I shot me a big ol' Tom this spring. Called him in from 200 yards away. Ten inch beard, one-inch spurs, and dropped him like a sack of 'taters with a single 60-yard shot from a retina-detaching Thompson Center Encore. This on a trip where the turkeys skunked a handful of hunters much more skilled than I. So by that assessment, my season should go down as a resounding, rousing success.
Yet it still feels a bit unfulfilled. Allow me to explain.
2010 was the first season that I took my son turkey hunting. At nine (almost 10) years old, I judged him to be big enough, strong enough, and patient enough to be the triggerman on a bird that I'd call in for him. The notion was a bit romantic, but not without precedent. Perhaps 10 years earlier, I was fortunate enough to call in a beautiful Merriam's bird for my dad along Nebraska's turkey-rich Niobrara River. That feeling of pride and accomplishment sticks with me today as one of my fondest hunting memories. So I'd replicate that feeling for me -- and for him -- by bringing a bird within gun range.
Thankfully, I had access to a small 40-acre plot not far from home that held a decent flock of birds. My good buddy Dan and his son came down from Minnesota and we spent the first weekend in May lying in wait for a Tom to be fooled by our calls. We chose to hunt out of blinds, since it'd be hard to conceal the movement of two people (especially two young boys). So Dan and Josh set up along a natural gasline right-of-way, and Jack and I opted for a spot along the fenceline on the other side of the property.
It downpoured our first morning. And for the first hour of the day, the thunder played harmony to Jack's own snoring. But once the rain subsided and Jack stirred, we both agreed that it was nice to see the world wake up around us. No turkeys, but we had another day or two.
The second morning brought kinder weather and a noisy Tom 150 yards away that began sounding off almost immediately after we got situated in our blind. I gave him a couple of my best sleepy yelps, and the gobbler started closing in. We got the gun situated on the monopod and waited. "Dad, I'm nervous," Jack whispered. I nodded and smiled knowingly, feeling that same nervousness. It's a feeling familiar to any hunter, and the feeling I always get whether waiting for a turkey, a deer, or a covey flush. The day I lose that feeling is the day I quit hunting. And now, I had the honor of introducing that incomparable feeling to my son. But that was the last we'd hear of the tom that day. Dan and Josh had a similar experience, and we said goodbye to them without any of us filling our tags.
A good friend recently commented that "there's no such thing as a casual turkey hunter," and he's exactly right. Matching wits with a big Tom turkey can border on obsessive. So in the days leading up to my mid-May birthday, I told Jack that best gift I could receive for my birthday was to call him in a gobbler -- and I meant it. Jack told his mom what I had said, and as she recounted it to me, I started worrying that he had interpreted my comment as "I'll ruin Dad's birthday if I don't shoot a bird."
Driving to our property the next day, I assured him that I was just thrilled to be sharing the time with him, whispering jokes to one another and watching the woods around us. And he genuinely seemed to agree with me -- phew, crisis averted! We still had plenty of days in the season to tag our Tom.
We spent the rest of the season listening to distant gobblers, watching whitetails grazing, playing with a box turtle, and sitting motionless as henbirds walked within arms' reach of our blind. But no gobbler. It ate me up a bit. I wanted this bird for him. I wanted it for ME.
Last night after dinner I told him that our turkey season was probably over. The hens were all bred, the undergrowth was too tall to see (let alone make a shot of any distance), and the bugs were swarming.
"That's fine dad. It was still fun, even though we didn't get him." His attention turned back to the Wii and he resumed playing Lego Batman. Five seconds later, he paused the game and turned to look at me.
"But next spring he's dead, Dad."
It was a very successful season after all.