Springtime 2012, I had been working 3rd shift, after a long night of working, making plans in my head all night for a morning turkey hunt. I had just made it home in time, to get my son (Ian) awake, get dressed into our camouflage hunting clothes, load our guns, snacks, and other hunting gear, sleepy eyed, yet excited, into my car.
We parked my Ford Escape at the top of a hill, pulled off to the side of a muddy tractor beaten road that led to a gas well on my Grandfather’s farm. The sun was also just beginning to awaken, and was just starting to peek over the hills and tree tops with beautiful golden rays cutting through the morning sky.
Now Ian and I start rushing around in the car, gathering all our things together, quickly preparing to start the walk towards our blind that we had strategically set up days before, through the high grass that had whitened tips, with a sparkling light dust covered frost for a cold morning Pennsylvania spring gobbler hunt. Although the distance was not a long one, it was just long enough to cover your boots with a white cold, icy covered frosting, that quickly chilled your feet as we walked excitedly into the approaching morning hunt.
As we got within sight of our blind, we could already hear the gobbles of our hopeful success coming alive, along with the morning sounds from the rest of the valley below awakening. Reaching our blind, with bursts of steam coming from our mouths in the cold morning air with force like that of a steam train, trying to catch our breath from the hurried walk in the cold morning air, pulling the zipper that entered our blind, as quietly, and slowly as we could, to try and avoid letting all of the forest residents know of our presence. Ian started loading all of the day’s gear into the blind while I set up and placed our decoys within shooting distance of our camouflage, turkey hunting hideout.
Once Ian had all of our gear inside, and I had the decoys placed in a way that I could in-vision, the approaching long beard strutting in to check them out, we climbed inside our blind. Then, replaying our quiet zipper game again tucking ourselves inside our camouflage memory maker, to be sure we were as concealed, and unnoticed as possible.
We then would get Ian’s chair placed into a position where he could easily lean forward, and take aim out of the partially frost covered mesh window, if our anticipated, dreamed about target would show up.
Not wasting any time, I pulled my Primos slate call from my bag, and started to talk turkey. Each time I would scratch out a yelp, yelp, yelp, cluck, cluck, cluck, yelp, the Gobbler on the hillside below would respond with a nerve shaking thunderous gobble. Our eyes were scanning for our prize, each time he would let out this gobble, one that cut the morning silence like a fog horn, I could see Ian’s excitement in the rate of steam coming out of his nostrils and lips into the cold air inside our blind, from his quickened, excited rate of breathing. With each delayed strike of my call, the gobbles would get louder, and closer, close enough you could almost feel them vibrating off the walls surrounding us, closer and closer, but still out of sight.
Then in disappointment, the large males echoing voice started to get farther and farther away, I could then see the wonder, and loss in Ian’s eyes as the excitement faded like the gobbles. I whispered a game plan to Ian, and explained quietly what I thought was happening. The Gobbler could sense something was off, maybe from the very green, unrecognized, sounds coming from the call that I was not very well educated or experienced in using. Or perhaps, because of the excitement of the unfolding first possible successful turkey hunt together, I was over calling. He was attracted at first, and then I was playing my call as a hen that was quickly saying way too much, looking for over commitment, way too fast for the matured bird, and wouldn’t shut up, changing his attraction to “I better get out of here”. So we gave it a pause, still hearing a gobble occasionally way off as he started out across the hillside below us.
I then calmly began to call again, this time, not talking too much, he began to answer again with attraction, and responding after every paused, and relaxed cluck, and yelp. We were still scanning the brush and tree line bordering the field we were set up in, as his gobbles started to get louder and closer again, but yet still far off. About that time, about 150 yards from our blind, he emerged from the brush and into the field, fanned out in a beautiful display of God’s amazing creation in wildlife and the outdoors, highlighted by the rays from the rising morning sun. I could see Ian’s excitement race again as steam bellowed from his mouth and nose, as the Gobbler started across the field into the direction of our blind. Excitement was starting to overtake me as well, the shakes and shivers of “buck fever” or as in this case “Gobbler fever” were taking over my ability to sit still. I had to take a deep breath and contain my excitement, so I could work my call without turning it’s turkey talk like music, into sounding like a rabbit caught in a trap. I’m pretty sure Ian was experiencing the shakes of “Gobbler fever” as well.
