A Wild Feast in Wild Times: A Veteran's First Turkey

Story by Tom Walton

I am a Marine Corps veteran and a relatively new hunter. One of those “adult-onset” hunters commonly heard about. I was fortunate enough to harvest my first gobbling tom turkey last week in Idaho. I put everything I had into this bird. I hunted all the previous spring with no such luck, but after hunting this bird for three days, I finally sealed the deal. He lived in the woods behind my house, and I knew when I first heard his gobble thundering behind my barn, I had to take this bird. I didn’t want to hunt this bird just because it was there, it meant so much more. This turkey was special for more than one reason. He not only provided me with a special memory as a new hunter, but he brought people together during hard times.

I have two neighbors sharing my quarter-mile driveway, and we are all close. We help each other with projects, and we look out for each other. They have gone out of their way to teach me about living in the country and managing my land. I wanted to find a way to show them my appreciation. I wanted to do something unique and meaningful. Neither of my neighbors are hunters, but they love good food and they appreciate the place they call home. I decided I was going to hunt this turkey and introduce them to wild game via a harvest from what is essentially their own land. For an inexperienced turkey hunter, this was a tall order. Not to mention, I’m no chef.

So, for three days I dressed up like a camo ninja and lugged my grandpa’s ol’ Remington 870 Wingmaster up the hill and into the pines behind my house. Sitting in makeshift blinds made of branches, I would take in the morning. Appreciating the smell of the warming forest and the visual of sun rays cutting through the tall trees. Using my mouth call, I called and called. The tom responded with vigor. He would come close, but never into sight. Every time his loud gobbles making my heart pound.

After two days of calling with a mouth call, trying several positions, and even spooking him one night, I grew frustrated. The turkey would tease me. He would come so close, and I would get excited beyond words, only to have him turn and leave as if he knew what he was doing to this newbie hunter. I decided I needed to give it a rest for a while. Over the next few days, I could still hear the tom gobbling in the evenings, and I kept up hope this gobbler would soon be on my table.

I got up early one morning as I would any other day. Noticing it was nicer weather than expected, I felt some instinct telling me to get moving. I decided, while my wife slept, to finish my coffee and give this bird another go. I quickly dawned my camo ninja garb, grabbed the 870, along with my slate call, and trekked back up the hill. I marveled at the springtime beauty of northern Idaho.

After getting into position, I called with the mouth call and immediately got a response. Again, the tom came close, but eventually turned and left without giving me an opportunity. I waited A while and moved. The same thing happened at spot number two. Frustrated, I sat there thinking about all the reading I’ve done in my turkey research. What was I doing wrong? Being a self-taught turkey hunter is challenging to say the least. I decided there were two issues:

  1. The mouth call was over-the-top loud and becoming familiar to the bird.
  2. Every time he came close, he probably wondered why he didn’t see the loud hen and left before closing the distance.

So, I waited again and moved to the first spot I tried on day one. I quickly located the tom again. This time, I slowly moved as close as I dared to where I believed he was. I quietly sat under a shady pine using its long overhanging branches to give me some concealment. This spot gave the tom a clear avenue of approach. Deciding this time to play hard to get, I gave a few soft clucks on the slate call. GOBBLE GOBBLE GOBBLE! He was closer than ever and closing! Deciding not to overdo it, I waited a minute before giving a final volley of clucks. GOBBLE GOBBLE! He was right around the next bush. 

I put the call down and slowly raised my shotgun to my knees. I sat still and focused on controlling my breathing, telling myself to get the job done right before getting too excited. As I stared at the brush, hoping for any sign, it finally happened. A bright red head curiously peeked out from behind a small shrub looking for his potential mate. 

Suddenly, I felt as focused as ever. It was just me and that beautiful bird I thought I’d never see. I could almost make out the detail of his dark eyes and colorful wrinkled head. As the tom moved into the open, I placed the shiny bead of my old shotgun over his neck. Slow and steady squeeze straight to the rear. BOOM! The 12-gauge rocked the woods, and the turkey fell right over, dead in its tracks. It was done.

I felt a rush of excitement and disbelief. I racked the 870 just in case, dropped everything else and ran to the bird before realizing I was even moving. There he was lying in the tall spring grass, a gorgeous tom turkey. I thanked God. Then, I sat next to the bird and thanked him. He was a beautiful bird. An animal not given enough credit by those who haven’t spent time in the woods with it. A true survivor. I was in awe of this turkey.

After a moment of silence to honor the bird, I took my photos and carried him out of the woods. I was proud, but more so I was humbled and grateful for the real experience I shared with this animal. Once at the house, my wife came out to meet me. She cried when she saw the dead turkey slung over my shoulder. I set the bird on the tailgate of my pickup, and we shared a personal moment. My wife was also amazed by just how beautiful the turkey was. She took a minute to come to terms with the circle of life, then went back inside. After she left, I got to work. I plucked the whole bird, with the help of some YouTube videos, removed the organs, and put him in the freezer to wait.  

That night, I ate the best fried turkey liver, heart, and gizzard ever. A week later, after brining the bird for 24 hours and smoking it for six, I had my neighbors over for our harvest feast. I nervously placed a serving plate filled with slices of turkey meat on the table for everyone to sample. Without hesitation, everyone dug in. They loved the turkey! They admitted their skepticism and how it was blown away after the first bite of juicy white breast meat. They showed sincere appreciation for the food their land provided. Forgetting about diseases and troubled economies, we laughed for hours and had a great night. A success!

This turkey’s life was honored to the fullest. He was appreciated and admired. During a strange time of social distancing, a wild turkey brought three families together for a truly wild feast. Thank you, Mr. Turkey!

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