If all things go as planned, as you read this, I will be hunting for spring gobblers with two of my sons.
There was a time, three decades ago, when I would set out on a spectacular, early-May morning with only one thing on my mind: Heading out of the woods with a good tom over my shoulder.
I still embrace that kind of thinking but, truth be told, I am far happier if both of my sons get to put a tag on a nice tom. I have been blessed, both as a turkey hunter but, more importantly, as a father. Priorities, as my hair gets grayer and my pace slows down, have changed dramatically.
Those mornings when my boys bagged their first birds are embedded in my memory, lingering there as much as that first tom turkey I shot on a very cold May morning more than 30 years ago.
There was a time, many years ago, as an outdoor writer from another state, when our members were invited to hunt in Pennsylvania as guests of the outdoor writers of the Keystone State. Turkey hunting? What the heck is that, I think was my response, and I turned down the opportunity. Bad decision, as I learned later.
I was at a large outdoor auction some 40 years ago, and I happened to purchase a box call for the fee of one dollar. I was not a turkey hunter then; I just thought it looked cool. As it turned out, the box call could not, by any measure, be tuned so that it would emit anything that sounded like a hen turkey’s yelp. It sounded dreadful.
The value of that worthless call, however, went up by an incredible degree when, years later, Ben Lee, arguably the most famous turkey hunter ever, hunted with me back in 1991 and signed that call on three different sides. Somehow, some guy in Florida with deep pockets found out about the call and offered me more than $400 for it. I turned him down.
Turkey hunting demands some basic rules: Safety first, the ability to mimic a hen with any series of calls, knowing how to find gobblers, knowing what to do when you get a tom’s attention and, finally, knowing when to pull the trigger.
But once you get a good taste of turkey hunting, the draw of the hunt is hard to ignore. It is a hunt that gets under your skin, mostly because of the wild turkey’s survival skills. As one writer once put it: A deer sees a hunter and sees a tree stump; A wild turkey sees a tree stump and sees a hunter.
I am always amazed to hear the many people who insist that turkeys are “dumb.” You have all heard it. Yes, a turkey will show up on your lawn scooping up seeds under your bird feeder. I watched a hen in Wells the other day, feeding 15 feet from a 50 mph roadway and was unconcerned when I blew by. They seem to grow accustomed to people when no threat is obvious.
But I would love to take those people who think wild turkeys are dumb into the woods in the spring or fall. In the woods, turkeys behave far differently. I suspect that, most of the time, anyone trampling in the woods is seen by the far-superior eyesight of a turkey and the bird vanishes, unseen. Wild turkeys see in color, have far superior hearing abilities, and can pick out any movement from far distances. And then, just like that, they are gone.
Anyway, it seems I have digressed somewhat, so I will get back to hunting with my boys.
How exciting is it to watch your child shoot his or her first bird? I was out with my oldest son on a May morning, many years ago, and was working a big gobbler across a small field. My gun was leaning against a tree as that tom got closer. When the bird was perhaps 25 yards away and Dan had his gun up, I was so moved that I was almost hyperventilating. He made the shot, by the way, on a tom that went 21 pounds.
Matt scored on his first bird last May on yet another exciting morning. Two toms came in and, during the excitement, I never bothered to lift my shotgun, despite still holding one of the two tags left in my backpack. And I have no regrets about that.
So, if you get the opportunity, take your son, daughter, grandchild or a youngster who is interested but has no adult to teach them, out on their first turkey hunt. When you do, show them the right way, the ethical way to hunt the wild turkey.
It may very well end up getting a youth interested in what could be the greatest, most challenging hunt of their life.
Dennis Jensen can be contacted at email@example.com.