I am a 27-year-old sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, stationed in North Carolina. While I have always had an interest in hunting, I had never been exposed to any avenue of introduction to the sport, so in the spring of 2018, I took it into my own hands.
In early spring, I found myself on the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission website to obtain dates for upcoming seasons, and saw that turkey season was coming up. Over the course of the next three weeks I became obsessed: I went through the hunter-education course, bought all the necessary equipment, watched every turkey hunting video I could find, practiced calling during any commute I took in my truck and went out listening for gobblers each morning.
I hunted opening day, and set up about 100 yards shy of the most promising toms I scouted; unfortunately they never came into range. I reluctantly left for Arizona the following day. I returned a week later with my “turkey fever” burning as hot as ever, and went to central North Carolina to hunt on some private property with a friend.
We showed up at 5:45 a.m. and were serenaded by the sound of six distinct gobbles coming from different directions. We picked one out of the group to follow and then set up our spot. My friend called to the tom and by 7 a.m., it was running full-speed straight for us. The bird approached at a less-than-ideal angle, and at 25 yards, he spooked before either of us could take a clear shot. For what seemed like an eternity I could only stare as he faded into the pines.
I work night crew on Harrier jets, so I have the fortunate ability to go hunting in the mornings after work. I hunted various spots both on- and off-base for 14 days in a row without seeing a single tom. At one point, I called in a jake to 45 yards, but became entangled in a dilemma as to whether he should be harvested, despite North Carolina regulations allowing it. As soon as he was out of range regret instantly washed over me. After communicating with friends and mentors, I learned that any legal harvest, a jake or even a bearded hen, is a respectable prize at the end of the day.
The second-to-last weekend of the season I decided to explore new territory and hunt about an hour away at Camp Lejeune. The first and second mornings I left empty-handed, so on that second afternoon I drove to another spot and walked a half-mile to a field I saw on Google Maps. As I approached the field, I saw two turkeys about 150 yards away but I couldn’t tell if they were hens or toms. I tried to sneak around them through the woods, but they were gone when I came back to the edge of the field. The next day, May 6, I awoke to a torrential downpour. With my last fragment of motivation remaining, I put on my rain gear, went back to the same location and set up my chair in some thick brush on the edge of the field.
After several hours of light clucking and yelping every 30 minutes, at 8:15 that morning I couldn’t believe my eyes. Only 40 yards away, two toms silently entered the field. My excitement did not allow me to look away from the first tom after I saw his beard. I took aim, but I had to put the gun back down because I was shaking too much. After a few deep breaths I picked up the 12-gauge Mossberg 500, dug my elbow into my knee and, with the top of the bead just clearing his head, I pulled the trigger. He instantly dropped to the ground, and the satisfaction I felt was unforgettable. All of my hard work and dedication had finally paid off. When I got closer to him, a quick glance revealed a tremendous stroke of luck: he had three beards. I excitedly hiked the half-mile back to the truck to get out of the rain and to the weigh station as fast as I could. The tom weighed 17 pounds soaking wet. His beards measured 10.25, 8 and 7.5 inches long, and his spurs measured 1.25 inches long. I made my own mount to commemorate the first success of my hunting journey.
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