By Darren Schumacher
-- My 11-year-old son, Alex, had been talking about turkey hunting for several years. He would buy calls, watch videos, and read websites on turkey hunting, and then ask when he could try his luck on a Michigan tom.
Unfortunately, I am not an experienced or even a novice turkey hunter. My turkey hunting resume consisted of several very poor showings, including one or two with Alex sitting in the blind with me, and absolutely no shots at a mature tom or even an actual bird. Alex's enthusiasm, however, was stoked by the sight of strutting toms in the distance, and he kept urging me not to give up.
Given this sorry state of affairs, I talked with Craig, a friend at work. Craig is an experienced deer and turkey hunter, and I figured that he would be the best possible source of advice. Craig was indeed very helpful, and he made a very generous offer. Alex and I could hunt the spring turkey season on his property, which has a good population of birds due to its surrounding woods and open bean field. I gratefully accepted and started planning our time in the field.
Well, I would like to say that everything went smoothly. Alex was particularly excited when Craig bagged a 25-pound tom with a 10-inch beard on opening morning. To actually see success really got my son's blood boiling. All he could talk about was turkey hunting and how we would get our bird. Unfortunately, my inexperience continued to hamper us.
Over the course of the next week, birds busted us walking in one morning, and another wiley tom spotted us looking out the window of our blind. Finally, after nearly two weeks, two nice toms came within 45 yards. Alex and I excitedly watched them from our blind, and we were sure that we were finally going to get a shot. Unfortunately, the birds got no closer, and, to be honest, I was upset that I hadn't been able to provide Alex with a chance. I was really proud of him when he put his arms around me, gave me a big hug, and thanked me for the great day. Alex had remembered that the point was not the kill, but the time together.
What I had failed to really notice was that we were getting better and better. Birds were no longer spotting us entering our hunting areas, and they even started to come closer to our hideouts without getting nervous. Maybe our luck was about to change.
Saturday afternoon, the last day of our season, was windy and wet. To be honest, I didn't think we had any chance of seeing a lot of birds, but Alex wanted to go so badly that I couldn't refuse. We drove out to Craig's place well before the time that the turkeys usually passed by "The Condo" - an elevated stand that Craig has on the edge of the bean field.
I liked the stand because it has real walls and windows that can be closed to keep the wind off of us. Plus, it is on stilts, which keeps it dry and allows for a good field of view. Also, it kept Alex and I together, a requirement under Michigan law, because of his age.
The wind was pretty stiff, so we shut the windows on the west side, telling ourselves that we would check that way every now and then. I took the east and south windows, and Alex had the north window. We settled in, talking quietly, as the wind would erase our voices from the outside world. A couple of hours went by, and I had settled into a routine. Check south, check east, read a few minutes, or watch a coyote I had spotted in the distance through my binoculars. Repeat.
Out of the blue, Alex suddenly said, "Dad, I see a turkey." Naturally, I asked him how far, and he answered, "Right there!" Since that was a little vague, I handed him the rangefinder. Alex dutifully checked the range and reported, "Tom, 18 yards. What should I do?"
He now had my full attention.
In all of our previous hunts, Alex and I had waited for hours as we watched birds work toward us. This bird must have hugged the treeline to the west and worked right up on us, attracted by the decoy. Additionally, it seemed that the sudden appearance of this bird right next to our decoy had caused Alex to develop a sudden case of turkey fever.
Trying to be calm, I suggested, "Shoot him."
Alex started to shake. "Now?" was all he could muster.
"Yes, now," I added.
"Oops" he said, "he's walking away. Maybe he'll come back."
I looked out the window. There was, indeed, a nice, big tom walking away along the treeline to the east. Still within range! I lifted my gun and put the bead on the bird's head, all the while telling Alex to shoot. I really wanted Alex to get the bird, but there was no way he was getting outside of 40 yards on us without my trying a shot. I must have told Alex to shoot two or three more time before he got the gun up and onto the bird. The tom did Alex a favor and turned sideways, like it was going to go into the woods. Finally, I heard him fire. The tom started to fall forward right away, and I finished the job with a second shot. Bird down!
The first thing I did was eject my remaining shells, as my hands were shaking so badly that I couldn't trust myself to hold onto the gun. I then set my gun down and took the camo gun from Alex, who was staring out the window at the bird, covering it in case it got up again. A quick walk from the blind, and we had our bird, which weighed 24 1/2 pounds and sported a 10-inch beard!
It was one of the best father-son moments that you could imagine, especially because of the trials and tribulations through which we had struggled with. I carried the guns, and Alex proudly carried his bird back through the field to Craig's place for inspection. Watching him struggle with that heavy bird while he tried so hard to be manly carrying it is a sight that I won't soon forget.
Alex and I are looking into guided hunts for turkey next year. He's thinking Grand Slam!
Battle Creek, Michigan
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