For the third year in a row, I volunteered to guide less fortunate kids on a wild turkey hunt in southeastern Minnesota. The Cedar River Longbeards, in conjunction with the United Special Sportsman Association (USSA) and the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), organize this hunt every year over Mother’s Day weekend. Children with disabilities sign up through the USSA and set off on a three-day turkey hunting
adventure. For the kids, this turkey hunt is a chance to experience something out of their daily routines…something away from the multiple doctor appointments and constant daily struggles. For us guides, it’s a chance to give back to our wonderful outdoors and meet some really great families.
Each year we have a variety of children with various disabilities. Some have mobility issues, which can make getting into a turkey blind very challenging. With each child, there’s at least one accompanying adult. It may be a parent, grandparent, or sibling. Regardless, the turkey blinds are full…but that makes the hunt even better. It gives us all a better chance to get to know one another. This year, our group of guides had the privilege and honor to accompany four hunters and their families into the great outdoors. All four of our hunters went home with beautiful turkey fans to proudly display to all their friends and family back home.
I shared the blind with a 16 year-old girl, her good friend, and their parents. The morning started out with six of us in two blinds set up on a field edge along the bank of a small creek. My dad and I partnered up on the morning hunt so we could have one guide in each blind. He had the two hunters in one blind and I had the two parents and the camera in the other. After we got everyone settled in, I sent out some alert calls to see if we could get a gobble. The woods were quiet…not the way I was hoping to start the day for these eager girls. About twenty minutes into the hunt, a gobble startled the blinds. That big old Tom was only a few yards behind the blinds on his roost. Unfortunately for us, I’m pretty sure this guy watched the whole show as we walked in and got everyone settled that morning. As expected, when it was time to leave the roost, he went the other direction.
Soon after our Tom left us, we had three hens enter the field and proceed to feed all around our decoy. The girls and parents got quite a show! With the hens all around us, I figured we were in for a good hunt…as long as we could be patient. About thirty minutes passed when I noticed a couple red heads coming out of the woods. My dad situated our shooter in the first blind and I made sure the parents were watching in the second. The two Toms made their way right towards our decoy and hens that were still feeding in front of us. About sixty yards out, something went wrong. I’m not sure if they noticed our hunter getting ready or what happened, but they hit the breaks and the hens clucked all the way off the field. The two Toms held up momentarily and presented a long shot for our hunter…but a clean miss later, the two left the field as quickly as they entered.
This gave us all a chance to stretch our legs and head to town for some breakfast. Everyone was thrilled with the action we had on our morning hunt, but my hunter was determined to go home with a turkey. After breakfast, we decided to increase our chances and split the hunters up. My dad would take one hunter and I would take the other. We have the good fortune of having a local landowner that gets permission from all the neighbors and scouts the local flocks for us. We sit in the blinds with the hunters and do the calling, but he does all the work. He’s the reason our hunters are so successful each year. At breakfast, he told me about a Tom he saw strutting just that morning in an area we already had a blind set up at. My hunter, her dad and I decided we would go after that bird.
The wind was crazy so calling was going to be very difficult. I set our single hen decoy in the field about thirty-five yards in front of our blind. I wanted the decoy high enough on the rise in terrain in case the Tom came out on the other end of the field. Almost two hours went by, when I noticed a big red head on the other end of the field. That was our bird! He was marching straight across the field to the river bottom to our right. I wanted to keep him in the field if possible, so when he got to the edge of the field, I let out a series of hen yelps as loud as my diaphragm call would go. He stopped and looked our direction. I told my hunter we want him to walk the field edge all the way up to us so he sees our decoy and comes in. He walked all the way up the field edge just as I hoped he would, but when he got parallel with our decoy, he started to head for the river bottom again. I yelped at him a few quick, high pitch, loud yelps, and he turned and headed for our decoy. He even stopped a couple times along the way to try and strut, but the wind was so strong, he couldn’t hold a strut. My huntress stayed calm and focused as the bird slowly worked his way into range. Once in range, she steadied the gun on the rest but softly whispered, “I can’t see him.” I leaned over and noticed that her gun was too high and she was looking right over the bird. We slowly and calmly repositioned her so she could settle her scope on his vitals. She took her time and steadied her nerves and settled in on her target. I excitedly whispered, “When you feel comfortable with the shot, go ahead and take it!” And she did just that. She dropped that big old gobbler right in his tracks. A girl that shot a gun for the first time the night before, just dropped a big, mature turkey at thirty-five yards!
We shared a few high fives and crawled out of the blind to go recover her bird. Her smile was infectious, and I know I was just as excited as she was! I love to hunt and it’s a passion that has been instilled in me for as long as I can remember. To get to share that passion and see it passed on in a moment like that is simply priceless. I knew for those brief moments, she was not thinking about a doctor visit, medications, or anything else she deals with daily. The only thing she was thinking about was that adrenaline rush and shear enjoyment and accomplishment she just felt. Her world was truly wonderful for that moment. She couldn’t wait to tell all the other hunters and their families about her hunt. As we were sharing some beef jerky on the drive back to the lodge, she excitedly said, “That was so much fun, I want to sign up again next year!” That’s what it’s all about for me. It’s an honor and a privilege that I got to share that moment with her and her father. I can’t wait for next year!