I have accomplished the impossible. I have discovered something that makes spring turkey hunting even more exciting.
Not that turkey hunting has become old-hat for me. Far from it. My knees still go weak at the sound of a lusty gobble across a fog-draped meadow. Until a few years ago, I never dreamed something could make my senses hum the way a strutting gobbler bathed in golden sunlight does. What could possibly be more hair-raising than glimpsing a cagey old longbeard that has sneaked within 20 feet of me undetected?
Now I know … doing those things with someone who has never done them before.
Like most turkey hunters, I enjoy talking about my encounters with the Gilded Gladiators of Spring. A few years ago, I was babbling on about my latest hunt at a social event in Kansas City. My daughter’s minister was at our table. He showed an interest and almost before I knew it, I had invited him to hunt with me the next spring.
An avid upland bird hunter, Jim had never gotten to hunt turkeys. I really enjoyed his company, but in the weeks between the invitation and the hunt, I experienced some misgivings. What if I failed to call in a bird? What if he was bored by my sit-and-wait hunting style? (Sometimes when the action is slow, I just slump over and nap for half an hour.) What if he couldn’t take the ticks, chiggers, cold, heat, rain and frustration that are part of turkey hunting? Fortunately, none of that turned out to be true.
A spectacular thunderstorm swept across our chosen patch of woods right at sunrise on opening day. The three toms that had been gobbling enthusiastically as the storm approached got absolutely hysterical when lightning bolts and claps of thunder buffeted their hillside. They double-, triple- and quadruple-gobbled at each stroke. To this day, that morning remains the most memorable of my turkey-hunting career.
As the storm reached the peak of its violence, I watched Jim, sitting with his back against a small oak a few feet in front of me, looking for signs of panic. I knew I had a life-long hunting buddy when he turned and flashed me a grin as electrified as the sky.
A couple of years later, I got to take my brand new son-in-law on his first turkey hunt. I did my homework and parked Brett at the edge of a pasture, exactly where I had watched a big gobbler strut the day before. The longbeard’s harem led him straight to us. It was like I had him on a string. At 20 yards, the old boy saw something he didn’t like--probably the glint of sunlight on Brett’s teeth--and came out of strut to poke his big, white softball of a head up for a better look. It was the last thing that gobbler ever saw, but I will always be able to see Brett’s first-turkey grin in the photo that accompanies this post.
Those experiences convinced me that the only thing better than spring turkey hunting is sharing it with a novice. Until you try it, you have no idea how much fun it is.
If you are lucky, your protégés will become hunting buddies, perhaps even taking you places you would never have gotten to hunt without them. The younger ones might even extend your hunting career by a few years, toting your gear into the woods when you are too gimpy to go by yourself.
To help you mentor new hunters, the Conservation Department offers an Apprentice Hunter Authorization. The $10 document exempts first-time hunters from Missouri’s mandatory hunter-education requirement. Authorization holders can buy any Missouri hunting permit for two consecutive years without showing a hunter-education card. Apprentice Hunter Authorizations are available wherever hunting permits are sold. For more information about the authorization and other mentorship opportunities, visit mdc.mo.gov/hunt/deer/mentor.htm.