As a young boy growing up in northeast Ohio without anyone to mentor me, I, with the aid of a couple childhood friends, was forced to learn the skills of hunting on my own. On those hunts I opted for a BB gun, which suited my purposes just fine, as I mostly pursued small game, namely squirrels and rabbits. Back then, there was no large game like deer or turkey to speak of in my neck of the woods. In those days, just to see a deer track made me feel like an accomplished hunter, and gave me confidence and satisfaction in my tracking abilities.
Now that I’m almost 70 years old, things are a bit different. There are more game animals in the area thanks to state wildlife agencies and special organizations. The work they do promotes habitat sustainability and helps maintain healthy populations of various game species. Because of their efforts, hunting opportunities abound.
I have been on many hunts in both North America and Africa, and have taken many great trophies such as grizzly bear, Dall sheep and moose, to name just a few. Some of these hunts were in places that I had only dreamed about traveling to, let alone having the privilege to hunt game in such exotic locations. Though those hunts are all amazing experiences I’ve had over the course of my lifetime, and while they stick out as some of my most fond memories, hunts with family, especially hunts with the younger generations in my clan, mean far more to me than the trips I’ve gone on and the animals I’ve taken over the years.
Roughly a year ago, my granddaughter Grace, 13, and my grandson Johnny, 10, passed their hunter safety courses. Upon completion, Johnny told me he would like to shoot a turkey more than anything. As his grandfather, who am I to tell Johnny “no?” Wanting to be an encouragement to my grandson, especially when it came to positive experiences such as hunting, we proceeded to prepare Johnny for the coming turkey season.
When turkey season rolled around, we found ourselves leaving the house at 4 a.m. in order to be set up in the blind well before light to make the most of our time in the field. After waiting a while for the woods to calm down, I hooted on the owl call, and received an immediate response from a gobbler approximately 200 yards away. I could see the excitement building in Johnny as we sat there, waiting for the sunrise.
After it got a little lighter and brighter outside, I gave a couple of soft yelps on the slate call, and again we got an immediate response from a nearby gobbler. When I called a third time, the bird answered back. This time the tom was much, much closer, and we could tell he was coming our way in a hurry.
I was looking out the window of the blind and saw the bird walk up a small hill and stand on an old logging road in full strut about 100 yards out. I thought Johnny was going to shake out of his boots with excitement. Once the bird saw the hen and jake decoy, he came toward us on a flat-out run. The tom stopped his charge about 10 feet away from the decoys and went back into full-strut mode.
I had previously told Johnny not to shoot at a bird while it was moving, and like a seasoned pro, he waited for the gobbler to circle the decoy and come to a complete stop. The next thing I heard was the sound of Johnny’s 20-gauge going off, and the bird immediately started doing the death flop.
Johnny and I hugged, high-fived and congratulated each other for the next 10 minutes. He had a smile on his face that stretched from ear to ear. I couldn’t have scripted that hunt any better myself.
All I can say is that spending time with my grandson that way was more satisfying than any sheep or bear I have ever hunted. If you ever have the opportunity to take any of our nation’s youth on a hunting trip, especially their first hunting trip, don’t pass it up.
Now I am looking forward to this deer season with my grandchildren. While no hunt is guaranteed to end in success, I can guarantee you that it will end in satisfaction.
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