Member’s Hunt: Dad’s Tom

posted on April 27, 2024
MH Dads Tom Lead

By Charles Toplikar, Newnan, Ga.

My father taught me to hunt—one of the greatest gifts a man can give his child. When we were boys, he started my brother and me out by enrolling us in a hunter education course before it was a legal requirement. He always stressed safety and marksmanship. He then advanced us from squirrel and rabbits to quail and pheasant, as well as ducks and geese. We were fishermen, too. Dad taught us to process and eat everything we killed or caught.

After leaving home for a 29-year military career with mostly overseas assignments, my hunting and fishing opportunities were sporadic. However, I never lost the love of being in the woods or afield. Eventually, I retired in Georgia, with my parents and brother living in Iowa. I have since made it a point to travel to Iowa twice a year for my passions of deer and turkey hunting.

As my father, Pop-O, aged, I found it more important to just enjoy my time with him rather than my own hunting goals. I shot many trophy deer and bagged many turkeys, but really desired to call in a big tom for my dad—I guess to prove my skill to him, while knowing he had never harvested a gobbler that way.

Pop-O was a tough U.S. Marine Corps veteran. He was also a cattle buyer, and always epitomized my view of a modern-day cowboy. He had degrees in agriculture and psychology, and knew the name of every plant, grass or tree I ever pointed out. My dad was an 85-year-old cancer survivor when I set on my quest to get him a tom. He also had a vision problem with his dominant (right) eye and mobility issues due to arterial blockages in his legs, which calling in a tom for him an even more challenging undertaking.

On the first year of my quest, I took him to my brother’s ground blind on his land in Iowa. It was a disaster! Pop-O fell over backward on the three-legged stool in the blind (funny as heck, but not productive), and I never managed to call in a tom. He lost interest, and I couldn’t persuade him to make another attempt.

The next year, we created the same setup, but with more stable four-legged chairs. Pop-O asked if he had to shoot through the designed holes. I told him that if we called in a tom, he should just shoot through the mesh of my brother’s blind, and I would pay for a new panel. The first day, we called in several turkeys and had a great time watching and filming them, but couldn’t get the stubborn toms to come within the maximum shooting range I had designated for him.

The next morning he was excited to try again. I made a few soft calls, and we had a pair of mature toms come in, but at an awkward angle to our left. I started calling more aggressively in an attempt to bring them in front of us. As I was concentrating on them, Pop-O tapped my arm and indicated four more toms approaching from the right, so I ignored the two on the left and told him to get ready for the lead gobbler coming in from the right as it approached our decoy.

At 25 yards, and when the bird was clear, I gestured for him to shoot the lead tom with his trusty Benelli Montefeltro. He nailed it! I had to exit the blind to get to the bird, so I told him to hit it again. It was unnecessary. The turkey barely flopped. Pop-O had bagged his first turkey! I was ecstatic. My brother and I also killed big toms during that hunt—mine had a double beard—but nothing made me prouder than calling in a big mature gobbler for my dad.

Pop-O died two months later. I am so thankful for everything he taught me and my time with him. I have trained my seven children to shoot and hunt. I also taught my wife to deer and turkey hunt, and she is arguably better at it than me! We purchase very little meat from the store. Please pass on the tradition and value of hunting!

Do you have an exciting, unusual or humorous hunting experience to share? 
Send your story (800 words or less) to [email protected] or to American Hunter, Dept. MH, 11250 Waples Mill Road, Fairfax, VA, 22030-9400. Please include your NRA ID number. Good quality photos are welcome. Make sure you have permission to use the material. Authors will not be paid, and manuscripts and photos will not be returned. All material becomes the property of NRA.


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