I’ve already wrote about helping my little cousin (Daniel) get his first deer and my little brother (Dustin) his first turkey. But now here is a “story” about trying to help that little cousin (Daniel), get his first turkey on his first turkey hunt ever!
We left the house well before dawn knowing there was at the minimum a two mile hike ahead of us what we didn't expect was for that walk to turn into over six miles! With being allowed to hunt a complete section of land that “ a square mile” of property that is laid in strange fingers and legs with every type of turkey habitat available in the southeastern part of Oklahoma. From tall timbered ridges to rolling fields and deep creek bottoms that gobbles echo in over and over.
The night before we headed out for the opening day of the youth season; I was unable to roost a bird where I expected to, but was sure in the morning he would be rattling the woods with his voice, that wasn't the case. As the minutes passed and the locator calls went unanswered we kept moving knowing the land held many mature toms ready for the taxidermist. We hiked up a steep ridge, through a deep rocky valley, fired up some local owls, but never heard a gobble. So we kept moving; we finally made it to the absolute farthest corner of the property from where we started. I had to keep instructing the young hunter that when the opportunity came if the gun needed to be moved his movement needed to be slow and deliberate. We sat up on a waterline right-a-way that the birds have roosted on every year I can remember but by this time it was already nearly 9 A.M.! We placed the decoys in a breeding position 30 yards directly in front of us on a highly visible hilltop. And then brushed in our ambush spot, still not sure if there was even a bird around. I let out a few soft yelps to test the waters raked my hands though the leaves…..with no response.
Every 20 minutes or so, I would do the same thing over. After a frustrating hour and a half I told the young hunter to stay put and I was going to slide inside the timbers edge until I reached a point I could see an open area the toms have always used as strutting grounds and I instructed him to shoot if a bird showed up with a beard, making sure he knew what we were looking for. Once I was confident that he understood I, slid down the timber edge and when I reached the point I could see the strutting grounds I sighed a big sigh of relief even though what I was seeing was across the property line and off limits. Two toms were in full strut circling each other! I pulled my loudest slate from my possibilities bag and let out one loud yelp that was responded to by a thundering gobble, from both birds! and they were running straight at me. I knew I was hid well in the timber so I quickly headed back to our set up yelping every ten yards or so. Once I got back to Daniel he was smiling and said one gobbled right behind him! I assumed he had heard the echo from the other two birds. But just in case I decided to lie flat on my back and yelped once and was cut off by an angry sounding hen.
What could be better than to have a live hen doing the calling while two birds were coming hard then she materialized out of the woods and another loud heated cackle was let out I then realized it was two hens! The gobble he said he had heard never happened again. The hens were locked on to the gobblers and were intending on heading their way, I knew this could not be allowed to happen so when the hens got in close I busted them up much like you would do in the fall, however I only expected them to run away wondering what had just happened?! That isn't what happened they took to the air gliding down to the toms cutting them off 80 yards away! I had used that tactic too many times for it to go wrong this one time, why did it have to go wrong this time? I wasn't even the “hunter” but was dejected to say the least. All we could do was to listen to the gobbles fade into the distance as the hens led “our” birds away. Daniel turned and looked at me and said. “I think I like turkey hunting better than deer hunting!”
I couldn't believe he said that when he had just lost an opportunity on his first morning ever turkey hunting! We moved again and again never finding another bird to work. Soon it was time to be with family for lunch so I called for someone to pick us up, instead of walking the six rugged miles home again. After lunch we rested a little while and were soon set back up near the same roosting area. Once again out, our time was limited due to family obligations with dinner reservations at 8 P.M., we set up and another hour passed without seeing or hearing a bird, I was afraid we had ruined the spot for the rest of the season so I slipped up to a hill top to glass another strutting area and when I returned Daniel informed me that my father had called and said he would be at the gate to pick us up in 30 minutes. We sat feeling like the hunt was done for when a yelp rang out behind us. I cut her off aggressively with the same sound she had made and every time she responded I mocked her and she was headed our way.
At this point I was just hoping for a bearded hen at least, and then I realized it was two hens again. I slowly peeked around the tree and over my shoulder to see three turkeys about ten yards from me silhouetted against the sky. I yelped again and they took a few steps and I realized the third birds head was changing colors from red to white then blue and all the sudden I seen a thick long “paint brush” beard swing from his chest! I told Daniel to turn and shoot the third bird the one farthest to the right. However all my preaching about moving slow had sunk in too deep! He was trying to turn at almost a snails’ pace. I told him just as the birds got spooky and were heading out of our lives forever to just swing and shoot the gobbler! He swung and fired at the bird now thirty yards away. I watched in horror as the wad cleared the tom's head by nearly a foot and they all took to the air. I have to give him it was his first shot at a turkey and it was a huge bird; not to mention it might have been the most difficult shoot I’ve ever seen attempted. I have to confess I missed my first turkey and it was only a Jake standing wide open, twenty yards away. I just wish I could have done something, anything different. So that his tag was hanging on a bird to take too the taxidermist and this would have been one for sure! But in the end we have to look at every trip into the woods as a learning experience. And that's maybe what it was for me, and Daniel. I’ll keep everything that happened during his youth hunt in mind on April sixth when the regular season opens and I’ll be the one toting a shotgun or bow. And I hope regardless of the missed bird he still loves turkey hunting, even if he does love it more than deer hunting! Ha, ha.