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Many years ago, my dad owned a piece of property that was inhabited by one of the very few wild turkey flocks in the entire state of Tennessee. I know, that’s hard to believe. But it’s true. So true that during the late 70’s and early 80’s the TWRA and NWTF were using canon nets to trap and relocate birds to different parts of west Tennessee from our property. Naturally, this elevated my curiosity as a natural born hunter, but my dad didn’t turkey hunt specifically. So I started reading books about turkey hunting by Ben Lee. One mid spring day when I was 14 years old, I asked my dad if he could drive me to the property in the morning and drop me off…cuz I wanted to kill me a turkey. At the time, it was believed to be one of the most difficult things to do as a southern born hunter. So he agreed to drop me off and I remember him being so enthusiastic and proud of me for trying such a thing. As he drove off, I was standing in the complete darkness and remoteness of this location. I actually got kind of scared of the dark as I recall. I had an old nylon backpack that I had my gear in, and within that gear list besides a flashlight (haha) was my trusty book called How To Turkey Hunt by Ben Lee. So i pulled out my flashlight, stuck it in my mouth and opened up my book. As I was thumbing through the first chapter trying to figure out what to do…the most incredible sound I had ever heard roared through the dark timber like a west Tennessee clap of thunder….a turkey GOBBLE!!!
I looked up into the dark timber and had you seen the smile on my face, you’d thought I was the Jack Nicholson version of the Joker in Batman. My interest level was redlining, so I started really scrambling and flipping throughout the pages in an attempt to figure out what to do next.
I found a section on roosted birds and started following Ben Lees’ instructions. I tried to get as close as I could without spooking the birds following the sound of the continuous gobbles to lead me through the darkness of the timber. As I eased my way towards the birds, more and more gobbles thundered and echoed through the woods. It didn’t even seem real to me as I had never beard anything like it before. The entire experience was so surreal and had already been a success to me.
Well, I finally felt like my gut was telling me not to get any closer, so I stopped and sat down next to a large white oak tree about what I thought was 70-80 yards from where I thought the birds were roosted.
I crawled around the back side of the tree and clicked on my dim (low batteries) plastic flashlight and held my fingers over the lens to cover the light. I opened up my book again and read the instructions to start what Ben described as soft tree yelping. So I sat back against the tree facing the birds. At this time, the sky was beginning to turn pink. I pulled out my Lynch box call that dad had bought for me at Uncle Lees sporting goods store in Paris, TN. What happened next is bringing tears to my eyes at it changed my life and hunting career forever.
I began to softly scratch the paddle of the call across the edges of the box chamber like a soft spoken violin. As soon as I made a sound, multiple gobbles rang out in my direction. It was incredible!!!
I continued to lay soft yelps at the birds and finally as the sun began to crack the horizon, I could hear the birds wings hitting limbs and flapping as they landed on the ridge in front of me. OMG, I couldn’t believe it, I was looking so hard trying to find the birds as they approached and my heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest. I swear I was very near cardiac arrest.
Within moments, the most incredible thing I had ever seen in the woods appeared 30 yards directly in front of me…6 giant birds in full strut coming my way. I raised my Remington 870 shotgun to my shoulder and the birds kept coming. Within seconds they were 15 yards to my face and at that point I knew I was gonna harvest me a bird…and all I could think about was how proud my dad was going to be of me. I waited and waited and waited as I remember Mr Lee stating in book to wait for the bird to raise his head for a clean shot. So I did. I didn’t even care which one was biggest or had the longest beard, I just wanted one of them to look up.
In what seemed like a slo motion reel, one of the birds saw me breathing hard, I think, and raised his head. I settled my shotgun barrel bead on his neck and squeezed BOOOOOOOOOM!!!! The bird hit the ground flipping like a stuck chicken and the other birds scattered into the air like an Alfred Hitchcock movie…and then the woods became silent again.
I got up and walked over to my bird. I had just pulled off a miracle in my mind. My very first solo turkey hunt and I killed me a wild turkey.
For the next three hours I had to wait on my dad to come get me, so I grabbed my bird and I could wait to sling it over my shoulder like all the photos I had seen in books and magazines. I walked out to the road with my bird and I laid down on the ground. I stared at my bird, rubbing and playing with all the beautiful iridescent feathers. I was just amazed at the beauty of is animal and that I and accomplished my goal. The character that was built within me that day was nothing less than what any young man goes through as he begins to become a man.
My life would never be the same and as I had suspected, my dad was so proud of me. I remember when he picked me up later morning…he said “son, do you realize what you’ve done?”
And it was at that moment that I realized…what I had done. All by myself.
Thanks Dad….for letting me go by myself and believing in me.