, its head lifted, stretching to locate what had brought him all this way.
Trent was set as the tom entered an opening. Alert, always probing as they do, the bearded bird caught sight of something it didn’t like and began to move away. Putt-putt it complained as it began to widen its path around us. Even with 3-inch shells, it would soon be out of range of Trent’s Turkish 20 gauge.
“Shoot. Shoot! Shoot!” I hissed through clenched teeth. Hearing the tick of the gun’s safety, I put a finger to an ear. BAMM! The gun’s blast jolted Trent’s shoulder as the bird spun into a whirlwind of wings and feathers. It lay floundereing, wings outward but head up. Again, the gun bellowed.
“Run get ’em!” I urged Trent.
To watch a young man in celebration, blossoming like the buds of spring, carries strong emotions. A bit, perhaps, of what it felt like for me once, some time ago.