Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
Joe is at the top of my list for he is outstanding in all ways of life. A devoted sportsman true to his word. I hope my son grows up with his qualities!
Joe works at Gander Mountain along with guiding folks to hunt for feathers, other words, ducks, geese, turkey’s , well let’s just say if it walks, swims, or flies, he chases after it.
After reading his story you will wipe a tear from your eye!
“A Special Turkey Season”
There are moments in every hunter’s life, when they find themselves in the wild, caught in a moment that completely redefines why they do what they do. When the hunt becomes more than the mere killing of an animal and more about creating a memory that will never be forgotten.
This past spring I was eagerly awaiting the opening of the Indiana turkey season. My good friend, Shad was also making plans. Even though our tactics differ dramatically, we have always had time to get together and strategize on unsuspecting toms. I’ve always been a firm on shotgun hunter; never having a big desire to take one with my bow. Shad, on the other hand has been an unwavering traditional bow hunter for as long as I’ve known him. This difference has led to endless debates and constant harassment of each other, always in fun of course.
During this time, Shad’s grandfather, Bob started getting sick. For ten years he had bravely fought off cancer that was supposed to cut his life short in six months. The man was a five-foot-something giant. He had hunted his way across North America, raised a family and taught Shad lessons in life and hunting. Shad always gave Bob all the credit for his love for the outdoors. I had also become very close to the old man myself and over the years of getting to know him, he was like a grandfather to me. I never got tired of listening to his stories, and would often find myself hanging on his every word like a toddler to a bedtime story. He was never able to take one of the elusive gobblers. However, the boys did get to go the year before together, without a harvest, probably due to Bob’s snoring in the blind. They were always all smiles after a hunt.
A few weeks before the season opener, Bob lost his battle. The emotions were high during this time. Shad became the backbone of his family with Bob gone. While everyone turned to him for strength, he turned to the woods. He called me up one night a few days before the season to tell me he had decided to take out Bob’s Remington 870 for the season. The gun Bob had bought to hunt turkeys with; the gun that had never had the opportunity to draw a bead on a bird. Shad had never filled a turkey tag, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. He is a patient hunter, waiting for the perfect moment, and with traditional hunting, that can take a while. This was going to be a different hunt, with a new purpose. He was hunting for Bob now. I immediately asked to take part in the monumental tribute to his grandfather. He accepted my request and the game plan was laid out.
The area we were to embark on was a hunter’s dream; four hundred acres of privately owned ground, filled with hardwoods and endless pastureland full of ridges and flat high grounds. The owner, who had to work on the first few days of season, was a close friend of ours. She graciously gave us permission for first dibs. I had hunted the area on numerous occasions, and knew it well. Shad had roosted birds in the days leading up to the hunt and we felt we had them patterned well.
Sleeping was not easy the night before as rarely it is just before a season opener. This night was different though. It was no longer about filling a tag quickly. This hunt had a much deeper purpose. I drifted off to sleep that night slowly, reminiscing of the stories about the old days which Bob so loved to talk about. I sprang up that morning at the sound of the alarm clock, and was quickly ready, sitting on the front porch checking the weather reports for the impending rain that we’d surely find ourselves in. Shad arrived soon after, and as he walked towards the porch, I noticed a little something different about him. He wore an old, worn out camouflage hat and a pair of the old stile Mossy Oak pants. Through his gigantic beard, gleamed a smile. He was proudly styling Bob’s old hunting gear. I couldn’t help but laugh. I knew Bob was laughing too.
The morning was pitch-black and the rain was picking up as we blindly made our way across the clover field. We set the blind on a pinch point in the field where numerous birds had been spotted. As we settled in, the drizzle turned to a downpour and within minutes I was thankful for the shelter. There was little to do but joke and talk to pass the time. It was almost as if Bob was sitting right there with us. As light slowly crept into the field, the rain continued to fall and it seemed the birds of the land were going to be mute for the morning It didn’t seem to matter, we were having fun.
Around 7:30 a.m. we got the first break in the constant showers. Within seconds of the ending rain, a bellowing gobble snapped us back to full alert. We responded with a serenade of clucks and purrs. Before our old boy could respond a parade of three hens entered the field. A giant tom and tag-a-long jake joined the party from behind us, well out of range and my heart sank as they ignored our decoys to join the girls on the other side of the field. Our eyes were fixed on the tom, seemingly walking out of our lives as fast as he had appeared. However, movement caught my attention to our left.
Two jakes had snuck up to us as we had watched the tom. They were standing seven yards off the right side of the blind and quickly moving towards our harem of ladies.
