A Bird for a Bird
In April of 2010, my wife and I, along with our oldest daughter, flew across the country to Maryland to take part in the ceremony of our son Kevin becoming a Bird in the Army. What an incredible experience that was!
In March of 2011, I received a call from the Bird, telling me he was speaking at a sports medicine conference in SLC at the end of April and if things worked out, he was thinking about swinging up to Washington to spend a few days with the family. Knowing how to lure him in, I asked if he was interested in doing a little turkey hunting while here. He was on his way.
Turkey season opened on the 15th of April, but we've found that waiting a week or so allows the birds to get further into the mating season and the toms are more willing to step out in search of willing hens, or what might sound like a willing hen. Kevin is stationed in Maryland but Washington is still listed as his home state so he often hunts here.
My wife and I picked him up at the Seattle SeaTac airport shortly after 9 PM on Saturday the 30th of April and headed east over the Cascade Mountains to my sister's place just outside the little town of Cle Elum. Dave and Sharon live on nine acres, most of which is fairly steep, but wildlife is abundant. We rolled in shortly before 11 PM and had a quick bite to eat, while waiting up for my long-time hunting partner, Gale Palmer to arrive. We hit the sack around midnight knowing the night would be short.
I was awake long before that little alarm had a chance to do its rooster thing. I quietly snuck out of the bedroom, trying not to wake my sleeping wife. Kevin was up and getting ready when I stepped out the door. I shook Gale on my way by and went to start the coffee. As the java was brewing, we slipped into our camo gear and put our shotguns into the car. I had prepared some egg McMuffins earlier and all I had to do was pop them into the micro for a couple of minutes. We left in plenty of time to drive the twenty minutes to our hunting area and get set up well before daylight. The McMuffins were devoured on the ride over.
We were going to hunt some land owned by a couple I had met several years before. They lived on 26 acres of the most pristine land you can imagine. Mike and Judy built a spectacular log home that overlooks the Cle Elum valley and the snow covered Stewart Mountains. It's a piece of heaven here on earth. Top that beauty with a significant deer and elk population and a plethora of Merriam turkeys, and you have the recipe for an abundant life. Mike is an avid hunter but hasn't taken up turkey hunting yet, which surprises me, as neither of them is real fond of the mess left by all those big birds. When I heard about all the turkeys, I asked if I could be of service in reducing the population. I've been hunting their place for the past 4 or 5 years with fairly good success. Just two years ago, my 16 year old granddaughter took the largest Merriam ever killed by a woman in the state of Washington, so we knew there were some big turkeys in the area. (that’s another story)
We drove in quietly and slipped out of the car. As we were getting our gear put together and deciding where to set up, we heard several gobbles in the distance, but nothing as close as I'd have liked. In the pre-dawn darkness, I led Gale over a ridge and set him up overlooking a small draw, hoping some birds might fly down in front of him or stroll by on their way to breakfast. I hurried back to snag Kevin and sneak off in another direction.
Kevin hunted turkeys a few times while stationed in Colorado, but without any luck. He has never called one in or gotten a shot. I was going to act as guide and caller so I didn't bother carrying a shotgun. It was my goal to help him get his first turkey. We hiked up a small hill and set our decoy out in an open area, hoping to lure a love-sick tom into range. We plopped our butts down in front of two trees about three feet apart and settled in. I waited a while for things to calm down and gave a yelp with my mouth call. It was still dark and I hoped to locate a tom sitting on the roost. My call was instantly met with a loud gobble about a hundred and fifty yards behind us on private property. Hot dog!
I called periodically over the next half hour just to let that old boy know we were still around and available. It had been light a long time before the sound of his gobbles came from a new location. It was obvious he had flown down and was not coming our way. I picked up the intensity of calling and waited. Everything was silent..... where did he go? The only sounds we heard were the periodic gobbling way off in the distance below us and a few squirrels and birds scrounging for a bite to eat.
I knew that if we were persistent and held our ground, that sooner or later a bird would come our way. Little did I know just how quickly that would happen. Kevin, being left handed, was sitting on my right with the gun barrel pointed directly away from me and our decoy was about thirty yards straight out in front. I worked my trusty box call and our hearts did a flip-flop when a gobble ripped the silence directly behind us. This bird was close and closing fast.
I carefully glanced behind and saw a white and blue head bobbing its way through the woods towards us. I didn't dare move or say a word. He kept coming and would soon walk past on our right about 25 to 30 yards away. He stopped, went into full strut and gobbled loudly. I gently stroked the call and that sent him into a frenzy of strutting and gobbling. I whispered to Kevin that he could take him as soon as he came out of strut, but that tom had no intention of settling down. I was afraid he would just strut right out of range before Kevin could get a shot off.
I clucked softly and he raised his head..... a big mistake. Kevin fired and the shotgun did a summersault and landed in my lap, pointing the opposite direction. The turkey was down for the count but I was wondering why I was holding the gun. I asked Kevin if it really kicked that hard. I told him it was a three inch magnum but he sure should have been able to hold onto it. We walked over to admire his first turkey and take lots of pictures. He had just taken a nice tom with an eight inch beard and some fine spurs. It would make a beautiful fan mount for his wall at home.
We decided to sit for a spell and see if anything else might come in. I still had my tag and it was early. It was then that we realized what had happened. Kevin opened the over and under Yildiz 12 gauge to reload and found BOTH shells had fired simultaneously. So instead of the recoil of one three inch magnum, he got the full force of two at the same time. No wonder the gun did a summersault.
We didn't end up getting another turkey, but I really didn't care. I got to watch the bird take his first bird. We spent the next day or so trying to help Gale get a tom but it just wasn’t in the cards, but we sure had a great time trying.