My final bird of this past spring was a slam-bang affair. I’d spotted a turkey from the roadside and was making a circuitous root through the woods to the back end of the field he occupied. Halfway there I came upon a smaller, hidden field. It seemed like it, too, could hold turkeys, so I popped in a diaphragm call and threw a few quick yelps that were answered almost immediately—and from a short distance.
I hastily threw myself at the base of the nearest tree, propped up my trusty Mossberg and yelped again. Gobbbbble-obbble-obble came the response from just over a rise. Five long seconds later the bird was in view, and then in my sights, and then on the ground. I pumped my fist in exaltation and looked around. That’s when an eerie feeling came over me. The thrill of the moment faded quickly with the sudden realization there was no-one to share it with. I was alone.
When I first took up chasing turkeys, I always hunted alone. It suited my adlib run-and-gun style. Then I started guiding. It was a bit of an adjustment at first, hunting with a “dependent,” but the reward of seeing someone kill their first turkey was well worth what I initially perceived as a sacrifice.
In addition to guiding, I began mentoring other hunters and found having someone along to share the experience more than doubled the pleasure. I even learned there were times when it was advantageous to hunt with a partner.
I rarely hunt alone these days, and when I do, it often feels like there’s something missing, and it’s just not as much fun.
|Pairing up permits one hunter to call so the other can focus on being ready for the shot.|
The Tactical Advantage
There are some distinct “tactical” advantages to pairing up. At the simplest level, it affords an extra set of hands. Most friction calls require two hands to operate. A solo hunter must decide when to lay down their call and pick their gun. Do it too soon and the bird might lose interest and wander off, requiring you to start the coaxing all over again. Wait too long and you either get pinned down or bump the bird. With a pair of hunters one person does the calling, leaving the other free to remain motionless with their gun up and ready to shoot.
In some situations you almost need two hunters. One of the classic tactics for hung-up birds involves the shooter remaining in position while the caller moves directly away from the tom. Sometimes it’s enough to break the stand-off. The bird might still hang up well short of the caller, but it often walks right into the shooter’s lap. Safety must be highly observed using this technique, particularly if the caller and shooter are out of sight of one another, but it’s a great tactic for duping wary birds.
|Hunting with a partner frees up one person’s hands to call and the other’s to shoot.|
There are also times when it’s advantageous to have two guns. I’m a right-handed shooter, and I run out of fingers on both hands counting the number of times I’ve had birds come in on my right side, where even lightning-quick callisthenic couldn’t get me into shooting position before the bird vanished. Sit shoulder-to-shoulder and you have a much wider, more effective field of fire and vision.
Having two shooters also allows for doubling up. There’s no loyalty among turkeys, and I’ve lost track of how often I’ve seen gobblers hang around after a shotgun blast to trounce their fallen comrade.
|Introducing someone else to the sport
of turkey hunting and assisting in the taking of their first bird is a rewarding experience. (Christie Gates of Benelli (left) and Rick White of Hunter’s Specialties).
A Second Opinion
After more than a quarter-century of making turkey hunting mistakes I’m starting to feel confident about how to approach most situations. I still make my fair share of blunders, but you’ve got to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Every once in a while, however, I get flat-out stumped. My confidence abandons me and I think, “Boy, it sure would be nice to have a second opinion right now.”
A couple years ago I was on a hunt with Rick White, a pro staffer with Hunter’s Specialties. Rick and I are both used to taking less-experienced hunters afield, so the first morning was a bit awkward as each of us struggled to make the right moves while not seeming overbearing toward the other.
We soon learned that our thought processes and hunting styles were eerily similar. By the second day communication was scarce as we were practically reading each others’ minds. And each time confidence failed one of us, it seemed the other was unsure what to do next as well. We’d stop, weigh our options can come up with what we thought offered the best odds.
That’s yet another reason to hunt with a partner. Even when you think you know the right move, sometimes it’s nice to have someone else to bounce the idea off. They might have a better idea. If they don’t, and the plan fails, you can always blame the other guy for agreeing with you.
|I feel extremely fortunate to be able to pass along the hunting tradition to both of my children, Ben (left) and Helen (right).|
I still vividly recall shooting my first bird. It’s a memory I cherish to this day, but it pales in comparison to the experience of watching my children take their first turkeys.
The future of hunting depends on refilling the ranks, something that’s become increasingly more difficult to do. As previously mentioned, I’ve found immense pleasure in guiding and teaching other hunters. And as a parent, I’ve found it particularly rewarding passing the hunting tradition onto my kids.
If you’re an experienced hunter and you’re not mentoring someone—you should be—whether it’s your own kids, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or merely some child who lacks the benefit of a family member to introduce them. It could even be another adult that just never found their way into the great outdoors.
It might seem like an inconvenience, even an infringement on your scarce and valuable hunting time, but I guarantee the reward will far outweigh the investment, particularly if you’ve been at this game for a while and some of the novelty has worn off. Hearing them hyperventilate, watching their chest heave, and then seeing the look on their face when they take their first bird, helps to rejuvenate your own hunting spirit.
|With a partner you can record your hunt, either for production, or merely to preserve the moment. Videographer Scott Underhill recorded my 2006 crossbow grand slam.|
Still-photos are a great way to preserve the memory of a particular hunt, but they can’t compare to video. Nowadays it’s fairly common for folks to film their hunts to preserve the memory. The advent of “micro” video cameras makes it possible to film your own hunt with ease; however, you’ll never get the same quality as you’ll get from having someone else recording.
In 2006 I set out on a quest to be the first to take a grand slam with a crossbow. Pete Brown of Extreme Dimension Wildlife Calls asked if he could send along a cameraman to record the event for posterity. It seemed like a good idea so he teamed me up with videographer Scott Underhill.
Initially, I was concerned that having another person and a camera along might make the task more difficult. And in some ways it did. But the benefits far outweighed the costs. Ultimately, it became very much a joint effort. My success was our success and having someone to share it with made it all the richer. To this day Underhill and I remain good friends.
|A successful hunt becomes so much more rewarding when you have a friend to share the experience with. Van Holmes (left) of Yamaha with his first, a California Rio.|
I once read a study that found five principle reasons people hunt. They include, in no particular order: a taste for wild game; the challenge; a love for the outdoors; family tradition; and camaraderie.
Let’s face it, like turkeys, we are social animals. We enjoy the company of others, and being able to share particularly meaningful experiences only serves to make them that much more enjoyable and memorable, whether we are successful or not. Often, the true measure of a successful hunt is not what we carry in our game pouch, but what we take home in our minds and our hearts.
Being able to witness another hunter take their first gobbler adds another, different type of satisfaction to turkey hunting. Steve Nessl of Yamaha (left) with his first bird, a fine Texas Rio.