Spencer’s First (real) Turkey Hunt
Written by: Matt Immel
There’s just something special about the spring turkey season. You can feel winter’s long, cold grasp on Wisconsin finally letting go as the sun rises earlier and earlier each morning. It’s hard to beat sitting in the woods breathing in the cool, crisp air while feeling the warm sunshine on your back and listening to gobbling in the trees. For me, there are few things more peaceful and refreshing than this time of year!
Well, the beginning of the 2018 spring turkey season…. specifically the weekend of the youth hunt…was anything like what I just described. Instead of a calm, crisp, sunny morning in the woods, we experienced howling winds that approached 50mph and pelting rain, sleet, and snow. Much of Wisconsin was stuck in the cold, harsh squeeze of Mother Nature as she hammered down on us with one last winter punch. The blizzard presented quite the challenge for the youth hunt, but a little wind, rain, and snow wasn’t going to stop us!
Spencer takes a few practice shots while his dad provides guidance.
I’d been taking my son, Spencer (10), turkey hunting with me for the past five years or so. Each year brought excitement as spring came and we could hear the gobblers proclaiming their dominance behind our house when we went out in the morning to let the dog run. We would both turn and look at each other with excitement when we would hear one. Spencer would come along on hunts and sit in the blind with me, hoping to get a glimpse of one of the gobblers up close and witness the harvest first hand. He’d get up early on his own as soon as he would hear my alarm go off, and often be dressed and in the truck ready to go before I was! He’d help carry decoys to the blind and set them out. Then in the darkness of the blind, he’d often cozy up between my legs and fall back asleep while we waited for dawn and the sought-after gobblers to appear. Of course, he denied falling asleep, but I always enjoyed those few quiet moments in the blind with him sleeping, sometimes more than the hunt itself. I’m sure there are several dads out there that can relate. I’ve never been blessed with good luck…. or timing…and it never failed that the times the birds would cooperate would be times that Spencer wasn’t with me in the blind. Regardless, his thirst for the hunt never dwindled.
Fast forward to 2018. My brother-in-law, AJ, invited us down by him to participate in the youth hunt this year. I wish you could have seen Spencer’s eyes light up when I told him about the hunt. Spencer has grown up quite a bit in the past 5 years and has a pretty even keel. Not much excites him, and when it does, I’ll maybe get a slight smirk out of him showing his excitement. Well, he grinned ear to ear when he learned he would have the opportunity to harvest his first bird this year as a 10-year-old. The excitement continued to build for both of us as the hunt approached. That excitement quickly turned to concern on my part, as the weather forecast came out and got worse and worse. As a parent, we all want our kids to experience the best in everything, right? No different here. I wanted this trip to be the best experience for him as possible, capped off with Spence bagging his first big Tom.
Spencer proved deadly on the makeshift cardboard turkey heads.
The day before the hunt, Spencer and I began organizing our supplies and packing things up. The drive to where we would hunt was going to be about 40 minutes from our house and I think Spence could tell I was a little anxious. Finally, he asked, “Dad we are going tomorrow even if the weather is bad, right??!!” I responded as any good parent would do and flat out lied saying, “Absolutely bud!” Deep down, I didn’t know if we would be able to go. The forecasted wind and snow were hardly good conditions for driving, let alone for hunting. AJ and I had planned to hunt Saturday afternoon, weather pending, as we knew the morning would be rough in those conditions. So, Spencer and I went to bed early and I said an extra prayer that God would bless us with the opportunity to hunt and harvest a bird.
I woke up Saturday morning to Spencer standing over my bed looking at me. “Dad, when do you think we will head out?!” he said. After I gathered my bearings and looked at my clock to discover it was only 6 AM, I responded, “It’s going to be a few hours yet for sure buddy. We have to check in with AJ.” The next few hours were spent fielding questions from Spencer, checking the radar, and debating what to do. Finally, we headed south to meet AJ and hopefully find some birds. My truck was pushed from side to side by the wind as we made the drive, but I knew we had to give it a shot. I wanted Spencer to develop an appreciation for the outdoors and hunting, and his excitement presented the perfect opportunity to do so. We met AJ, loaded up our gear, and headed out to scope out some fields with the hope of finding some birds.
Luckily, it didn’t take too long, and from the truck, we could see two toms slowly moving alongside a river, and luckily, they were on land we had permission to hunt on. They were slowly moving along the edge of the tall grass on the bank of the river, which featured trees that kept them out of the howling winds. We didn’t see any other birds with them, but the toms were headed in the direction of a larger wood block a few hundred yards away in which the birds would normally roost. This was our chance! Seeing as the birds were in no hurry, we went up the road and Spencer took a few practice shots at a target and before we’d make our stalk around the birds. Slowly, we crept along the river edge through the thick brush to an open hayfield along the woods just over a hill from where we hoped the birds would work to. Hidden behind the hill, we were able to set up our blind and a hen decoy (a strutting tom would have been blown away!) and began to wait.
Thankfully the woods provided shelter from the wind and pelting sleet. We talked about what we hoped would happen, where we hoped the birds would move, and got Spencer set in a spot where he could take a shot. AJ made a few calls…nothing. We waited and made a few more calls…nothing. Suddenly, above the crest of the hill, we saw a little “periscope” pop up. If you have hunted turkey before, you know what I’m talking about. There’s nothing quite like seeing that turkey head pop up to check out what all the noise is about. The birds were here!! Before we knew it, there was a flock of about 16 birds that had crested the hill and were slowly making their way toward us. Then the “Dad, when can I shoot?” questions started flowing in. “Not yet, bud…they are too far away.”
The turkeys dilly-dallied just out of range for nearly an hour.
Unfortunately, other than popping their heads up to take a look, the birds didn’t respond to the calls and were content with milling around just out of range. Finally, as the flock started to make their way to the woods, a little hen took interest in the decoy and started to head our way and a jake followed a safe distance behind. Spencer started to shake with excitement. “Dad will you cover my ears when it’s time to shoot?” he asked. “No, bud,” I replied. “Trust me, you won’t hear the gun you will be so excited”. As luck would have it, the hen walked right up to and around the decoy that was about 15 yards from our blind, but the Jake stayed perfectly in line with her so that she was between our blind and him. Spencer couldn’t get off a shot! Finally, the hen began to head to the woods and a window opened up to take the Jake. It was a healthy poke for a youth shotgun…about 40 yards with a crosswind, but this was going to be our only chance. “Shoot!” I whispered in his hear. He shot, the bird jumped and ran off. Spence didn’t waste a second and had the gun up to take another shot, but the opportunity had passed.
Immediately, I thought…crap…I hope he doesn’t get discouraged. It was a super exciting hunt…..but no bird to take home. Would he be able to appreciate that, and would he want to come back for more? We climbed out of the blind and he turned and whispered to me, “Dad can we do this again?” My eyes welled up with tears as I told him that we absolutely could. We didn’t get to hunt the next day as the snow that had arrived made it too dangerous to drive (some areas got over 2 ft. of snow…in April!). Spence was more disappointed by the weather that next day than by the fact he missed the bird.
Good times in the turkey blind!
Luckily for Spencer, his tag is still good for the last week of the season. He has NOT forgotten that and is more than excited for another opportunity at a gobbler. Success!! Out of some of the worst conditions came probably the best memory I have to date of hunting….and we didn’t even get a bird. If you have a chance to take your son or daughter hunting…please do it!! The memories and bond made that day in the woods with Spencer, AJ, and I will last a lifetime. What more could someone ask for?