On February 15th, 2021, my son Jackson came running out of his bedroom, screaming and cheering, “YES!!! Dad, I did it, I passed my hunter safety class!! He even finished it off with one of his slick Fortnight dances. He was so excited to start hunting, and of course, I was super pumped to get him on a hunt.
With Turkey season quickly approaching we decided to give him his present for his 11th birthday early, and to his surprise, it was a new 20-gauge pump shotgun from his Grandpa and me. So, with his new hunting license and new shotgun in hand, it was time to get into the turkey woods. But first, we hit the range to give him some hands-on practice with his new gun. He shot great, handled the recoil like a champ, and we were ready to hunt.
The Time Has Come
A month later, it was Friday, March 19th, or as we were calling it, “Junior Turkey Opener Eve”. The truck and trailer were loaded down with enough supplies for a two-week hunt, even though we were only going for the weekend. We left the house chomping at the bit to get to the hunting club, set up camp, and get in the field with plenty of time to scout the ranch. After a quick setup, Jackson and I jumped into the side-by-side and went to see if we could find some birds.
We drove up to a good scouting spot, blew the ol’ crow call, and waited… after a few minutes we heard a few gobbles down the canyon, keeping careful notes of their locations. It was about 5:15 pm and the sun was just starting to set, then all of a sudden we stumble across two toms crossing the gravel road. We jumped off the road, hid, and watched them for about fifteen minutes while they worked their way up the hillside. We made the official decision that this was going to be the spot! Jackson’s excitement grew watching those birds work the field.
The next morning, it was opening day. The 5:00 am alarm brought me to my feet. As you can imagine, it was not the easiest thing to wake up a 10-year-old, but after a bit of persuasion, he was up and ready to go. We got our things together, loaded the side-by-side, and headed out. While a chilly spring morning isn’t uncommon in Northern California, this day was freezing. Literally!
We parked a couple hundred yards from where we wanted to set up based on our scouting the night before. We started the crisp hike in the dark and set up the decoys. As we were getting settled into our makeshift blind, Jackson said, “Hey Dad, I heard a gobble!”. I didn’t hear anything, but I got out the trusty ol’ crow call and gave it a blow…
He was right! Gobble gobble about 300-yards up the hill. It was still dark enough to make a move. We grabbed our gear, decoys, and made a run for it. We found a perfect little meadow to set up on. We were pushing it against the morning light but I was confident that we were still safe to be this aggressive. Minutes after we got set up, the symphony of the thunder chickens erupted! I looked over to see Jackson’s eyes lit up like Christmas morning. At this point it was 7:00 am and we were getting our first peek at the turkeys.
The Excitement Elevates
The hens flew down off the roost first and were headed right for our decoys. There were about six hens in the group feeding and checking out our setup, but they didn’t stay long. As they made their way, they passed within ten feet of us. Jackson whispered to me “my heart is beating so fast!”. It was an awesome experience for Jackson’s first hunt and I knew he was hooked.
The toms had flown down the opposite direction and wanted nothing to do with my calls. After forty minutes, we decided to make a move and try the ninja sneak tactic. We knew where we had to get to, so we started the stalk. 100-yards, then 80-yards, 60-yards, and finally at about 50-yards there they were, two toms in all their glory. They were in full strut and fired up! With a 20-yard belly crawl, I put out the decoys, got Jackson set up, and took another shot at calling them in. Twenty minutes later, they had enough of my seductive hen talk and fled the scene.
The afternoon came and went with very little action. Shoot time ends at 5:00 pm in California, so, of course, at about 4:45 pm, while sitting on our last set-up of the day, we hear the gobble. It was in the same direction as the spot we sat that morning. I told Jackson we were going to set up in the same spot in the morning, but we were getting up even earlier.
The Last Morning
It was the last morning of the hunt, and 5:00 am came quick. Jackson had no problem getting out of bed with thunder chicken on the brain! When we headed out, this time we knew exactly where we wanted to be set up. It was even colder this morning and made for a frosty walk in the dark as we made our way up the hill. I’m pretty proud of Jackson for getting up and hiking in the dark, I know grown men that don’t even hike in the dark.
A couple hundred yards up the hill, we made it to our spot. With the decoys spit-shined and looking good, we tucked into a downed tree and waited. At 6:45 am, the first bird woke with a gobble…then a second one. I knew we were in the right spot this time, there were gobbles on this roost and gobbles down the trail, we were surrounded! Our hearts were definitely pumping now.
About 7:05 am another “gobble”. Those two toms were on the ground and 30 yards away, just behind some brush and coming in! I remember telling Jackson “Bud, get ready…they’re coming!” So, there we waited, with Jackson’s gun propped up on a log. They slowly moved in…30 yards out, then 20, then 15 yards away. Just what we were hoping for.
Just Squeeze The Trigger
Finally, those two toms marched in, strutted up, spitting and drumming all the way into the decoys. I said, “Jackson, don’t move…take the safety off…don’t move.” They were less than 15-yards away now. I whispered, “OK, Jackson, just aim for the red part on the neck, pick your spot, and squeeze the trigger, nice and easy.” The tom stopped…and BOOM!
He drops in his tracks! “I GOT HIM, I GOT HIM,” Jackson yelled in pure excitement. I knew his adrenaline was pumping because we were both shaking uncontrollably and my voice was cracking. I was so excited that it had all come together. Jackson jumped up and ran over to his very first turkey. I can’t forget to mention that the victory dance celebration was pretty epic!
About a hundred pictures later, we gathered up our gear, I helped sling that big old tom over Jackson’s shoulder and headed back to camp to share the hunt with our friends and family.
Seeing my main man, Jackson, being dedicated, brave, and patient, makes me a very proud dad. This hunt will go down as one of our greatest adventures and memories of all time!