At this point, if you've read previous blog posts or follow us on social media, it's no secret my youngest daughter has been following me into fields and onto pond banks for years, really ever since she was able to stay...relatively...quiet for short stints. Last fall she took a large step forward in her journey as a hunter by taking the Missouri Conservation Hunter Safety Course and passing the exam to receive her hunting permit.
As the Spring turkey season began to loom on the horizon, with permit burning a hole in the pocket, not so subtle reminders began to drop in February that I had previously agreed to take her turkey hunting. As the season got closer, we pulled together pieces of camo from my childhood, some current camo from my inventory, and her upland boots for a pretty rag tag look! She didn't seem to care with my , we were headed for an adventure and I was hopeful to make some dad memories.
Youth season introduced an opportunity to have one of her friends join us along with her dad. We spent time scouting, talking safety, what to expect, a bit of shooting, and a lot of smack talk between the two youthful hunters. Unfortunately, youth weekend brought a big dip temps combined with moisture which derailed any patterns I had seen during pre-season scouting efforts. So, on to the big show...
The main season hit and we had our game plan. A few days in...game plan out the window with mature Toms not getting the memo. We continued to hit the woods day after day and working hard to get that first mature gobbler in the books. Day after day, I witnessed in my daughter push on with unwavering resolve, committed to the goal, and willing to grind it out.
The first week resulted in all my usual "honey holes" coming up with a big goose egg. With noise from the roost, they just closed up when hitting the ground or hung up well out of range. I began pursuing more ground for the second week. Additionally, it was time for more aggressive tactics so we began earlier and set up closer, more risk...more potential reward. That resulted in an extremely close encounter but also a miss for the first timer...so tough.
Some of the best lessons are truly learned the hard way but I knew the season was one of the toughest I could remember and opportunities can be tough to muster, especially with a first timer. As the second week unfolded, I began to question my approaches and found myself thinking, "what would my uncle do?" He took me on my first turkey hunt and showed me a lot of strategies growing up. Then we got the tip!
Friday morning found us setting up in an old pasture fence where my dad had seen a big gobbler strutting a few days before while checking cows. The morning started with curious cattle knocking decoys over while turkeys gobbled a few hundred yards behind us in the timber...and me trying to run them off but not exposing our plan to the birds on roost. As cattle moved on to morning grazing routines, birds leaving the roost, and making their way our direction...the fertilizer truck showed up. Sigh. It got so close my decoys received a good dusting and I had to wave him off. Can't make this stuff up.
In full transparency, on most mornings my patience would have expired early on and I would have been gone. But that day, my little girl was looking at me with hopes I could help her get that first bird. I knew they were at least in the area so we hunkered down...(Editors note: I can't imagine what good outfitters/guides go through, I admire ya'll and have a new level of respect for your craft.)
The walk from the field shows a kid rewarded for sticking with it. You can't see the smile but I'll never forget it. As I took it all in, the Dad in me wasn't excited about the turkey, it was the dedication and commitment through all the adversity. That's something I probably realized too late in my journey as an outdoorsmen and I'm glad she stuck with it, it's a lesson only the experience can teach.
We stopped to rehash the story with great grandparents, grandparents, her mom, and friends...what a memory. It's okay to celebrate a hard fought win, tell people congrats, encourage them, and let them know you are proud of them. We need more of that folks...stay the course, get a win, and take a moment to celebrate.