While most states are loosing hunter numbers, Missouri is leading the nation in recruiting new hunters...
It all started when 13-year-old William McDaniel along with his two brothers Sam and Jack, joined 13 other boys and girls from all over the state to participate in a youth turkey clinic at Wilderness Lodge. The reason was to learn all the ropes about turkey hunting.
The clinic was held the Saturday before the 2-day state youth turkey season (a weekend dedicated to youth only hunting).
It started at 8:30 a.m. with an introduction by the MDC. The youth were then split up in four groups where they learned from experts how to call turkeys, pattern their shotguns, how to make turkey calls, and tracking turkey signs in the woods. The class lasted all morning and half the afternoon.
The youth received departure gifts of turkey calls, camo hunting vests and caps, donated by the NWTF, and the KC Safari club. They were now "fired up" for the following weekend to come.
I had agreed to take William on opening morning to the property just across the road from mine on the Tunsfeldt farm, but before the weekend we spent a couple of hours on finding the best load for his shotgun. We patterned three different loads and tried two different chokes before we got the combination right for best results.
Although his 12-gauge had a longer chamber and would handle the longer shells, we chose to shoot the 2 3/4 inch shorter shells. (The youth must feel confident about shooting the gun, and to heavy of load with too much recoil can make the youth flinch or suffer, which could mean a missed or crippled bird.) We also scouted the area a couple of days early to look at the blind we would use and what to expect. Our training and pre-scouting were now complete, so we were set, just waiting for Saturday morning.
Saturday morning, Scott McDaniel, Williams father, showed up at 5:15 a.m., dropped William off and wished us good luck. We quickly loaded our equipment into my jeep and drove across the road through a gate and parked maybe 1/2 mile from the area we would hunt.
God couldn't have created a better morning - bright stars overhead, cool temps, everything was just perfect. We walked down the old grassy roadway using an occasional flashlight beam when needed.
When we reached our destiny, I told William to get set up in the blind which was about four feet off the ground and covered with military camo netting. I set out three decoys, two hens and one jake, about 20 steps from the blind to William's right. I then got into the blind, sitting about four feet to Williams left. We had two plastic chairs inside the camo netted area. Since the blind is a permanent fixture year around, the turkeys shouldn't consider it a "threat".
As we peered through the darkness and waited for the first sounds of life, we knew in front through the heavy timber lay Honey Creek with many preferred roosting trees. To our right in the old roadway were the decoys. The roadway continued at the foot of our blind to the left and also forked off behind us. Directly behind us was more thick brush and timber for maybe 75-yards which then opened up to a small clover field surrounded by timbered hills and strip pit lakes where many years ago coal had been stripped out of the ground.
Like you know, if you spend much time at night in the woods, there are many loud unidentifiable sounds. After hearing many of these sounds, William questioned me about some tracks the property owner found a couple of weeks earlier, that he thought were made by a cougar.
Anyway, we survived the sounds and were beginning to see the first signs of daylight. A small bird started singing just outside the blind as to tell the world to wake up. I told William we should soon hear a tom on roost, and sure thing, we then heard a gobble maybe 100-yards to the front near the creek ... then another.
It was ten minutes until legal shooting time. Minute by minute the trees and paths slowly became visible. Now toms were sounding off in front, to our left, behind, maybe as many as ten different birds. William was quiet and speechless. I told him, I don't care who you are, this is exciting. It was now 6 a.m. and legal shooting time. We were listening to all the sounds and I told him we should hear a fly-down soon.
Although we couldn't actually hear the fly-down, we could tell by the echo of the gobbles they were now on the ground. It was fairly light by now and I told William to watch and listen and maybe a bird would come in view soon. The birds were very vocal, and the sounds were getting closer. Two toms sounded off in the clover field through the brush just behind us. More birds were gobbling to the front near the creek and getting closer.
I told William to get ready for anything. Suddenly three hens came visible 50-yards behind us in the old roadway, then two toms followed them out, strutting awhile then followed the hens back into the timber.
Just then 5 jakes and one tom came out 50-yards to our left following another 3 hens. We hit our box calls very softly a couple of times just to make sure they saw our decoys.
Suddenly another hen appeared from behind walking within 2 foot of the blind. As we both held our breath not to spook her, we knew if she saw us she would alert the others nearby. She slowly walked past us and picked at insects till she reached the three decoys. The big tom that was with the 5 jakes saw her and ducked back into the creek timber to circle out around out of view.
The audio was outstanding; hens, jakes, toms, all talking at once. We watched the two closest toms at this point to our left down the grassy roadway as they gobbled as if to argue who was boss. They started moving our way ... closer, closer ... maybe 50-yards out. I told William to get set as we had rehearsed ... 45, 40, 35, 30-yards ... he would wait for 20-yard or less to take a sure shot. At this point I thought I could hear Williams heart beating, but I finally decided it was mine. Things were looking good for William for a chance at the toms as they closed, now at 25 yards.
Just then, out of the timber directly in front of us, William saw the big tom that had left the 5 jakes earlier. He came out charging towards the hen in the decoys, strutting his stuff trying to impress her and challenging the foam imitation jake.
By now William was about to come unglued. Here was his 20-yard chance. At this point I saw something else take over in the youth ... all the training and hunter instinct. His gun barrel was now pointed out through the camo mesh as he whispered "Should I shoot?" I didn't anymore get out the words, "When you feel you have a clear shot at the toms head, let him have it" ... KABOOM!!! The tom lay dead near the decoys.
As we caught our breath from all the excitement, we quietly set in the blind and watched as the 5 jakes rushed over to see what happened. They looked as if to say "What happened ole tom, did you get struck by lightning?"
When we climbed out of the blind, wild turkeys scurried off in all directions. There were lots of high five's and pictures taken before we walked back to where we left the jeep parked.
Another special treat was found when we returned to our lodge. Cliff White, MDC photographer, was waiting there for youth to bring their birds back for pictures. Three other successful youth came by to swap stories and get pictures taken. William phoned (telechecked) his bird to complete his first turkey hunt.
What a day! Will William ever in his life forget this hunt? Will he become a turkey hunter and someday mentor another youth on his or her first hunt? I know I won't ever forget that day, and I guarantee you, if you do the same you will have as many fond memories as the youth you took. And that's what it's all about folks.