by Bryson Backman
River Bluff High School
There is just something special about a cool, early spring morning. Maybe it’s the feeling of a fresh start, as the last vestiges of winter disappear and the oaks grow bright green leaves where they were bare just a few weeks before. Maybe it has to do with the approaching summer and the scorching hot weather with the good times that are soon to come. But mostly I think it is the hope that a big gobbler walks into my sights on youth day.
My father and I have never been big turkey hunters, and I have never harvested one before. During deer season and dove season, we are out hunting almost every Saturday and on holidays. Deer and doves are our specialty, and we both usually have lots of success with them. However, the turkey remains to be elusive and free outside of our smoker. We only go turkey hunting one day out of the year, on youth day. It isn’t a written rule, but we just don’t have the time or energy to do it all over again. But this youth day had to be different, I could feel it in my bones as I woke up before dawn and loaded my Benelli and turkey vest into the truck. We had the perfect spot picked out at our hunting club near Winnsboro. It was the exact same spot where I had missed a turkey last year. On the ride to the club, that incident was still fresh on my mind, the disappointment and frustration that came with a missed opportunity as well as the embarrassment of a sub-par shot. I can still remember Dad reassuring me and comforting me after that bad day. “The gun had that camo sock on it, that’s what messed you up. I should have let you use a different gun.” All of this went through my head as we cruised on the interstate in the predawn darkness. I tried to force it from my mind, knowing that I had a much better chance this year.
I had just got my learners permit two months before, and I usually would have insisted on driving. However, I was tired and I wanted to sleep and clear my head before stepping onto the field. I closed my eyes and tried to get some rest, but it was hard to do with the high expectations I had. That was a mistake. I hate to sound like an underachiever, but you should walk into a hunting situation with sky-high expectations. The majority of the time you will walk away disappointed and mad. But nonetheless, my optimistic side kept saying, You’re gonna get that big one today! At some point while I was thinking, I fell asleep and got a little bit of fitful rest.
Finally, we made it to the club. Dad got out to sign us into the logbook, and pretty soon we were off to our supposed honey-hole. The short ride to our parking spot went by quick, as it always does. I put away all my thoughts as I silently hopped out of the front seat. We both worked quickly in the dark, being as quiet as possible while we got our gear together. Within a minute or two, we were walking together in the black morning. Before I knew it, I was sitting under the exact same tree I missed a turkey at last year while Dad set up the decoys. They were simple and old, just a hen and a tom that could easily be folded and put in the back of his vest. Pretty soon, he was sitting beside me as the first touch of blue hit the eastern sky. Dad asked me how the decoys looked, and after a slight adjustment, we were ready to bag a gobbler.
After we had settled in and waited for a little more light, he hit his mouth call a few times. As soon as the sound faded, we heard a gobbler making thunder not too far away. As soon as I heard that familiar sound, my heart started to race as I tried to keep cool and still. Dad kept calling, and the bird started inching closer to us with each response to the mouth call. I could feel the adrenaline running through me as I anticipated him walking into our corner of the field. Every time he called back, he sounded like he was right inside of the treeline at the extent of my shooting range. But still, the wary old turkey never peeked his ugly yet strangely beautiful head out of the brush. The anxiety filled minutes just kept grinding on as this elusive turkey danced in the trees right out of our view.
After this had gone on for a while, we heard something in the distance. Suddenly, another
gobbler put his call in the sky somewhere behind the turkey we were already focused on. As
soon as we heard this, Dad whispered to me the obvious, “There’s more than one!” This caused a new wave of excitement that hit both of us. It all seemed like it was in our favor. As my dad kept trying to call them into the decoys, they seemed to get closer, then just as it seemed like they might pop out for a shot the sound stopped advancing on us. All of a sudden, we heard a hen start yelping in front of us and behind where we thought the turkeys might be. Now, the turkeys were torn. They could have come to the calls coming from us, or they could go to the real hen calling from their other side, deeper in the woods. Maybe gobblers can detect the difference between a real hen and a fake one when they hear them both at the same time, or maybe they had a bad gut feeling about going in the field where I was. Either way, they gradually started inching away from us toward the real hen that was calling. As soon as that happened, my heart sunk.
As time went by, the turkeys drifted away in the distance until there was no sound in the woods,
save for a few bird chirps and the like. Pretty soon, we started talking about what had just
happened. Dad shared his plan for the rest of the hunt. He thought that after the gobblers and
hens bred, the gobblers would then come out to our field and strut. I didn’t know if that was true, but I decided I was okay with sitting in the same spot for another half an hour if it meant a turkey on the tailgate by the end of the hunt. As we sat under the same tree with our ears open, I mulled over the supposed reasons why I didn’t kill or even see one of the gobblers we heard so close. As I thought about the shortcomings of the hunt so far, I was ever reminded of the lack of activity by the silence in the gray spring morning.
We sat for half an hour until we decided to hang it up. That’s when it really sunk in. We had failed again, just like last year. I was pretty down on myself. But then I remembered something. Harvesting the animal is only a small part of a successful hunt. Hearing the bird call out at your own sounds and just getting to experience the beautiful South Carolina morning with your father is enough to get me going back to the same spot every year. And that goes for any kind of hunt, not just turkeys. While I am still disappointed that I didn’t bag the king of the woods, I am almost glad I got an important reminder that day. That reminder is the fact that it is not just the killing of an animal that makes a good hunt, it is the ability to spend time in the woods temporarily away from the hustle of modern society. I have always known this, but sometimes I forget whenever I do not succeed. Of course, I still love the actual harvest of the animal, but it is crucial for every hunter to sit back and simply enjoy the scenery and even enjoy the fruitless pursuit of game. That is one of the best lessons you could ever hope to walk away from a hunt with.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed on South Carolina Wild are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect official policies, positions, or endorsements of activity or products by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.