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The Coolest Thing Ever

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Last turkey season we were in the thick of the newborn stage. I was lucky to get out a few times, but it was a lot more abbreviated than I’m accustomed to. After another long, albeit mild, winter riddled with daycare illnesses, I found myself dreaming of turkey season. I was manifesting calm, sunny weekends and a stretch of household health to get us through.

Come opening weekend, Grandma and Papa arrived and the weather part was just as planned, if anything, maybe too warm. We dusted off the Kelty and pitched it in a familiar piece of grasslands. However, my cozy night under the stars was quickly interrupted with a nightlong bout of vomiting in the buffaloberry bushes. I’m still not sure if it was due to our Mexican food date night in Dickinson or yet another stomach bug but seemed par for the course these days. I almost opted to stay back that morning, but I had waited too long for this.

Jackie sitting in grass hunting

Tired and nauseous, “Team Ocho,” made up of myself, Scott and good Friend, Jason, hiked the mile and change back to the trees where we knew turkeys would be roosted. They were there, they gobbled, and they headed the other direction. The morning drug on as we tried to predict where they were headed but seemingly always got it wrong and found ourselves in their dust. It was getting warm, and I needed a nap, so I recommended a move back to camp.

It only grew hotter and whatever bug I had seemed to sneak up on Scott, too. The mood was not what I had expected for a sunny opening turkey weekend. We wasted away the afternoon before deciding on a drive to try to find some other birds to roost for the morning.

Wouldn’t you know it, we stumbled into a few male birds strutting around. We parked the truck and climbed a hill to get eyes on them. Spirits lifted as we enjoyed a beautiful evening display of turkeys being turkeys and counted a dozen different males. The sun was fading, and we knew they’d roost soon, but just then we heard the dreaded sound of a pickup. It slowed to a stop and my initial thought was “now we’ll have to have a discussion on morning plans,” but that thought was quickly interrupted by the pickup door opening, a shotgun blast, and birds running.

My heart sank. Frustration that we just wasted our entire evening and were left with no plan for the morning. Disappointment that those hunter’s vision of a turkey hunt and mine were so misaligned. And bummed on never getting to find out what tomorrow morning would have been like.

Our tags were left unfilled, and a bitter taste lingered for days on a weekend I had envisioned going so much differently.

Fast-forward to the following weekend and we planned on taking turns. Scott headed west after bedtime Friday, and by the time Fisch was enjoying his usual scrambled eggs Saturday morning, we received a text that Dada had sealed the deal and would be heading home soon. As readers know by now, turkey nuggets for dinner.

Sunday was my turn and I opted to hunt my leftover unit alongside Jackie, Department marketing specialist and turkey hunting novice.

Scott with harvested turkey

I had no intentions of pulling the trigger unless I called in a double. We scouted these birds before the season and made the only move we had, get as close to them on public land as we could. We setup a strutting tom decoy with a real fan, a breeding hen and a jake.

The morning greeted us with a chorus of gobbles, sharp-tailed grouse, pheasants crowing, swans trumpeting and deer sneaking through the very buffaloberries we were hiding in. I yelped and turkeys responded. At one point I thought an entire group was heading our way but then the gobbles retreated. Later in the morning, I thought we had another one hooked as Jackie saw him last at 100 yards and he gobbled in the creek bed below us for a good half-hour before going silent again. I waited and waited, staying silent, but he never did appear.

It was growing late and as a last resort I gave the ole gobble call a try. No response, but a few minutes later Jackie noticed the tom back up on a ridge, fanned out at about 500 yards. This time, he was fanning, running, fanning, running. No gobbles, but she saw him in the same spot at 100 yards and then things once again seemed to halt. I stayed patient and quiet.

And then I heard, at a remarkably close distance, the unmistakable spitting and drumming. Without moving a muscle, I shifted my eyes to the left and at about 5 yards a strutting tom emerged. I couldn’t really warn Jackie who was about 10 yards to my right but hoped she’d see him soon enough.

She did and quickly shifted to reposition her gun and he came out of his strut but remained focused on our decoy. I shook with anxiety thinking to myself “shoot, shoot.”

Jackie and Cayla with harvested turkey

Her safety clicked off, a pause, and finally the sound I was waiting for. But I don’t know what happened, he didn’t flop. He seemed confused and began to slowly walk away. “Shoot again,” I said. But his head was beginning to go below a hill, and instinct kicked in. I stood up and pulled the trigger.

I still couldn’t tell you what happened and the last thing I want is to embarrass Jackie, a good friend and hunting partner. If she did miss, we’ve all been there. I was still shaking even though I wasn’t planning to shoot. I just didn’t want him to get away if he was injured but we agreed I’d tag him so that Jackie could continue hunting.

Regardless, Jackie was pumped: “THAT WAS THE COOLEST THING EVER.” Those of you who’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jackie might be able to imagine this. And I agreed with her in my own, more reserved expression. I hope it always stays the coolest thing ever. That’s what I envision when I think spring turkey hunting. And that’s what replayed in my head all week as I counted the minutes until I could get back out there for Jackie’s first bird.

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