Don’t Shoot Someone’s First Turkey with Outdoor Writer John E. Phillips
Editor’s Note: Everyone strives to be the best he or she can be as a turkey hunter. We all want to be good woodsmen, callers and sportsmen and outsmart longbearded gobblers. But once you get to the point when you know you can take a gobbler, or you’ve taken quite a few gobblers, what’s next? What’s the highest-of-highs that a turkey hunter can attain, and how do you get there once you’ve accomplished all the above? Taking a hunter to his or her first turkey is exciting and fulfilling.
One of the mysteries of turkey-hunting life is when you finally learn who you are as a turkey hunter. On one day, I knew there had to be divine intervention for me not to squeeze the trigger on a longbearded gobbler that was 20 yards or less from me in a clearing. My bead was on his wattles; my safety was off; and my finger was on the trigger. That was when I prayed the prayer that only few turkey hunters understand. “Please, God, don’t let me pull the trigger.” My son-in-law, Joe Hudson, and I had planned this trip to the Lakes of Leavellwood near West Greene, Alabama for more than a year. I’d taken Joe on several turkey-hunting trips, but I had failed to get a bird in close enough for him to take. Although Joe was a good woodsman and hunter, he’d never bagged a gobbler. As his father-in-law, I felt a moral obligation to solve this problem for him. Joe was hunting with Chip Hughes, a guide then at Leavellwood, and me. We had located a gobbler in a pine plantation about 100-yards away. Joe and Chip had created an impromptu natural blind, and they were invisible in their Mossy Oak camouflage. All the gobbler had to do was walk down the road, Joe could squeeze the trigger,and we would have solved Joe’s problem.
I realized that two people in a turkey blind were often one too many. So, I went across the dirt road and set-up in a patch of woods that just had been thinned. Fallen trees, brush and debris were out in front of me, and I knew there was no way that turkey ever would come through that thick stuff. So, I sat down by a big oak tree where I could see the blind and the road without the turkey seeing me when he came up the road. Every time Chip would call, the turkey would answer. There was no doubt that the longbeard was coming, and I was really getting excited for Joe. Chip quit calling when the turkey was about 60-yards away, and the bird went silent. Then in the quiet hushed woods, I heard a turkey drumming off to my left. Instinctively, I slid around the tree, because I knew the turkey couldn’t see me through that brush. I got my gun on my knee and my cheek on the stock, pushed the safety off and waited for the gobbler to step out in front of me. In less than five heartbeats, that tom had come through that thick brush, stepped into an opening and stood right in front of me - as proud and as tall as any turkey I ever had seen. The turkey was looking toward the road where Joe and Chip were set-up.
Every muscle in my body was screaming,“Shoot.” I knew that within a second, if I didn’t fight with myself and win, I would squeeze the trigger, and Joe would miss the opportunity to take the gobbler. Joe had only one possible way to have a chance to take this gobbler. So, I closed my eyes and prayed, “God, please don’t let me shoot this turkey.” I kept my eyes closed until I heard the drumming moving away from me. I still realized there was a very-good chance that I would shoot the turkey. So, I only opened one eye and peeped between my eyelids to make sure I couldn’t see the gobbler. Reassured that the gobbler was out of sight, I opened my left eye all the way and saw the bird walking toward the road. If the gobbler stayed on the course he was on, I knew he should be where Joe could get a shot in about 10-more steps. I opened my other eye, used my thumb and index finger to put the safety back on my gun and watched as that gobbler stepped out into the road. Next I heard a sharp cluck, and the gobbler came to full attention. I heard the gun report, saw the turkey flop and watched Joe run to his bird. I was at the bird in less than 10 seconds, and we all were grinning and excited.
After the high fives and bear hugs, blood above Joe’s eyelid begin to run down the side of his nose, and I asked, “Joe, you got a little close to that scope didn’t you?” “What do you mean?”Joe said. He was so excited he hadn’t realized he had gotten his eye too close to the scope. When the gun reported, the recoil allowed the scope to tattoo Joe’s eyelid with a nice little gash. “You’re bleeding, but it’s not bad,” I told Joe. “You did a great job taking that turkey.” In that moment, I realized the highest-of-highs of turkey hunting are watching a friend, a family member or even a person you barely know bag his or her first gobbler and realizing that the memory made has been far more important than any gobbler you’ve bagged in the past or any gobbler you may harvest in the future. For me and for many others who pulls the trigger on a gobbler isn’t nearly as important as the memory that’s made. I remember Joe’s turkey and all the events leading up to Joe harvesting the bird much more than any turkey I've ever taken.
Tomorrow: Find the Turkey Before You Hunt Him