Last year, during our local National Wild Turkey Federation Banquet, I gave a short program on turkey calling, and then answered questions about calling and hunting. Afterwards, a gentleman asked me if I would be interested in guiding some kids on their first turkey hunt as part of the NWTF's Jakes Program. I volunteered enthusiastically.
I would guide two boys, Jacob and Ben. The hunt was scheduled April 12-13 on property owned by James & Debbie McCurter. As the date grew closer, I grew a little concerned that I might not be the best guide for these two youngsters. It would be my first time guiding kids.
Jacob's hunt would take place the first day. The evening before opening morning, I took the boys out to see if we could roost a bird. We put several birds to bed but could not make one gobble.
In the morning, Jacob and I, accompanied by James McCurter who carried a video camera to record the hunt, went to an area where turkeys like to strut after flying down. Turkeys were already gobbling on the roost when we arrived, but after flydown, they went silent.
After we moved to another area, I began to yelp, but a bird gobbled close and cut me off. We were trying to get to a saddle ahead of the gobbler when a hen started yelping. There is no better place to be than between a live hen and a gobbling tom. So we stopped.
Jacob ended up with a close encounter with the hen. She would have run right past us to the gobbler had I not chased her away. I tried to cover her noisy retreat with some clucking and yelping. The gobbler didn't seem to notice. He just kept right on gobbling.
I called to that gobbler for about an hour, but he wouldn't come any closer. We decided to move again, but first we returned to the cabin for a late breakfast. By the time we got back into the woods, it was 12:30. Time was running out.
We eased down a logging road that snakes down a steep ridge into a long, narrow bottom that contained a large food plot. When we reached the food plot, three big gobblers on the other side of the food plot--not more than 40 yards away--just kind of faded into the woods.
James McCurter said he thought he knew where those birds were going. We moved quickly and got into position. We hoped we could intercept them before time expired.
I staked out a jake decoy and told Jacob to sit in a spot where he could see the area from which we hoped the birds would approach. My first series of yelps did not get a response, so I launched into a second series. Birds behind and a little above us responded. We adjusted our setup to face their direction, and I called again. When they gobbled, I knew they were coming.
James hid in a fallen treetop and had the camera ready. He held up three fingers and whispered that three birds were coming. I saw the birds about the same time and told Jacob to look over Mr. McCurter's head.
"Oh my gosh, I see them!" he whispered.
"Don't shoot until I tell you to," I commanded. I helped him move the gun barrel to a point past the end of the treetop, well away from our cameraman and host. "They have to clear the treetop by at least that much before you can shoot," I told Jacob.
As we waited, I reminded him to aim at the red stuff on the bird's neck and to slowly squeeze the trigger when the time came.
The birds hung up near the treetop for a few moments while they looked at the jake decoy. Then they started forward. I told Jake to pick out a bird and click his safety off.
I told him to wait. The bird was getting ready to strut, and I really wanted Jacob to see it. He puffed into a strut right in front of Jake's gun barrel,
"OK, Jake, shoot him," I said. I think I may have gotten the "shoo" part out when his shotgun barked. At 12 yards lay Jake's first turkey. I pulled Jake's face mask down, took his shotgun and clicked the safety back on. I congratulated him and yelled, "Go get your bird!"
Jake stood up, took three steps and fell to his knees.
"My legs won't work!" Jake said. In a few moments he'd recovered from his excitement enough to go pick up his first turkey.
April 13 dawned calm, crisp and cold. The frost on our boots from walking in the grass looked like white powder in the dim light. We found a good spot and staked out our small flock of decoys. We were sitting in the edge of a field about 200 yards from where the birds were roosted.
I was giving Ben some last-minute coaching when a turkey ended all talk with a thunderous gobble from the edge of the woods.
I sent out a few tree yelps. An old hen answered with a raspy assembly call while she was still sitting in the tree. The gobbler went berserk with another loud gobble. I called again and so did the hen, and the gobbler responded even more lustily. While this was going on, we also saw three gobblers sitting in the trees walking up and down the limbs, gobbling and strutting. Ben sat silently, transfixed by the greatest show on Earth.
One gobbler pitched out of the tree directly to the hen. Another hen pitched into the air. She landed and walked over to our hen decoys. I thought the other toms might fly to her and the decoys, but they left the area heading in about the same direction as the other tom. We waited and let things quiet down a bit.
A second group of turkeys farther up the ridge had gotten fired up, so we moved to get between the two ROSSgroups of birds. I talked back and forth with a gobbler from the first bunch of birds for a few minutes, but he wouldn't come any closer. However, the birds behind us became more interested. One gobbled at every third or fourth series of yelps. He was coming.
"Get ready, Ben," I said. "That bird could show up anywhere."
I called, and the bird gobbled about 60 or 70 yards to our left and a little behind us. I repositioned Ben quickly and then called again, but got no response. Then I heard loud drumming coming from the direction where I last heard the bird.
Ben got his gun ready. I put its fore stock on my knee to help support it. The bird strutted and drummed for 15 minutes while advancing in baby steps.
Finally the bird was close enough. He pulled in his feathers and looked around for the hen he knew would be there, so I yelped softly to him.
Ben said, "I have a good shot now."
"Let him have it!"
Ben's shotgun roared, and he had his first turkey, a huge, thick-bearded old tom.
That weekend marked an important point in my life as a turkey hunter. Not only could I guide kids, but I could watch them grow. I think I got more out of the National Wild Turkey Federation's Jakes Program than Jacob and Ben. It gave me a chance to pass on my hunting heritage.