“I think you’re more excited than Breck about tomorrow’s turkey hunt,” my wife said to me last Friday night.
She was referring to my taking 12-year-old Breck Breen of Wilton out for his first wild turkey hunt.
New York state designated April 20-21 as Youth Turkey Hunting Weekend for licensed juniors 12-15. They had to be accompanied by an adult and were allowed to take one bearded turkey. Breck’s dad, Tim, who was a bit under the weather, asked me if I would take him out, and I jumped at the chance.
I know Tim had been grooming his son in all aspects of the outdoors, including gun safety, hunting and marksmanship, first with a Crosman air gun, then a .22-caliber rifle and lastly a shotgun. I found out Breck had shown some of his shooting abilities by breaking a few clay birds during his 4-H Shooting Sports Hunter Education course, so I figured he would be ready for the turkey hunt.
My plan was to register him in the Sharp Spurs chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation outing that included a tremendous cookout with all the trimmings, and some friendly competition and prizes for all 51 kids who signed up for this free contest.
When I told my friend, Mike Galcik of Schuylerville, about my young hunter, he volunteered some of his hot spots, providing I take an oath of secrecy. I did.
Early the next morning, I received a text message and a photo of three strutting toms from Mike that said: “Have Breck pick one.”
When I spoke to Mike later in the day, we decided to put a ground blind up the next afternoon, but that failed because when we went to put up the blind in a hedgerow, there were about 20 turkeys in the field. I think it was about then that I started to get really excited.
After dinner that night, Breck and I headed for the range to pattern and punch some holes in life-sized turkey head targets. It was a short shoot. Breck’s three shots from that little 20-gauge Youth Model 500 Mossberg at 22 yards put more than enough pellets in the neck head area to drop any turkey. He was definitely ready.
I never heard the alarm go off at 3 a.m. because I woke at 2:30 and started getting ready. I wondered what the effects of a torrential downpour and extremely high winds would have on the birds. Wild turkeys roost in trees at night, holding onto a branch with their feet, so it had to have been a wet see-saw ride for them.
Breck and my enthusiasm had us sitting in Mike’s driveway at least a half-hour earlier than our 5 a.m. meeting time, but it went quickly and we loaded all our gear in Mike’s truck. It was windy, cold and drizzling lightly, but when we heard a gobble just as we were getting out of the truck at our destination, we all warmed up.
Entering the field a good distance from where the birds were roosting, we hugged a hedgerow, making our way to a set-up point near where the turkeys usually pass in the morning. Mike set up about 15 yards behind us, and when it started to get light, he began to answer the already talking toms up on the hill. About 15 minutes later, Breck whispered: “Here comes one.”
It was definitely a tom, and on several occasions, he displayed his fan and did a little strutting as he headed straight for us. Breck sat perfectly still with his cheek frozen to the stock of his shotgun. He never moved.
Unfortunately, in spite of Mike’s good calling, the real thing (three hens) appeared, and a few yelps from them turned the tom in their direction. It’s hard to beat the real thing. It wasn’t long before we watched the entire flock cross the paved road, entering another field.
We quickly packed up and backtracked down the field, across the road and up to a ridge we hoped would put us ahead of them. It worked. Breck and Mike set up just overlooking the ridge, where below them were several toms.
Mike quickly got Breck ready and started to talk to the birds, but although they occasionally gobbled a response, they had no intention of leaving their harem. Finally, they moved off, back across the road exactly where they had crossed earlier.
“If we hunt tomorrow,” Mike said, “we’ll set up early right there where they crossed.”
TIME TO MOVE
It was only a short ride to the next spot. We had walked about 300 yards down a farm road when we caught a glimpse of turkeys in a field. We quickly set up in a hedgerow, and Mike started to call. Within minutes, he was getting responses from the tom.
But all they did was talk. That bird had no intention of leaving his ladies. We got some far-off gobbles, but it would require spooking the birds in the field, so we headed back to the truck.
The next stop was only about 15 minutes away, and again, we started down a farm road that ended at an old cornfield. Setting up at the corner, Mike said he expected turkeys to be at the back of the field, feeding, and when he made his first yelp call, that’s exactly where the gobble came from.
For a while, the caller and gobbler talked, but the tom’s reluctance to come to us told us he was “henned up.” Just as we were about to go to him, out popped a mature, yelping and clucking hen. We had live bait!
We sat still watching and let her do the calling. She was getting responses from one or two gobblers, but once she disappeared into the woods, we had to move and get in front of her, hoping the gobbler would follow. He did.
Once in front of her, we heard her still yelping and set up in a small overgrown green field about 50 yards into the woods from the farm road.
Then things started to happen fast, beginning with the hen who yelped her way past us. With the help of Mike’s calling, the two of them had what sounded like not one, but two toms following.
I was amazed at how calm Breck was during all this excitement — quite unusual for a 12-year-old on his first turkey hunt. Another hen passed us quickly, and within minutes, the thundering gobbles were very close.
There were two toms, as we expected. Unfortunately, they were about 50 plus yards out, a bit too far for the 20-gauge. Each time they started to move off, Mike talked them back in, but not close enough, and eventually they disappeared, gobbling responses to Mike’s calls as they moved off.
It was moving time again, and from the climb up that steep ridge following a young man and a 12-year-old, I realized I was a 68-year-old, but they were kind and waited on the top for me to catch up.
Moving along the edge of the field, we stopped, made a few calls and soon got another response. Another setup followed. From the gobbler’s responses, we thought he was coming straight at us.
I was sitting behind Breck and Mike, waiting to turn on my movie camera, when next to me, no more than 30 yards, two gobblers suddenly announced their presence. They may have been the two that stayed out of range down below.
I didn’t dare move, or they surely would have seen me, but when I looked at Breck, he was right on them. It seemed longer than it really was before Breck pulled the trigger, and I watched one fold.
This young hunter had shot his first tom wild turkey and his smile stretched from ear to ear.
High-fives were definitely in order, and both Mike and I were extremely happy. It definitely was a great hunt. For me, it was the very best one I’ve ever been on.
The gobbler weighed 15 pounds and carried a 43⁄4-inch beard and minimal spurs.
Click here to see it and a smiling Breck Breen on my blog.
But our day was not over. After thanking Mike for all of his help, we headed for Mike and Michele Auriemma’s house to register Breck’s tom. It was a packed house of camo-clad kids and adults when we arrived. The final count was 51 youth hunters — outstanding. I believe 15 of them shot a tom. I saw three, 20-pounders, any of which I would like to see in my sights May 1.
Once again, the Auriemmas did a tremendous job. The food was good, and there was plenty of it and all the kids left with three prizes.
Thank you, Mike and Michele and all those sponsors and helpers.