It is 6:07 am, the first day of Turkey season 2016. I just heard the first gobble on the ridge in the pines. For the past 4 turkey seasons, this is where I have heard the first gobble of the season. The pines on the top of this ridge are backed by open hardwoods with abundant turkey sign on the edge of a field. While this, for most hunters, is the perfect turkey set-up, for me, it is just a dream. I’m sitting on an adjacent farm looking across a painted road at those tall pines a mile from my front door. As I listen to this gobbler make his presence known for the next 30 minutes, there is nothing but silence on my side of the road. This is the 3rd year in a row I have heard nothing but crows where I have permission to hunt. I was determined for 2017 to be a different story.
After getting permission to hunt close to where I heard them in previous years, I spent some time early in 2017 scouting and stopping to listen on my way to work in the mornings. Every morning that I stopped to listen, I heard them calling from the pines. I am apparently a slow learner. The first day, instead of setting up in my new spot, I wanted to hear both areas well so I set up on a ridge between both areas. In the silence of the morning before the songbirds are even awake, I start rethinking my decision. Why did I not just set up where I had been hearing them? Did I just waste my time walking up here? I’m going to be rushed getting set up by the pines. I finally calm my mind and start to daydream a little while waiting for the first gobble of the season.
Growing up in Camp Flintlock, appropriately named for anyone who has experience hunting with black powder and my family’s affinity for hunting with it, you learn more than just hunting and fishing. As with most family camps, while growing up, life lessons are learned and maybe, more importantly, family history is recounted. Our family history is told by my grandfather and the countless “mountain buck” racks hanging on the walls of our camp. Ask when one of the buck, turkey or bear were killed and you will most likely be answered with, “That was the year your mother graduated high school,” “That one was the year the bronco caught on fire,” or “That was the year your uncle had knee surgery and was on crutches.” Conversely, if you ask what year I graduated college, you will find out it was the same year I shot a 6 point with a bow. Ask when anyone in our family was married, you will find out what buck was killed at “Back Bear Creek” or “behind the tavern” before the year is given.
At 5:48 a.m. a loud gobble breaks my thoughts. Is it in the pines? Of course not. The sound comes from my previous set up where I had decidedly abandoned. As I listen and hear gobbles again and again and again, I start to pack up my things in disappointment. It’s not that I am disappointed that I hear a bird in familiar territory, but that the anticipation of a new spot to hunt will have to wait. As I zip up my bag, the sound I have become accustomed to bellows from the pines. I decide to hustle to the backside of the hill and set up just inside the hardwoods with the pines in front of me, just out of view. I gave a soft yelp to let them know that I was there and waited.
A storm was moving through the horizon and luckily stayed south of me. I enjoyed watching the lightening and listening to the thunder. Every time the thunder cracked or rumbled, the turkey gobbled back. It made for an enjoyable time waiting for the birds to come off the roost. Because of the weather, they stayed in the trees a little longer than usual. At about 6:20 I heard them fly down. I gave another soft yelp. In less than 15 minutes I had three Jakes in my view to the right. As they worked their way behind a blow down I moved into position. As I steady my gun the first Jake shows on the right side of the blow down.
By 7:15 a.m. I am back in my garage, cleaning and butchering this year’s harvest. To me hunting has always been about family. It is what I have grown up doing and have grown into. I am not the best turkey hunter, the best adviser, or the best caller, but I am committed to a sport that I enjoy, and I am committed to continuing to make it about family as much as the hunt itself. One day my son will look up wide eyed at that small fan that I shot the first day of spring turkey season and ask when I shot the small one. Like my grandfather before me, I will tell him, “I shot that the year you were born.”
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