By Ross E. Hawkins
-- To my surprise, the rain that was falling when I retired for the night had ceased when the alarm clock awoke me early on the morning of April 1, 2006. The plan for the morning was to accompany my son Gabriel, who had just celebrated his 14th birthday a month earlier, on a quest to harvest his first wild turkey during Virginia's special youth hunt for spring gobblers. The weather the previous two years for this special one-day hunt had been, in a word, miserable, and I feared that would be the case again.
We loaded our hunting gear into my pickup truck and headed toward a rugged section of the Jefferson National Forest near the Blowing Rock community in Dickenson County, which is only a short distance from our home. I knew from pre-season scouting that the ridges along Cumberland Pine Mountain held several birds, and I was confident that we would hear gobblers at daybreak if the weather would cooperate. Due to the fact that we were hunting on public land and its use is basically on a "first come, first served" basis, we arrived at our intended destination well before dawn.
We began walking down a woodland trail along the top of a ridge, which led to a prime listening post. From there, we could hear any gobbling if the birds had roosted where I anticipated they would. We had only ventured a short distance from where I parked the truck when I decided, as a precaution, to hoot like an owl just in case there was a gobbler roosted nearby. My hoot was met with a thunderous gobble from a bird near the head of a hollow approximately 50 yards from the ridge we were standing on! Fearing that we had already approached the tom too closely, we crouched down and retreated to a massive oak tree nearby to set up.
After pulling on our gloves and face masks, I whispered to Gabriel to be patient because I knew it would be a while before the old monarch would even think about leaving the roost. We sat there stone-still for several minutes, listening to the bird gobble on its own. Then I gave only a couple of soft calls with my mouth call. Eventually, the time arrived for the turkey to leave the roost and that is when the tom made what proved to be a fatal decision. Rather than sailing away from us, as it seems I have had gobblers do for some unknown reason in my own hunting experiences, the bird pitched off the limb and landed about 25 yards in front of us on top of the ridge we were sitting on and immediately began strutting. The turkey was right where we wanted it to be!
I was looking over Gabriel's right shoulder and whispered instructions into his ear to go ahead and take the bird. He aimed his Remington 870 for what seemed to me like an eternity but was actually only seconds. When the gun roared, the turkey ran a short distance off the side of the ridge before turning and coming back onto the ridge. Then it began to walk away from our position. I encouraged Gabriel to work the action of his gun and fire again, but the turkey was out of his sight before he could accomplish this.
We sat there for a while, assuming that the shot had missed its mark but hoping that maybe we could call the turkey back to us. Later, we heard noise in the leaves in the direction the turkey had traveled, which I originally attributed to being made by deer that had been spooked. I could sense my son's disappointment but tried to keep his spirits up by telling him we would find another turkey to hunt. As we got up from our location, I told Gabriel that the noise we heard in the leaves could have been the turkey and that we should make an effort to search for it before moving on.
After a brief search, we found the big gobbler lying roughly 80 yards from where it was standing when Gabriel pulled the trigger. My son had gone from rock bottom to the top of the world in a matter of minutes! I took photos of Gabriel with his prize while still in the woods. Once we got home, the measurements revealed that the trophy weighed 20 pounds and had a 9 1/2-inch beard!
Turkey hunting is a passion of mine and something that my son also enjoys, which allows us to spend quality time together. Having lost my father to a coal mining accident at an early age, I have often prayed that God would allow me to live long enough to witness my son bag his first wild turkey. It was a real blessing that He not only allowed me to do so, but to play a small part in the hunt as well. This hunt will be a lifelong memory for both of us but what Gabriel does not realize is that it was so much more gratifying to me than it could ever be to him.
If you are a father, you know what I am talking about!
Ross E. Hawkins
Gabe "Solid Ninja" Hawkins