The flicker of a flashlight and a sudden stop was the first sign that something was amiss. You would have thought we were trying to rob a jewelry store from our head to toe all black attire. You would have also thought by the way we were dodging twigs, fallen branches and dried leaves that we were trying to traverse a laser trap. You would also be wrong to think all of this. We were simply a merry band of turkey hunters trying to successfully sneak into a preset bind.
We weren’t the only ones awake at 5:30 that morning. It was a full hour before daybreak, and the birds we were trying to move in or were already wide awake. Apparently they too could sense the excitement of the morning and decided to join along on the early bird bandwagon (literally). When I heard those hens yelping from the roost, I wanted to yelp right back at them for being awake so early.
It was the opening day of Pennsylvania's youth turkey season and we had high hopes of getting set up close to the sleeping birds. That was until we heard all of the hen talk, and we were still seventy-five yards from our destination. I believed it would be almost impossible to score on a gobbler now. But I never lost hope. I could sense something that morning, and it was something good. Almost tasted like turkey if you ask me.
After making our way as quietly as possible to the blind with my trusty TenPoint Stealth SS and multiple decoys in hand, we began the agonizing process of quietly unzipping the blind door. For those of you who have never tried it, unzipping a blind quietly in the predawn darkness while there are several turkeys roosted and awake in close proximity is a tricky endeavor at best. Somehow we pulled it off along with getting the decoys set.
Once settled and with no turkeys spooked, we all gave a sigh of relief. As the sun started to pierce the eastern horizon, I could gradually make out the landscape of the familiar ridge. It was at this same location that I'd spent the 2015 youth day. Lots of great turkey talk commenced that day and several gobblers were sighted, but it never came together for me. I always admired this spot with its pine tree canopy blanketing the scene and the calming sound of a nearby creek. Its picturesque serenity exudes a post card perfect turkey hot spot. Perhaps this year the outcome would be more favorable.
It took about thirty minutes for the birds to finally decide to fly down. They didn’t appear right in front of us, but the gobbles and yelps were close by. We began calling, and for about twenty minutes we had gobbles and yelps being thrown back and forth at us from all directions. Suddenly a beautiful longbeard came up over the bank from the creek directly in front of me. Unfortunately, he was about forty yards away and I didn’t feel comfortable taking that shot.
Two other gobblers also arrived on the scene but hung up at fifty yards. Then I finally set my eyes on a group of three Jakes and a more mature bird strutting amongst them. The entire group stopped at thirty yards. My target was in the group, and he was fully fanned out when I got my sight up on him. After what seemed like an eternity the Jake that was in front of the strutting gobbler finally moved to the side. I squeezed the TenPoint's trigger and the arrow slammed home. The Lumenok zipped through the gobbler and ricocheted down the ridge.
My 2016 Spring Gobbler tag filled itself that morning. The mature gobbler flopped off about ten yards and died on the spot. The other three Jakes started to surround the downed gobbler, looking at their fallen comrade. One Jake pecked at its head and feathers before scurrying off.
After the thirty minutes of sneaking in and believing it was all over, I had gotten my 2016 Spring Gobbler at 6:45 that morning. I’ve always noticed that the sunrises on the morning of a kill are the most beautiful. And that morning, the sun rained in through the pine trees. Those are the behind the scene features of the hunt that I never forget. My TenPoint Stealth SS had come through once again with many more hunts to come. They always say that the early bird gets the worm, but this early bird got an arrow.
I wasn’t quite finished with my spring turkey hunting yet. At the beginning of the season, I had bought a second turkey tag with high hopes. Telling my dad of all my glorious visions of filling it, he gave me his usual "Let's fill the first one before we worry about this one". I had never purchased nor used a Pennsylvania Special Spring Turkey tag before. It allows you to harvest a second turkey after filling the first tag. And now the time had finally come for my dad and me to "worry" about that second tag.
Not far down the creek from where I had filled my first tag, we got in the blind bright and early just like on our first hunt. Our morning was looking very similar to the previous one with the exception of the turkeys sleeping in a bit longer this time.
We tucked ourselves into the ground blind and waited for the sun to rise. It took about half an hour and when daylight started to break through, we could hear the sound of turkeys swooping down from their roosts.
The turkeys were responding well to our calls, but they didn’t want to show their feathers and come over the bank. And believe me, they continued to take their time getting dressed before arriving to Thanksgiving dinner. I thought the food was going to start getting cold before the main course ever arrived. Soon enough though, over that bank came a young gobbler walking alone.
Being lured by our decoys, he spent no time passing my 40, 30, and 25 yard marks. This turkey was almost like a football player heading for the end zone. Except this player wasn't going to make it home from the game, at least not alive. He spent his last few seconds pecking at our decoy before I pulled the trigger on my Tenpoint.
There are three sweet sounds of a successful hunt: the thwack of a bow, the thud of a hit, and the crash of a fall. I heard all three that morning for the second time that month, and that moment couldn't have been more bittersweet. My dad hasn't taught me only how to hunt. I believe he has taught me why I hunt. I hunt because it feeds my small family of three for the entire winter. A turkey may not be the largest animal filling the freezer, but it's good eating. And my dad and I are by no means trophy hunters. We take advantage of the natural food provided for us and have fun while getting it. I've never heard one anti-hunter say they've made memories while going to the grocery store, and luckily, I can when I hunt. My turkeys and my bucks might not be the massive trophies seen on TV or social media, but they're beautiful trophies to me. Their beards may not be as long, fans not as full, and racks not as wide, but my dad has shown me that that doesn't matter. That’s one thing I can't thank him enough for.
I think we get too caught up in the social media side of hunting and therefore don’t take the chances we get on some beautiful animals. Size doesn't matter. As I'm sitting here looking at my turkey fans hanging on the wall, I couldn't be more happy at how my 2016 spring turkey season turned out. Don't worry about what your buddies will think when you post it on Facebook, worry about the memories you’re making and the fun you're having. Because that is what it's all about.