Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The 30-Minute 1st Gobbler

I love turkey hunting. It's great to get out in the woods and fields to enjoy the fresh air in the spring. The air is warming, the birds are singing, and the trees, grass, and other vegetation are greening up with signs of new life. It's rejuvenating and relaxing. The only bad thing about turkey hunting is that my luck has been much like Dale Earnhardt's in the Daytona 500 - everything imaginable that could go wrong has.

Approaching Hunting Blinds
Approaching Hunting Blinds (Photo credit: Travis S.)
Dale saw the Daytona 500 slip away from him for 19 years in every way imaginable from wrecks, to running out of gas, to flat tires, to even one year hitting a seagull on the backstretch which tore up the front of his car. My turkey hunting luck has been very similar since I started going in the spring of 1995 after shooting my first deer in 1994. At that time, my dad had been turkey hunting for a few years, and I decided I wanted to join him and try it myself. Except for the springs of 2005 and '06, when I was too weak to hunt due to the heart failure that lead to my heart transplant, and the spring of 2007 when I was recovering from my heart transplant, I have hunted turkeys every spring for the last 18 years. During that time, I have failed to shoot a gobbler for reasons ranging from them seeing me and spooking, to hanging up out of shotgun range, to gobblers being intercepted by hen(s) on their way to me, and, of course, I've shot at and missed 4 or 5.

The most heartbreaking turkey hunting mishap was in the spring of 2008, the first turkey season that I hunted after my heart transplant. I had parked at the house of some friends' one Saturday afternoon and walked down into the wildlife management area behind their house. I knew there were turkeys there.

I had set up and been calling for about 45 minutes. All of a sudden, I hear a gobble way off in the distance. I estimated the bird was 300-400 yards away. I answered him. He gobbled again, this time much closer. I answered again. He gobbled again continuing to get closer. He was coming fast. Then, I see his bright red head coming through the brush from my left to my right at about 50 yards. I just know I am finally gonna get my first gobbler, and I can tell he's a giant. I already have him in my sights, but I'm waiting for him to get into a clear shooting lane. Just as he steps into one at a distance of 25 yards, and as I'm squeezing the trigger, the dang bird does a 180 heading back the way he came from just as I fire. The bird literally disappears into thin air. I think, "he must be down." I walk over to where the bird was when I fired. There's no bird, no feathers, no trace of blood - absolutely nothing. The only evidence of my shot was a little maple sapling, about 4 inches in diameter, that is laying over from where my magnum turkey load cut it in half. The dang bird had gotten out of dodge so fast that I didn't even see him leave. Ugh.

Dejected and realizing I've shot the woods up and that the bird ain't coming back, I pack up my stuff and head to the truck. I suspect I felt a lot like Earnhardt did in 1990 when he blew the tire in turn 4 at Daytona with victory in sight only to watch Derrick Cope take the trophy home. To this day, I still have no idea what that gobbler saw that spooked him. I just know that day was a heartbreaker. I wanted to shoot a gobbler as badly as Earnhardt had wanted the Daytona 500. What the heck was it gonna take ?

The spring of 2009 rolled around, and I was still "gobbler-less." However, on April 4, of that year, I finally shot a turkey. It was a jake (a young male). I had the monkey off my back, to some extent, in the form of my first turkey, but there was still a bad taste in my mouth from 2008. In the fall of 2011, I shot two hens during Tennessee's fall season, but gobblers still had my number. I was getting closer, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

When the 2013 season opened on March 30th, I was out of action with allergy problems that had exploded into a sinus infection. So, I did not hunt opening week at all. I did not hit the woods until a week ago today on April 9th, which was the 11th day of the season. Where the first week of the season had been cool and somewhat damp, week number two was warmer and dry. My gut told me the birds should be gobbling. My gut would turn out to be right.

I got into the woods a little late that morning. Shooting light had came a little before 6 a.m. I arrived at my hunting spot about 6:35. Worse yet, I had not had a chance to scout the location I had decided to hunt that morning. I had driven by it about a month before fully intending to get "boots on the ground" and walk it out good before hunting it. Then, the allergy problem reared its ugly head. So, I was going in cold with no idea what to expect.

I parked with the windows rolled down and sat in the truck for about 15 minutes just listening to the woods. I was hoping to hear some gobbles, but nobody was talking. I decide to get out, gear up, head down the trail just behind my truck, and see what might happen. It was gonna hit 80 later in the day, so I was planning to be home by lunchtime at the latest. I put my turkey vest on, and as I am loading my shotgun, I hear a gobble, then another one. The bird is only about 200 yards from me and headed my way without me even calling. I realize I need to hurry up, get over in the woods, and get set up. This could be the opportunity I've been waiting 18 years for. I know there's no other hunters around, but my fear is that if there happens to be a hen nearby, she might start yelping and lure this gobbler away. It had happened to me before. I wasn't risking that happening again, so I double-timed it down the trail into the woods.

