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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Turkeys Don't Care Who Kills Them

by Steve Sorensen(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, April 11, 2013.)

“I am going to be good at this!” Four gobblers had just answered the first call I ever squawked out on a diaphragm call. But that standard of success – just hearing a gobbler – was all I achieved for a long time as I learned that getting that first gobbler under your belt can be a real challenge.

That afternoon I had stopped at Smith’s Bait Shop on the east side of Warren, and walked out with a Penn’s Woods single-reed diaphragm call and an instructional recording. The record was the size of a 45 rpm single, but it spun at 33. I still have it.

When you’re 21 years old 
you don’t mind sitting in your dad’s lap 
if it means calling in a gobbler.

I went home and played the record, made a few ear-shattering sounds, and after supper rode my Honda motorcycle to Bauer Hill, just outside Warren off Cobham Park Road. At my first inexpert yelp, those head-snapping gobbles got hold of me. That was the moment I became a turkey hunter.

It was a long time until I graduated to being a turkey killer, but I graduated from high school the next year. I don’t remember how many times I went turkey hunting while in high school, but however many it was, I wasn’t successful. And when I went to college, I made a terrible decision. I could have gone to any one of dozens of Pennsylvania colleges within a few minutes of turkey woods, but instead I found a college in the Boston area. And each year when end-of-semester academic pressure mounted in May, I wondered if I could find time to go home to western Pennsylvania and hunt turkeys. 

Finally, in my junior year, I called home and asked for some help. “Dad, can you find me a turkey to hunt? I’m coming home the second weekend of May.” He obliged, and I drove eight hours through battering rain until I pulled into the driveway around 2:00 AM.

Parents don’t need to be awakened when their kid is on the road somewhere between Boston and Warren, so they were wide awake when I tapped on their bedroom door. “It’s raining, and it’s gonna keep raining,” Dad said. Are you sure you want to go?”

“That’s the only reason I came home. I’ll get some sleep and be ready at five,” I replied.

It’s great to have a father who is willing to do your turkey scouting, and go out with you when his odds of getting soaking wet are better than your odds of getting a shot.

It was still dark when we drove up the hill – Bauer Hill again – where dad had heard a gobbler several previous mornings. We eased to the edge of the slope and as light began to filter through the cloud cover, I let out one of my yelps on that old Penn’s Woods diaphragm. Down below, the gobbler responded.

We slipped down to the bench, found the root ball of a toppled cherry tree, and backed up against it – Dad behind me, and me almost in his lap. When you’re 21 years old you don’t mind sitting in your dad’s lap if it means calling in a gobbler.

That gobbler started coming. I called sparingly, worried about making a mistake that would make him forget about ever coming to a hen again. Finally, I could see him heading straight for us. Slowly. Each time he picked up a foot, he’d think long and hard before putting it down ahead of his other foot.

When he was about 40 yards away he began circling to my right. How good was my calling? That gobbler was proving it was good enough, but I wasn’t confident enough to make any more calls as he looked for the hen he thought he heard.

He kept circling to my right, and as slowly as I could I twisted at my waist. The angle of the shot became more and more difficult. When I couldn’t twist any more, I began to inch the butt stock of Dad’s old Ithaca double from my right shoulder across my chest to my left shoulder. It wasn’t easy – my right eye looking down the barrel at that tiny bead, and the stock on my left shoulder.

Finally, I decided he wasn’t coming any closer. I fired, he crumpled, and we celebrated.

I threw that gobbler over my shoulder and we hiked back to the top of the hill where we had parked the old red International Scout. On the way there, we encountered a Jeep, and inside were two of the best turkey hunters around our area in those days – a retired state trooper and the owner of Smith’s Bait Shop where I bought my call. But I was the one with the gobbler.

If you’re a rookie hunter still looking for your first gobbler, believe this: turkeys don’t care who kills them. And if you’re a seasoned hunter looking for your fifty-first, recognize that if a 12-year-old bests you, or even dumb college kid, the best thing you can do is to be happy about it.

That gobbler’s fan never looked better than when I displayed it in the back window deck of the copper-colored 1971 Plymouth Duster I drove back to Boston.


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