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As an outdoorsman and a father, I find that sharing my passion for the outdoors with my kids is a perfect way to spend time with them. These moments form memories that will last a lifetime, not only for me, but for them as well. Some of my fondest memories as a kid are from the banks of the pond from down the road where I grew up, catching bluegill and catfish with my 3 brothers and my mom and dad. Every summer break was filled with camping, fishing, and swimming at different campgrounds every weekend, and for a couple of solid weeks as well.
As I got older, I would race off the school bus to change clothes and head to the woods, only to return just after sunset most evenings. I remember the old wood furnace in the basement of my Indiana farmhouse where I would shed clothes off and warm up from the frigid cold that didn’t seem to bother me as much back then. The same cold now makes me appreciate the money well spent on layers of the right fabrics, and the little invention called “hot hands”! These memories are branded in my mind as a hot iron to the flesh of a calf, and I treasure them deeply.
My oldest 3 kids have all been successful in killing at least 1 turkey, and my oldest son has even taken a few deer. My youngest daughter, now 7, had decided that it was her turn to try to kill her first turkey this season. As a die hard turkey hunter, I accepted that challenge, and made plans to help her little dream come true…’cause that is what daddys are supposed to do for their little girls right?!?!
As juvenile weekend approached, I had to find a place that was easy for her short little legs to get to so as not to just wear her out completely on the first try…and, so that I didn’t have so far to pack everything from the truck and back! Have you ever tried taking a kid hunting with the full intent of being successful as well as making their experience one they enjoy?? For me, it included half the inventory from my local outdoor retailer: blind, chairs, decoys, camo, calls, gun, shells, camera, tripod, snacks, drinks, cell phone (in case I have a heart attack from carrying everything), etc….
I went in the night before the opener, and by night I mean 10:00 pm, and set out the blind. We had watched the turkeys fly to roost earlier that evening. The next morning found us sitting right where we needed to be for a perfect vantage point to watch turkeys fly down, peck around just out of range, then walk off the property and strut their stuff. There were 8 longbeards at 100 yards from the blind standing side by side in full strut at one point, but there were enough girls to go around that they paid no attention to our decoys or soft calling.
After sitting and waiting them out for a couple of hours, she was done…I decided to ease up to the place where I had last seen turkeys and take a peak before leaving. She and I actually were able to close the distance on 2 toms that were trying to fight each other through a fence and were obviously preoccupied by each other so as not to notice us. We managed to get set up and she took a swing…and a miss! She was excited, yet also discouraged by the encounter…
Fast forward from March 28th to April 17th…I have a landowner that gave me permission to take my little girl to a spot that I had seen 3 big toms the weekend before while driving by. It’s amazing what folks will do for a pretty little girl, I had been told by a neighbor that this landowner would say no to my asking, but was actually given the green light instead! It is Friday evening, and we get to the place where I had seen the 3 toms the week before. We park at a cattle gate across the road to give us full view of the creek bottom fields and small woodlot. Out there in the field is one tom and 3 of his lady friends. We video the birds and wait the hour or so for them to fly to roost, and make a game plan for the following mornings hunt.
It is 5 am when we park my truck and gather our gear to walk in…my 14 year old son accompanied us, not only as a pack mule, but as back up shooter as well as cameraman! It was my full intent to not let that bird get away if we had the chance to kill him, AND to do our best to capture it on video.
We set the blind at the rear bumper of an old Ford Fairlane inside the corner of the woodlot which, as it turns out, also serves as a graveyard for a few abandoned vehicles. As I was setting the jake decoy on top of a hen with the tail fan facing the bottom field across the creek, a hen that had roosted in the tree right above me pitched out across the field and back into another tree. My heart sank, and hoping I had not blown our cover I eased back into the blind. It was a couple minutes shy of 5:30.
The first time he gobbled I knew that we had not blown it, he was about 100 yards away in a tree right on the creek bank. I tree yelped softly just a few times, only to let him know we were there. As he really got fired up, I gobbled on my diaphragm call cutting him off a couple times, then went silent.
The first turkeys in the field were a couple of hens, they pitched down just below him and then fed out into the field, where he flew down and joined them shortly after. I let him get out to where he could see my decoys before I started to call to him again. When he saw them, he came out of strut and stretched his neck all the way up like a parascope to take a hard look at the intruder on the other side of the creek from him. He would go in and out of strut, walking back and forth trying to keep his ladies close. As they started working our way, he obviously didn’t like it. He was about 75 yards from the creek when he decided he had seen enough of this jake strutting on our side of the creek, and he dropped out of strut and began stomping our way. When he reached the creek bottom he was out of view, but I knew he was committed.
His tail fan was the first thing I saw just over the rise and behind our decoy, and he was on OUR side of the creek! He left a field with 2 hens AND crossed a creek to get to us! I was busy making sure the camera was on him as well as getting Bryleigh in position for the shot when he walks past the decoys to the right and struts in behind them. He is at 15 yards when my daughter whispers to me “Daddy why are you shaking”? She was cool as ice! I have to help her hold the gun as well as shoulder it, her little frame is not built for the recoil of a 20 gauge, and I don’t want her to be hurt. She squeezes the trigger and the old bird does a backflip!
This is where things get very chaotic…just as soon as his head hits the ground, his feet do too…he somehow finds his legs and manages to get over the rise behind the decoys! He didn’t go down!!! I heard her say “I missed?” when all of a sudden he is standing there again, and slowly walking right back up like he had come before. He was obviously hurt as his head was hanging low and he limped to a stop…we positioned for a a second shot after holding my son off from shooting him. BOOM!!! That silly bird took another hit and was running right to the drivers door of the Fairlane we were sitting behind! He did not make it though, my son made sure that the bird was down for the count! She had managed to shoot this old bird twice, and after later observation I find out that the 2 yellow shells in the gun were not the brand I had sighted that gun in with. In my haste, I loaded the gun with a different brand, which could have cost her killing her first turkey ever!
After realizing she had just killed her first turkey she say to me, “Daddy can I cry now?”…My response, “Absolutely!”. I was doing my very best to hold it together myself as tears of joy welled up in my eyes! Isaiah ran out to the bird first, and she and I joined him with high fives and hugs! This was a moment made for a lifetime of memories!
After taking some pictures, we were shooting some interview footage. I asked her what she would say to other kids about turkey hunting…her response was priceless. She simply said, “Keep the Faith!”. After not getting a turkey a couple weeks earlier, she had obviously beaten herself up and was convinced that she would not succeed in getting a turkey at all. In that moment, a little girl with mud on her shoes, a smile on her face, and joy in her eyes spoke more wisdom to me than a grown man behind a pulpit could preach over a lifetime of sermons.
I have killed over 100 turkeys in my career of hunting these things, I have even killed a 6 bearded bird of a lifetime…NONE that I have killed will compare to the experiences I have shared with each of my kids taking their first turkeys! I hope that the memories we make with our kids don’t fade, and that they remember these moments as I do my early outdoor experiences. Keep the Faith, and live life outdoors wih your kids!