A single yelp cut across the field as I sat, anxiously waiting. I was alone on the edge of a tree line, trying to visualize the success of my first solo turkey hunt.
Late to the game, it wasn’t until I neared my 30s that I decided to explore the world of hunting. My cousin welcomed me to join his family for a spring turkey outing. All it took was that one hunt to completely captivate me.
Intrigued by the ability to speak an animal’s language, I focused on learning to track, call, and hunt on my own. To say it was easy and without frustration would be a far cry from the truth. There were many moments I wanted to throw my hands up in exasperation and admit defeat.
Picking a call seemed like a logical place to start. I chose the mouth call, or diaphragm, as my first victim. There is nothing about a mouth call that feels natural. I couldn’t get the piece to stay at the roof of my mouth. I cut the call down, trying to make a better fit. Unfortunately, I cut the edges too short, rendering the call completely useless. Back to the store I went, avoiding eye contact with my usual sales attendant.
After intently watching “how to” videos from experienced hunters, I thought I was ready to give it a try. The sound that came out was atrocious and not from this world. I promptly removed the mouthpiece and stared at it with disgust. Surely it was this call and not my lack of ability. I tried again. The same terrifying noise came out and I set the mouthpiece aside, deciding to work on my box call instead.
The land I was hunting was an area I had never been before. Knowing I needed to find the roost, I snuck down on early mornings with owl calls trying to elicit a shock gobble. When this failed, I walked the property and fortunately stumbled upon tracks. I followed them, taking note of different areas to set up camp.
I lost count how many times I spent in those woods trying for a successful hunt. But every time I went home empty handed, I took a different lesson with me. I learned where the birds weren’t. I learned that hunting in the cold, drizzling rain is miserable without a blind. More importantly, I learned how inspiring it is to be out in the woods on your own.
On my next outing, I found a hidden field at the edge of the woods and set up my two lonely decoys. I picked an area nearby that appeared to be a good place to settle down. Unable to shake my nervous excitement, I re-positioned and changed locations several times.
After finally committing myself to a spot, I reached for my mouth call, but came up empty-handed. I knew I had packed it and remembered digging it out earlier. I looked over to where I previously sat and there it lay, squished down in the mud with my boot print decorating it perfectly. Terrific. There was no way I was putting that back in my mouth. Fortunately, my box call was tucked away just for this occasion.
I took a deep breath, let out a series of yelps then sat back. Shortly after, I saw a head pop up over the tall grass across the field. I sat, hoping and praying he would come in. As he came near, I saw he was accompanied by two younger males. Hesitant and anxious, they refused to close the gap to my decoy. The distance wasn’t right and I didn’t feel confident in my shot. They circled, not wanting to come closer and finally departed.
I was heartbroken. I got up and stretched, feeling defeated. Glancing at my watch, I decided to give it another hour. I let out one loud yelp and waited.
He slipped in like a ghost; I never heard him coming. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a vivid flash of red. My heart leapt into my throat and I was shaking from adrenaline. I couldn’t believe my luck, he was less than ten yards from me. Fully fanned out, locked in on my Jake, I quietly and slowly shouldered my shotgun. I lined up the shot, took a deep, shaky breath and pulled the trigger. Nothing. Wait, nothing?! The gun was loaded, the safety was off, where was my shot?
I slid the chamber open, verified nothing was awry, and prepared the shot again. The chamber loudly slammed closed as I held my breath to see how he would react. The tom nervously glanced in my direction, took a few steps back, then resumed his dance with my decoy. I lined up my shot again. I paused with nervous anticipation. I positioned my finger on the trigger. And then I squeezed.
He dropped as my ears rang with the satisfaction of my first successful solo hunt. I glanced over at him as I was filled with conflicting emotions. He was beautiful, a large tom that any hunter would be thrilled to take, but I also experienced a sadness for the loss of his life.
It was time to gather my things and make the long trek back to the car. As I walked, I felt a longing for another person to celebrate my success with. As I paused to contemplate this, I realized with a grin on my face and a twenty-four-pound tom slung over my shoulder, this was my moment.
*Photo by Michael Furtman