I took my son, William, out for the Wisconsin youth turkey hunt Saturday morning. A scouting trip to the farm near Ellsworth where we had permission to hunt revealed a good number of birds using the property.
I set up a blind near the center of the property and was confident we would have action on Saturday morning. In fact, it didn’t take long. We crawled into the blind about an hour before sunrise and within about 10 minutes, we heard the first gobble of the day. There were many more to follow.
Often, turkeys will gobble on the roost for 20 to 30 minutes before flying down. Not this time. These eager toms flew down quickly and continued gobbling on the ground. I made some hen yelps and they answered and started coming our way. But, they stopped about 75 yards away. Later, I found out why – there was a gate and barbed wire fence at the far end of the small clearing where we were set up. Sometimes, those obstacles will cause birds to stop and hang up.
That’s what happened here. The toms kept gobbling, then slowly started moving away. There were other birds gobbling, but all of them were on the opposite side of the fence.
A little while later, a bird gobbled up the hill from us and I thought we were in business. He answered my calls right away, but did not come down to us. Instead, he turned and went up the hill and into a field, where he continued to gobble.
Thus, I turned my attention back toward the other birds to the east. Mysteriously, the six or eight birds that had been gobbling all shut up at once. I wondered if a coyote or other predator had moved in and spooked them. But, a few minutes later, I heard a hen start yelping. I yelped back, and we talked to each other for a while, then she shut up, too.
A few minutes later, as I scanned through the brush behind the blind, I saw a turkey walking in the clearing toward us. I couldn’t tell if it was a hen or a tom, then I lost it in the brush.
I figured it might walk around the brush and reappear near our blind. But, I didn’t know if it would swing around to the north of the stand of brush or to the south. So, I kept scanning both ways.
Finally, it appeared to the south, which was to our left. It started clucking, and then walked behind a log. A second hen soon followed and they both walked behind the log, which I had identified with my rangefinder to be 30 yards from the blind.
At long last, a tom appeared, walking behind the log in full strut. Then, another appeared, and, eventually, four birds came strutting behind the log. At that point, I did some soft calls to try and bring all of the birds to our set of two decoys, which were placed about 10 yards directly in front of the blind.
The hens did not turn, but these four toms eventually did. I opened a window on the left and had William kneel and poke his gun barrel out the window. While all of this was going on, another tom gobbled up the hill to our right and started moving toward us.
We were in the middle of all the action. But, these four young toms, called jakes, were already in gun range to our left, so I decided to ignore the other tom to the right. The four birds kept coming, and I could see they were well in front of the log, probably about 25 yards or so.
One of them took the lead and separated himself from the other three. Then, he stopped and ran his head up to look our way.
The time is now
This was the moment! I turned to William and told him to shoot. Problem was, he wasn’t ready, but tried to line up the shot quickly because I urged him on. Finally, he took a shot, and all four birds jumped. But, none of them dropped. So, I told him to shoot again, which he did. Again, the birds jumped, but none went down.
Two walked away from us, but two more kept walking from left to right. They veered away from us, but were still in range and still visible, though they now were in some brush. I instructed William to shoot again, after making sure another shell was in the chamber.
But, he did not pull the trigger a third time. The birds were moving and bobbing and they never gave him a clear shot that he felt comfortable taking.
Sad way to end
Thus, the agony began, both for him and for me. I realized I had rushed him to take the shot when he wasn’t ready. Had we just waited, the birds probably would have come closer and he likely would have had an easy shot. Plus, the other tom up the hill may have come in as well.
Sometimes, you have to react quickly when you are hunting because an animal that offers a shot may quickly change its course and move away without presenting another opportunity. That happened to me several times earlier in my hunting career, so I trained myself to react quickly.
But, William hasn’t had that kind of training. He just wasn’t ready to kneel down and shoot through a small window. Thus, I failed him, in much the same way that the Vikings coaches blew it in the NFC championship game two years ago against New Orleans when they sent 12 men on the field and got penalized.
Let me tell you, it’s a bad feeling. The look of disappointment on William’s face was not fun to see. We hunted for a little while longer, then went home. Yesterday was open for hunting, but it was Easter and we had plans for the day. So, we did not get back out.
It’s not over yet
The good news is, William’s tag is also good for Season D, which is May 2-8. I hope to take him out again for another try. I also will be hunting the same season, but my plan is to go out during the week and try to fill my two tags, then bring him out on the weekend.
I’m hoping things will be different next time. William is still trying for his first bird, and he’s learning how tough this sport can be. The truth is, every hunter misses at some point. My brother, Paul, missed a shot at 25 yards last year, and I missed twice in 2009. Fortunately, on one of those misses, I was able to take a second shot and bring down the bird.
Here’s hoping – and praying – William will get another chance at a tom this spring.