The author (right), with her nephew Conner
(center), and her father after a successful
mentored turkey hunt.
Talking turkey with my nephew
Quality time together makes the "Learn to Hunt Turkey" program all the more memorable.
Growing up in northern Wisconsin, I knew there was no better feeling than harvesting a tom on a warm spring morning. To some, the first sign of spring is the receding snow or twitters of songbirds. But to me, a shotgun blast after sunrise in April ushers winter out the door.
Last year, I also realized that when the person holding the gun is not me, but a bright–eyed 10–year–old boy letting that early April morning shot ring out, that mountain top experience becomes exponentially greater.
I have been hunting with my dad since I was born. Every hunt has been memorable and a learning experience. Last spring turkey season was no different. With nine years of hunts under my belt, my dad decided I would guide my nephew, Conner, on his "Learn to Hunt Turkey" program. This was my chance to put all those learning experiences to the test and call in a tom. I was very excited but also nervous. Conner and I were used to hunting with dad and grandpa, who could sweet talk any tom into coming within shooting range. I prayed I could live up to that standard as Conner and I set out for the afternoon.
We decided to set up a blind along the wood's edge and catch the turkeys on their way to a snack before they flew up to the roost. Loaded with a blind, decoys and a 12–gauge, we trekked out to set up our spot. I dug into my memory to bring back all the hunting tips my dad had given me. Conner, who is never at a loss for words, gave me his advice as well. He let me know where the blind and decoys should be placed. After we had set up, we crawled inside the blind and waited for the birds to begin their evening stroll.
Though it was a beautiful April afternoon, there wasn't too much excitement happening in our neck of the woods. After calling every 15 minutes waiting for any response, 45 minutes into our hunt came the iconic "gobble gobble!" Conner's eyes lit up and a smile spread across his face. The adrenaline began to pump through both of us while we waited for the bird to show himself.
With the adrenaline also came something no diaphragm caller ever wants: I felt my mouth go dry and my throat tighten. My next "putt" was choppy and squeaky but the tom still responded and was closing in fast. I spotted him out of the corner of my eye marching proudly through the woods to our decoy. I told Conner to get his gun up and be ready. We could both see him now, puffed up and showing off in full strut. I whispered to Conner, "Shoot when you're…!" BAM!
Before I could finish my sentence he had shot. I looked over to where he had been sitting and saw a gun on an empty chair. He was already out of the blind running to his bird! I followed after him, watching him struggle to pick up his first tom — a nice 23–pound bird. Seeing him holding his bird, smiling from ear to ear, is when I knew that there is one greater feeling than letting a shot ring out on an April morning. The hunting experience becomes more meaningful and enjoyable when you can pass it on to the next generation.
Alison Lindner is a "Learn to Hunt" mentor and works in wildlife ecology research and management at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point.