Persistence leads to success in quest for gobblers

Submitted photo
Stephen Clark and Stephen Peterson enjoy a hunt for wounded veterans.

As I am laid up from a foot surgery and unable to chase my wife and kids around, scout for deer, run trail cams or really be active, I resort to one thing that always helps to ease my mind: the reliving and telling of hunting stories.

I’m very fortunate that over the years I’ve been able to write articles for a few publications that allow me to share some of my stories, lessons learned and proven tactics. This particular story slipped into my mind in September as I thought of 9/11 and all that was to follow in the years after that fateful day.

Early in the spring of 2016 in my hometown of Front Royal, Virginia, I began packing my things and praying the weather would turn because it wasn’t likely to be ideal for opening weekend. We were headed over to meet some wounded veterans who were coming into town for our third annual Chase Savage Turkey Hunt, a hunt that helps those who have been wounded on active duty enjoy time back in the woods hunting.

In this case we were chasing spring gobblers, but the program focuses on all types of hunting from big game to small game and waterfowl as well as fishing.

After a short while at our base for the weekend, I met Stephen, a right-leg amputee from Saint Petersburg, Florida. Stephen had never been turkey hunting before, so there’s always an added challenge to teaching a first timer, but also the added bonus of potentially harvesting a first turkey.

The food was great, the fellowship was fun and after a few hours and we were headed to the woods in what was the coldest April day in recent memory. It was settled in just above freezing on my thermometer and spitting snow. So we decided to settle into a blind we had set up a few days before, just in case we would need to retreat from the weather.

All three of us then settled in, as we had another friend and wounded veteran, also named Stephen, tag along to help with setup and moving around. I was fortunate enough to previously help Stephen No. 2 harvest his first two gobblers in 2014.

We sat and listened to complete silence. No early gobbles echoed through the woods, and compared to what we hope for and dream about leading up to the opening morning, it was a total letdown. Then after a few light yelps, I had upset a hen in our general vicinity. She yelped, cut, cackled and did everything to let us know she was upset, but never came into sight.

We set out an eight-decoy pattern to mimic a small flock of turkeys in the edge of the field, and still nothing had happened. Finally, at about 10 a.m. we saw a hen heading our way. As we could only have hoped, we saw two full-tail fans and beautiful long beards tagged along behind. They slowly eased right into our decoy set and walked in to about 15 yards.

Stephen’s shot whiffed. But for whatever reason, the turkeys stayed. Stephen killed one, and I then I quickly passed the gun to the other Stephen and on his first shot (the third shot fired), the second bird was dead and their first hunt together was a double.

So that morning, against all odds of terrible weather, it happened. A young man eager to learn had killed his first turkey and we weren’t done yet.

We laughed and told stories for hours back at camp that evening. Again, we settled in for the night to rest before heading for a new property and new adventure in the morning. I was excited as the property we were headed to had been good for three harvested long beards the year before.

Stephen and I head there, this time just the two of us, knowing there had been a group from our hunt on that property the day before when we had the terrible weather and they didn’t hear a sound. So as we sat, waited, decided to move and sat and waited some more, we experienced the same.

Then a cold brittle morning began to warm up slightly. The sun began to melt the frost and I had an idea. Just across the road was a small piece of property used as a cattle pasture. The only downfall was it was up a steep power line, and Stephen had a little bit of a hard time steep hills and his prosthetic leg.

So I eased the car into the road and stopped at the cattle gate. I wasn’t going to hike the poor guy up that power line unless we had to. I stepped out of the car and I called softly and a gobbler fired right back. So I waited a minute and tried again, and he was just a tad closer when he boomed back again.

Stephen was already out of the car and loading up his gear, and he had an idea. If I ran up the power line and got everything set up, he could walk all the way across the bottom of the power line and run up to his right which, would make it easier for him.

So that’s what we did.

As I stuck the decoys in the ground and turned to him as he came up the last pet of the hill, I realized we had nowhere to go. The turkey gobbled again and he was closing the gap and there was not a single tree that was close. So completely in a pinch, two large men bunched up at a tiny little telephone pole 15 yards from the decoys.

The turkey followed the script perfectly and marched into the decoys to die an honorable death at the hands of a man that had never taken a turkey before the day previous and now had two under his belt.

The reason this story always sticks with me is that Stephen got an amazing turkey hunting education in just two hunts. One day required extreme patience, spaced out calling, and killing turkeys by being in the right place at the right time. Day two was all about a fired up gobbler and how if timing is right they run all the way to the gun barrel even if you’re sitting in the wide open.

These hunts are why I do what I do. There is nothing better than giving back to men who have given so much and getting to watch some feathers fly in the process.