“Shad, we could double it up Bubba. I don’t mind a jake.”
I hadn’t got the second sentence out before he was positioning his gun with a quick, “I’ll take the one on the left!”
As I pulled up my gun, I tried to calm myself. All week I had told him we were going to double out for Boo Boo. I didn’t really think it was going to happen, and then there we were.
“I’m not counting to three Shad, you shoot and I’ll take the second if he doesn’t run, this is all you baby!”
Truth be told, I wasn’t really worried about getting to shoot. This was his hunt, but I wasn’t going to be mad if I got to bark too.
Three crisp clucks brought the duo to full alert as he pulled the trigger. To my shock, my bird didn’t flinch. My shot rang before he had time to react. As my bird fell I raised my head to look towards Shad’s. He was still standing a second shot…. Running …. A third Hail Mary…..whiff.
Silence overtook the blind. I think it started out as a moment of shock, or perhaps disbelief.
“Uh, did that just happen man???”
In Shad fashion, he looked at me and smiled, “Yup! I’m out of ammo. Dude you know Gramps is laughing right now at me, and I don’t blame him!”
Laughter soon followed, he wasn’t even mad about it. I immediately began the jokes as we headed towards the truck with my bird and to get more ammo. It had not yet hit eight in the morning, and this hint was far from over. I put away my Benelli and back to the action we went. We decided to move the blind on down the field a few hundred yards. The rain had stopped but there was still heavy cloud cover. More birds were sure to enter the field if we gave them time, and we had a lot of that on our hands.
After sitting down to the second set we discussed the events of the unfortunate mishap. Right off the bat he knew what he had done; the cardinal rule of aiming at a turkey, DON’T AIM AT THE TOP OF HIS HEAD! My old buddy had gotten so excited in the moment he did exactly that (three times!) Hours passed by as we enjoyed the morning. Thanks to technology and texting, the news spread quickly to all our hunting buddies, and he took all the jokes with a light heart. After an eternity, movement once again brought us back to the hunt. Two more jakes had come to feed in the clover. They never even gave us a glance. The two exited the field and disappeared from sight.
As thoughts started to turn to a lunch break, the rumble of a truck caught our attention. Two other buddies were coming down the distant driveway for a late morning hunt. The truck passed our field in the direction of the jakes.
“They’re going to run those birds right back to us. They’ll come out right in front of us on the hilltop, Guaranteed.”
Call it coincidence, divine intervention, or just plain old down-and-out luck. Within a few minutes of the passing truck, two red heads came bobbing over the hillside, with a quickened pace, they were obviously looking to get out of sight. This time the decoys did not go unnoticed. It looked as if the lead bird had put on the emergency brake. Upon seeing the three hens in front of us he immediately changed his pace, and direction. I didn’t have to tell Shad to get ready’ he was already on him at eighty yards. His bead followed the jake’s every step. I didn’t call, they were already uneasy and I didn’t want to give them a reason to feel any danger. Besides, they were already on their way without any coaxing. My eyes moved from the turkey, to Shad, back to the turkey. His hands gripped the gun so tight, his hands turned white. With every step the bird took my nerves got a little more on edge for him. It was his moment.
“Aim for the waddles Shad, remember to aim for the waddles.”
At seventeen yards he decided he wanted to switch targets. “The second bird looks bigger; I’m going to wait for him.”
`‘Don’t get stingy on me now!” was my only response, that’s all that it took. For the fourth time that day, Bob’s Remington sounded off, this time with contact. The shot was absolutely perfect. As the bird fell the emotions kicked in. The events of the day and what it meant all came flooding in. Tears filled my eyes. There was no point in trying to hold them back. After a long silence, and hug we stepped from the blind to make that long awaited walk.
We stood there a long time, soaking in the moment. No works were needed to amplify the feeling he had at that moment. Finally, he looked at me, once again with that burley smile and a tear in his eye, and said, “This ain’t my bird, its Gramp’s.”
The rest of the day was spent in celebration. It was a day of remembrance of a great man who left his mark on this world.
As I look back on that day, though it wasn’t that long ago; I can’t help but think of the impact it made. Every once in a while we need to be reminded that it’s not about how many trophies that we hang on the wall, or how much money we spend on elaborate equipment. Sometimes we just have to get back to the roots, to remember it’s about the memories made, the love we feel for the hunt, the time spent with family and friends and the legacy we leave behind us. We took two jakes that day, it didn’t matter the size that day. Looking back, yes we both filled our tags, but in hind sight, that was such a small portion of the hunt. Everything leading up to that moment is what made it so special.
— Joe Umphries