By Shawn Stafford
At 40 years old, I’m fortunate to have hunted across the US and to provide quality, wild meat to my family.
Even with that said, I had never killed a wild turkey. I will admit that it is mainly due to the fact that, growing up, there was no turkey season where I lived, so it was not something I was exposed to. Therefore, I never paid much attention to it.
Not being exposed to turkey hunting at a young age definitely played a part in being late to join the party. This is a prime example of the benefits and need to introduce kids to hunting experiences at a young age.
However, as I continued to expand my participation in the hunting realm, I couldn’t ignore the continued growth and buzz around turkey hunting. I was meeting people that, rather than spending their vacation in the fall chasing deer, were doing multi-state tours chasing toms in the spring. There had to be something special about it.
I recently relocated from Texas to Indiana and am being faced with some lofty goals at work. Moving my family and worldly belongings 1,200 miles cross country, acclimating to a new area and working long hours caused high-stress levels. It was time for a break.
While fishing is my general go-to spring activity, I felt I needed a little more of a chance to recharge. I am very blessed to have an uncle who owns some property in Michigan and another uncle who loves calling in turkeys. Whether it be fate or some other godly plan, I got offered the chance to head north and bag my first bird.
After work on the Friday before Mother’s day, I grabbed my two youngest kids and headed for my in-laws’ house. We got in later than expected, and after getting everyone settled in, I headed for bed.
Much to my surprise, I had a hard time falling asleep due to the anticipation of the morning. The last time I looked at the clock was 12:30 a.m., and my ride showed up at 4:44 a.m. Regardless I was excited and ready as we parked the truck and headed into the darkness.
Being so lucky and having good family members, the blind was set up and the birds were scouted.
The report had them showing up right at first light in the void farm field. They expected birds to approach from a dirt bridge over a small creek to the east or possibly from the woodlot to the west.
Just as we settled in and the first notes from the box call sounded, mother nature informed me that I needed to exit the blind. It was only minutes before prime time, but it didn’t matter.
As I re-entered the blind, gobbles started sounding off behind us. The gobbles continued growing closer, and the excitement continued to mount.
Something I had eaten the previous day or perhaps the anxiety of the new experience was doing a number on my innards. I once again had to exit the blind. This time, the look on my uncle’s face was that of “Are you kidding me?”
It didn’t matter. Gobbles were sounding off all around, and I couldn’t get back in the blind fast enough. Shortly after returning, a light-colored head was spotted bobbing just on the backside of a slight rise in the field.
As the hen passed out of sight, another quickly followed. This one stuck around for a minute, and then at the creek crossing, a large, black blob appeared.
The full-strutting gobbler started sounding off at the hen and flaunting his bouquet of feathers in search of love. He would not leave the inside corner of the field until a few hen clucks got the attention of his date, and she started heading for the decoys.
After what probably only took a few minutes but seemed like an eternity, he finally followed her lead and began slowly making his way towards our fencerow location. Expecting more of a frontal shot from the blind, my uncle and I finally maneuvered the gun out the window directly to my left.
He didn’t quite come fully into the decoys and hung back a bit, but we decided he was within killing range. And just like that, the gun went off.
Expecting the turkey to drop in a pile of flapping feathers, I was shocked to see it dart off back into the direction he came from, eventually taking flight into the trees.
I had, just the day before, a conversation with a co-worker about not missing. We joked about how you could possibly miss a stationary turkey with a shotgun. Well, I was currently eating crow rather than turkey.
Exiting the blind, we followed up on the shot looking for feathers and blood. Neither were present.
As we approached the wood line, the tom flew down from his temporary perch and scurried into the deep woods to live another day.
Defeated and following another bout with mother nature’s call, uncle Mike reassured me more would come.
He was right that birds were everywhere in this location, and gobbles started ringing out again. As I sat there cursing myself and trying to understand how I could miss, three dark forms appeared across the field.
Through binoculars, they appeared to be three jakes. A few notes from the push-button call got their attention, and they zoned in on the two decoys.
Disappearing momentarily behind a fold in the field, unlike the cautious gobbler, the three immature birds came in on a string. Wanting not to blow this, I had the barrel out of the window ahead of time and started working on breathing and focusing.
The trio bunched up with their faux companions, and I carefully waited for one to clear himself from the others. Finally, he stepped to the right, and I fired.
I was reliving a nightmare that had only occurred moments before. The bird did not fall and, to my absolute horror, started to run. Fortunately for me, their youth and inexperience led the three to remain well within range, trying to sort out what had just happened.
The target bird cleared the others to the left, and this time I bore down on the barrel determined not to blow this gift I was given. This time, the bird dropped practically stone dead — what a feeling of relief and an influx of emotion.
I didn’t even run out of the blind. Believe it or not, this had been a mentally taxing roller coast, and I just sat there.
The fear of disappointing my uncle finally left, and a huge burden seemed to be gone. The overriding desire to fill my tag was gone; I was free to enjoy the moment in all its glory. I sat back and poured a cup of coffee from my thermos and thanked Mike.
Finally, after composing myself and leaving the blind, I headed for my trophy.
I touched the soft feathers and thanked the animal for the future nourishment he would be providing.
I stared at the blue sky and said a little prayer before heading to the blind to hug and show my appreciation to my uncle.
I spent the rest of the morning prepping the animal for the table and freezer. I extended my tradition of eating the heart and liver from deer, elk, duck and goose to turkey. It did not disappoint.
I also went ahead and fried up a couple of strips from the breast so I could find out for myself what the texture and taste of wild turkey were.
I’d gotten mixed reviews of eating wild turkey, with most of them being negative. My vote is towards the delicious side. The pieces were tender and extremely tasty.
I rounded out the day by pinning the fan and beard to a piece of cardboard in anticipation of making a nice mount for the wall to pay homage to this fine quarry.
The last thing I’ll mention is to make sure you are prepared.
While I thought shooting and killing a turkey (once they were located and called in) would be only a formality in the process, I was absolutely wrong—as is evidenced by my excessive shooting.
Make sure you know where your gun patterns and that you actually aim your scattergun. With proper chokes, your pattern will be quite tight and dense.
I realized this when cleaning the bird as there were no perforations from BB’s anywhere in the breast or thighs and legs. The shot was all centered on the head and neck, where I took care to aim for when I fired the last shot.
I may not spend all my vacation days chasing turkeys in the spring, but I will absolutely be giving it another go next year!