Faint light broke on the eastern horizon while two hunters walked down an old cow path. Sharon Brown had learned her hunting techniques from a local sportsman’s club after her son came home from school one day, upset.
“Jimmy, what’s wrong?” she mother asked, immediately noting his mood.
“I’m tired of listening to the other kids talk about hunting with their dad,” he said. “Mom, why did dad have to leave?”
“I don’t know, dear, but we do just fine without him.”
“Yeah, but I could hunt with him if he was still here. I keep hoping one of the kids will invite me to go hunting, but no one has.”
Sharon laid awake most of the night thinking. Should her son be deprived just because his father was a deadbeat? The following day she found a sportsman’s club online. Volunteers were only too happy to teach her and Jimmy turkey hunting techniques and calling over the next several weeks. She joined the National Wild Turkey Federation two weeks later and subscribed to “Turkey Country Magazine,” in which she read about techniques and solving problems, like finding women’s hunting clothing that fits.
Her next step was the local gun shop where she purchased a youth model 870 Wingmaster and presented it to Jimmy that evening. The young man turned the gun over and over in his hands. Both enrolled in a hunter’s safety class and practiced shooting through the winter. By spring, Jimmy was consistently delivering a suitable pattern and ready to try his first turkey hunt.
The cow path was starting to lighten up as Sharon made a perfect barred owl sound with her new call. A distant gobble caught their attention. Both stared in disbelief toward the sound. They both moved at a faster pace toward the area. Sharon had done plenty of homework and knew that a big gobbler was still roosted somewhere in the darkness. The big bird gobbled two more times, sounding louder as they moved closer.
They reached the spot and Sharon motioned Jimmy to sit down with his shotgun pointed toward the gobbling. He immediately sat low enough to place the shotgun on his knees and in line with his eyes while mom set up a hen decoy. She took another look around and then made the owl sound again to be rewarded by a booming gobble not very far away.
The nervous mom settled against a tree, adjusted her seat for comfort and made a couple of hen clucks and yelps with a box call. The big bird made a gobble that sounded louder than thunder, almost a frightening noise to young, untrained ears. Sharon glanced at Jimmy and saw his eyes wide open.
“Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh,” the gobbler chose that moment to fly down. Sharon watched the impressive bird fly past their position and land several yards away in a small clearing. She made two soft clucks and was rewarded by another gobble. Hearts started beating faster and their breath became almost labored. Sharon could see the gobbler moving toward them. His neck was stretched as big eyes studied the decoy. His bright, red head moved from side to side, surveying the area for danger. He stretched his neck out and gobbled, producing a big grin under Jimmy’s face mask. He took a deep breath and waited.
The gobbler was taking his time while butts became sore as both seat cushions dug into the ground. Jimmy started to shift and then decided to avoid any excessive movement. He had been instructed about a gobbler’s eyesight and hearing. This big bird was slowly moving closer. Sharon was suffering the same fate and stayed perfectly still. She knew this was her son’s moment. She did not want to ruin it.
The gobbler stopped to peck at some delicious morsel on the ground and raised his head to gobble at the hen. Soon the big bird moved forward a couple more steps and stopped to look around, often straight at the hunters who dared not breathe.
Jimmy could see the gobblers head down the sight of his shotgun, but he was not perfectly lined up. He did not want to move the barrel for fear of spooking the bird. He decided to wait until the huge bird moved a couple of steps farther. Sharon knew the gobbler had to be in his shooting plane and held her breath for the shot.
Finally, the gobbler stepped into Jimmy’s perfect fining lane, and stopped to stretch his neck and gobble at the less than excited acting decoy. He laid his bead on the head, squeezed the trigger and “click.” Forgot to take the safety off, he thought while gently pushing the button and lining up his sights. “BOOM!” Smoke from the gun created an eerie fog as Jimmy ran to his big gobbler that flopped on the ground. He stepped on the bird’s head until it was still. He picked up the beautiful bird and gave his mother a hug she would never forget.
Years passed and the hunts continued until Jimmy left for college. Sharon stopped hunting while he was gone, it would not be the same. The email message came early on a Sunday morning. Sharon held her breath and read the words from Jimmy proclaiming that he would return in time for them to go turkey hunting in April.
Later in the day she sat in his room, staring at his dresser where a number of fine turkey beards were proudly displayed across the mirror. Her boy was coming home and soon they would be in the woods, together again. She thanked God for the wisdom to take her boy hunting. This is a true story, but I changed the names at the request of the mother and son.
The good, clean outdoor experience is an escape from peer pressures and school work. Youth need this healthy playground and the outdoors need youth. Their conservation dollars will eventually support wildlife and wild properties after we are gone. Turkey hunting is a good way to pull kids away from computer games. Computer games will never rival the duel between a hunter and an old gobbler.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.