I made a right off the trail into the woods to find a place to set up. However, I'm not real happy with my options, as far as location goes. There is not a great deal of visibility nor many shooting lanes. However, I hear the tom gobble again, so I pick the first good-sized tree I can find and set my stool up against it. I'm about 30 yards off the trail I just walked down, and I feel pretty confident that if I can lure the gobbler to that trail, he will walk right down it to me. If I'm right and he does just that, then the distance of 30 yards he will be from the end of my gun barrel is well within range. I'll smoke him, easily. I know I'm good out to 50.

Headnet is now on. Gloves are on. Shotgun is up on shooting sticks, and I'm ready to answer the gobbler back with some turkey talk of my own. When, dadgummit, my glasses fog up. Crap. I adjust my headnet to help circulate the air better to un-fog them and prevent more fog-ups. The whole time I'm trying to get un-fogged, I'm scared to death that dang bird is gonna walk up on me. With everything else that has gone wrong the last 18 years, nothing that happens in the turkey woods surprises me. However, I get the problem resolved without him busting me. Now, it's time for me to try to seal the deal. It's 7:15 a.m., and I strike the first yelps of the morning, my first of the 2013 turkey season, on my slate call.

Mr. Gobbler cuts me off - doesn't even let me finish before gobbling again. He's definitely interested. I decide I'm gonna "play hard to get" and not answer him ..... yet. It's a tip I learned from a buddy a few days earlier. Thirty seconds later, the turkey gobbles again. It sounds like he's up close to my truck !! My heart, actually my donor Kent's heart, is now pounding. It feels like it is gonna jump out of my chest. I start trying to slow my breathing and hopefully slow Kent's heart down in the process. I'm afraid I might be shaking due to the way it's pounding which might let that turkey see me. After the turkey gobbles a couple of more times, I answer him back with three soft yelps. He cuts me off again, then gobbles three more times. He's still up close to my truck.

It appears the turkey has hung up. He's hasn't moved, and I can't see him. My mind starts racing and having flashbacks to the 18 years of things going wrong. I'm wondering if I should have called to this bird more. Has he got spooked and locked up when he saw my truck ? He gobbles again seemingly a little closer. So, I answer back with yelps that are just a little sharper, louder, and more aggressive. I'm hoping it will make him think that I'm not moving, and if he wants to "party" he's gonna have to come to me (the hen).

Apparently, it worked. Moments later, I see him in full strut, in the trail, at about my ten o'clock. He's done exactly what I thought, and hoped, he would. He hit the trail and is now walking down it, strutting, and showing off. I consider shooting but decide to hold off as there is a significant amount of brush between me and him. I know that if he takes about 6 or 7 more steps, he is gonna walk into a better, but not completely clear, shooting lane right in front of me at my twelve o'clock. He slowly starts walking on down the trail exactly where I want him to go. All this time, I've been working my H.S. Strut Lil' Deuce 2 slate call, but I've got my Knight and Hale Smok'N Fire diaphragm call in my mouth, just in case I need it to stop him. I know that once I see the bird, I can't use the slate any more. He will bust me if I do. The gobbler gets to the shooting lane, and I hit two soft yelps on the mouth call. He stops, sticks his head up, and just as he turns his head to look for the "hen," I squeeze the trigger - BOOMMMMM !!

My 1st gobbler - 18 lbs. (field dressed), 9.5 inch beard, 3/4 inch spurs.
It's now 7:45 a.m. - 30 minutes after I got set up and begin working this bird and ...... HE's DOWN !! I did it !! I finally got a gobbler !! Eighteen years of misses, bad set-ups, hung-up birds, interfering hens, and all the other mishaps are over. I look to the heavens, point, and say "Thank you, thank you, Lord." A few tears fall, too. I sat there for a few minutes to think about what had just went down asking myself, "Did that really just happen ?" It seemed like the gobbler had done exactly, I mean absolutely exactly step by step, what I thought he would and wanted him to do. Best thing was, it had gone down in 30 minutes and was easy !! Turkey hunting has never been easy for me. WOW !

