Dan Simmons: Wild turkey hunt is a holiday tradition

The first frost has arrived from the North along with the arrival of the first Canada geese.

Other northern snowbirds have also begun arriving as the RV parks begin to be fully occupied.

In addition to the frost, we also notice the cold winds of fall signifying a time of change. With change comes thoughts of hope and reflection on the positive events in our lives, those small events that make a difference to us or to those we care for. It is a time of thanksgiving, even following a time of disaster, destruction and heartache in the world.

Fall has arrived signaling the traditional harvest season; farmers and gardeners are in their fields and gardens, as hunters begin their season in earnest to hopefully harvest the main dish.

This is the story of one of those events and turkey with all the trimmings. Some of us did it a bit differently, however, following in the tradition of our forefathers. That means wild turkey and other game, with homegrown vegetables.

The first thing you need, though, is a turkey, and that’s where our story begins.

My hunting friend, George Fenton, is a turkey hunting fanatic, but he started the quest in a humble manner. He was a Marine captain, serving in Quantico, Virginia, where a friend gave him instructions on the fine art of the hunt.

It didn’t take him long in that wonderful area to find and shoot his first gobbler.

He used a 20-gauge shotgun with number four shot (considered by most to be a bit light) and he “rolled” the first gobbler that he saw. Having aimed at the bird’s center of mass, rather than the head, he broke its wing and rendered it semi-conscious. “Not a problem,” he says, “I’ll snap its neck like a quail.” So, he cleared his gun and grabbed the suddenly awakened bird.

That’s when he discovered the difference between turkeys and other feathered game. The bird suddenly became very alive and dug its long spur into George’s hand, as it beat him with its wing and tried to remove one of his fingers with its sharp beak.

What does one do in a situation like this? Well, I’d let loose, but George grabbed it by the body and slammed its head against a tree – wrong move. That made his 16-½ pound new friend really mad and it dug its spurs into George’s chest this time. Another hit against the tree and the trophy bird was his.

George was now proud of his first-ever wild turkey and took it home to his new wife, who, by the way, was not a hunter. She was brave, though, and admired the prize. Sure, it still had a few feathers present; its skin was bruised from the fight and had half a dozen ticks still on it. Not to be deterred, she ignored that it was full of number four shot. It would be their Christmas turkey.

Well, this was not a “Butterball,” and it ended the day as Christmas stew. “It was terrible,” says George, “but it was my first turkey.”

His second turkey worked out better. He learned to aim for the head (which is proper shooting procedure) decapitating the 21-pound beast. As it lay there in muscle spasms, he raised it by its feet to show his friends. Yep, spurs in his hand again, but he was a good, tough Marine and told his wife he’d “tough it out.” He did, until it became infected, then he whined as the rest of us would.

Since then he has perfected the art of turkey hunting and is an advocate for its preservation. As a demonstration of his love for the bird, and of the hunt, he has become part of project “Wounded Warrior.” The group provides hunts and guidance for disabled veterans.

On one of the project’s hunts he guided, Marine Sgt. Brad Adams on his first hunt in the sand hills of Nebraska. This hunt was arranged through Outdoor Connection Outfitters and sponsored by the Taser Corporation. They were set up on the Dismal River (yes, that’s its name) and hunted the river’s edge.

As Marines, they refused to hunt the blinds and in their full camo suits, made themselves part of a brushy thicket. It wasn’t long before they heard a gobbler across the river. It was responding first to one hen, then another. This was going to be a challenge.

They set up a decoy 60 yards from the river and began using first a diaphragm, and then a box call, to coax the gobbler from the other side. They continued for thirty minutes, now sounding like three hens, and finally, they used their gobbler shock shaker call.

It only took two minutes and the tom and the two hens flew across the river. They landed eighty yards away and went directly for the decoy, followed by a second gobbler in full strut. A few more hen “cackles” and the two came to within fifteen yards.

Using Marine hand signals, the two hunters communicated their strategy, and it was over. Total hunt time: less than an hour.

These are the trials of a beginning turkey hunter. I’d tell you about mine, but they’re even more embarrassing than my good friend George’s. To be fair, I must mention he is now a seasoned and well-respected wild turkey aficionado.

I’ve hunted several times and have yet to bag my first gobbler, but have accepted an invitation to hunt with George this spring. You probably won’t read much about that hunt, as it may be routine and without much of a story. Or?

If you have an adventure, a story or a comment give Sportsman’s Quest columnist Dan Simmons a call 775-727-9777 or e-mail him at dansimmons@usa.net