As the Gobbler got closer, he started to turn, and was not coming directly towards us anymore, and for a few seconds I thought something else had gone wrong and he was going to strut right past us, just out of range. I told Ian to hunch down, putting him out of sight from the window, to prevent any possible movement from being caught by what as I could see now, a trophy long beard, his beard was almost touching the ground, I had never seen a turkey with such a long, glossy black, thick beard. Just then he caught a good sight of our decoys, I called a few more times, and he started straight towards us again. Now gobbling so loud and close we could now feel the vibration in our chest. Close enough I could see the steam pour from his beak, with each given gobble. His beak was partially hidden from the blood red snood, hanging down from his bright red, white and blue head. His entire waddle was lit up in bright red, trying very hard to impress the decoys placed in front of our camo outlook.
I whispered to Ian and said “when I tell you, stand up, he will be right in range, hold the “BB” sight right on his head, and pull the trigger. Ian had shot this gun numerous times, and understood the pattern that the spread out BB’s placed onto a target, but I think the excitement from all the ups and downs of this hunt, and now with a trophy long beard strutting around within range, and this dream within reach, that the understanding of the BB pattern slipped his mind, and was fearful of placing a shot and it not connecting with the tiny bright red head of this trophy.
The turkey was now in range, trying to impress our decoys by a full strut show off, I whispered “stand up and shoot”. Ian stood up, aimed, and pulled the trigger, Mr. Gobbler did a flip, and down he went.
What happened next is one of those memory moments that you replay over and over in your head. As our celebration started, I tell Ian “get out there and jump on that bird!” we high five, hug and hoot, Ian rips the zipper up, and in those short seconds we are out the door (gun left behind, leaning in our blind). I notice the turkey, sitting up and looking around, feathers still floating in air. Ian is now in a run, about ten feet from his trophy, when it sat straight up, looked around, quickly made it’s way too it’s feet, and ran away like a lightning bolt across the field and faded into the brush of the tree line.
Both of us now looking at each other in disbelief, and disappointment, and questioning what went wrong. In the excitement and the worry of missing it’s tiny target head, Ian pulled the gun down, and took a “front shoulder shot” like instructed on all other big game. However, he just grazed the armor plated wing of the bird. We searched all over, for hours, now grasping the fact that this trophy lived to strut another frost covered field.
I have a picture of him somewhere from behind, sitting at the edge of a previously harvested corn field. Looking in the direction of the turkey’s escape route, feeling crushed with failure, holding a handful of feathers left behind by the large beard dragging, Thunderous Gobbler, as he replayed the moments leading to this small spot in time over and over in his head, as I gathered all of our things bringing our morning hunt to an end.
It was a great hunt, but we took our eyes off of the target, for a celebration, not knowing if the goal was complete.
This hunt makes me think of a lot of things, and situations in life. It was a great learning experience for a 7yr old boy, and myself.
First, Don’t doubt yourself, aim small, miss small.
Second, Don’t celebrate until the battle is won, taking your focus off of the task or goal even if for just a moment, before it is completely finished can make all the difference. Like leaving the gun behind leaning on the inside wall of a hunting hideout. High-five’ing, jumping up and down, and hugging before we had our trophy in hand.
We have had several successful turkey hunts since this, but we celebrate after the turkey is in hand. I am so thankful for the outdoors, and for the times with my family making memories in them, even when we have disappointment, and maybe just a handful of feathers, the day provided us with an amazing memory. I would not have traded sharing these highs, and lows, with Ian that day for anything.