Back in 2010, when I shot my first trophy buck, I thought that I knew what Ol' Earnhardt felt like after finally winning the Daytona 500 in 1998. However, that wasn't the case, because with deer hunting, my failure to shoot a trophy buck wasn't due to things going wrong. It was due to not having any opportunities to shoot one. In all my years of deer hunting, starting in 1984, I had only one other opportunity to shoot a trophy buck. One morning in 2009, during bow season, right at shooting light, I had a big 10 pointer walk by my blind at a distance of about 15 yards. However, I could not get him to stop to provide a shot until he was at 45 yards quartering away from me. At that angle, I had a target about the size of a baseball to hit in extremely low-light conditions. I did not like my chances, so I chose to let him go thinking I might get another opportunity at him later in the season. Since I was hunting on a buddy's private property, and we had food plots out, I felt like my odds of seeing him again were good. Unfortunately, I was wrong. One of my hunting buddy's shot at him but missed about 3 weeks later. After that, we never saw the big buck again.

After shooting the gobbler, I got off my stool, packed up, and went over to him. He was a good one. I guessed his beard was about 6 or 7 inches long. However, once I got him home and weighed and measured him, I found out that he was much bigger than that. His beard was actually 9 1/2 inches long !! What a first gobbler !!

As I picked the gobbler up and looked him over, it dawned on me that unlike 2010 when I thought I knew what Dale had felt like in '98, I knew for sure I did now. All the miscues and bad luck were now history. Everyone of those missed opportunities had taught me something. They were also the reason this day and moment were made even more special. God had not only given me the opportunities to learn something from those bad days, but better yet, He had chosen to bless me with a new life, renewed health, and the precious strength to get out and continue enjoying the woods and the quest for a getting a gobbler. The reality was that I should not have been alive and standing on that trail holding up that big bird. I should have been a statistic like the 18 Americans that die every day, because the organ they need doesn't come in time. I knew it with all of Kent's heart. Kent didn't get the opportunity of a "second chance" as I did, but he was the instrument God used to give one to me. I do not take it for granted, either. That was the reason I could finally say, "Gobbler down."

NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, taken by offic...
NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt, taken by official NASCAR photographer Darryl Moran (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
There are 3 reasons why I wrote this lengthy post telling the story of my first gobbler. Like my first trophy buck, there's more to it than hunting. The first reason I wrote this was to share another of the milestones God has blessed me with since my heart transplant 6 years ago. To say I am happy today would be the understatement of the year. One thing I'm not trying to do in this article is compare myself to Dale Earnhardt in any way. Dale was, and still is, one of my heroes, and he accomplished things that I never will. I just find it interesting that we have both had goals that we worked so very hard to accomplish, but yet they alluded us for long periods of time. That fact has helped me understand better what that 1998 Daytona victory meant to Dale and how all the mishaps leading up to it frustrated him. Plus, watching Dale and listening to interviews of him when I was a boy had a big influence on why I always try to persevere and not give up. Our struggles are also the reason that when we both finally achieved our goals, it was extremely sweet.

The second reason I wrote this is because through it God has once again taught me that we should never give up. We have no way of knowing how things may work out or how He may work them out for us.

My turkey hunting has been tough. If you would have told me that last week I would get to the woods late, the turkey would walk close by my truck on his way to me, and that the hunt would only last 30 minutes, I would have laughed at you thinking you were nuts. So, I encourage all of you, no matter how bad things get, no matter how futile you think something is, no matter how many times you've failed in the past, don't ever, ever, ever give up. Things may be bad and Satan be all over your back discouraging you, but you never really fail or lose at anything until you give up and quit. Did you hear me ? You never really fail or lose at anything until you give up and quit. Additionally, Satan can't beat you until you give up and quit, either. So, keep kicking him in the teeth by keeping on keeping on.

Kent - my heart donor.
The third and last reason I wrote this post today is because April is organ and tissue donation awareness month. I hope this story of getting my first gobbler and being able to continue enjoying the sport that I love shows how organ and tissue donation can give people their life back. If Kent hadn't chosen to be a donor, it's likely that in addition to having never shot a gobbler, I would not be alive today. When I was placed on the transplant list on February 13, 2007, I knew that without a heart transplant I would probably not live to see the end of 2007.

I urge everyone to learn more about organ and tissue donation, including how to register as an organ and tissue donor in your state. Just visit the website for the Tennessee Organ Donation Foundation, Inc. by visiting www.SaveLivesTN.org or clicking here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You done it bud!! I knew you could it takes a lot of cold wet winter days to make one perfect spring morning. It's a memory you will never forget..never.

The Second Chance Sheepdog said...

Thank you. It was a special, special day.