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This One’s for You

In Wisconsin’s pre-dawn darkness, a whippoorwill’s incessant calling greeted me as I worked my way along the edge of a large contoured farm field. Scouting and observation told me the tom was roosted in a patch of hardwoods overlooking a ravine in the far northwest corner of the field, and I wanted to get as close as I could without spooking him.
I found what I thought was a pretty good set-up location, stepped off 20 yards, staked out a hen decoy and settled in for fly-down time.
The whippoorwill finally stopped calling, and the cardinals began greeting the new day. Soon, other birds joined in the chorus of morning. I leaned back against my tree and drank in all the wonders of God’s creation.
The hunt, as always, was special to me. Roughly 50 years ago, my father and I read an article in an outdoor magazine about hunting turkeys. Back then, hunting this magnificent bird was only a dream for us, because turkeys were only located in far-off lands, places such as the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.
Regardless, we talked about how neat and exciting it would be to hunt them. That long ago, we couldn’t possibly have imagined how plentiful and far-ranging the wild turkey would eventually become, nor would we have believed the equipment and information available to the contemporary hunter.
Dad passed away not too many years later at the age of 57, and our dream of hunting turkeys together never came true. I inherited Dad’s shotgun, a Winchester Model 1897 12 gauge, and it was in his memory that I was here on this picture-perfect May morning with his gun, trying to do alone what we were never able to do together.
My nostalgia was suddenly interrupted by a hen’s soft three-note call. I quickly realized she was between the roosted gobbler and where I’d chosen to set up. I also realized I was much too close. This was going to be tough.
Now I don’t know what scandalous proposition was in that three-note call, but it fired that gobbler up something fierce, and he hammered back at the hen, which, in turn, got another hen involved.
With that, I realized I had very little chance to call him in my direction, but I tried anyway. He answered every call that the hens and I made for about an hour, until he finally drifted further off to the northwest, across the ravine and into a property I did not have permission to hunt.
As they moved off, I thought, “Well, Dad, I guess it won’t happen this morning.”
But, I figured I’d sit tight, call a little now and then, and maybe call him back when his harem left him.
After about a half-hour or so, I called with a box call that I had made and thought I got an answer from the opposite direction. It was one of those gobbles from far off that it makes you wonder if it even was a gobble. I called again and got a definite answer from the east, and he sounded interested.Reader 1.jpg
After a few minutes, I called again and he answered, sounding as if he was closer, but still a long ways off. He was probably on the other side of the ravine that bordered the eastern side of the field. I called again, and when he answered this time, I decided that he was definitely closing ground.
I sat with my eyes glued to the northeast corner of the field, which was about 250 to 300 yards away. There was a small patch of tall grass in the corner, and I was finally able to see his white head looking over it as he searched for the lonely hen.
When the gobbler stepped out of the grass into a picked corn strip, he puffed up and went into full strut. I called to him, and he cut off the call with a demanding gobble. Then, he saw the decoy.
As I restrained from calling, he continued across the field in full strut and all of his glory, gobbling every 15 steps. I wished Dad could have been there to see this incredible display. With the morning sun glistening off of the bird’s iridescent feathers and its gobbling full-strut approach, the adrenaline and emotions of the moment were almost too much for me to handle.
The gobbler was at 25 steps when I finally held the bead of Dad’s ’97 on its head. The load of 23/­4-inch No. 5s found its mark, and the 50-year-old dream my father and I had of hunting turkeys was realized.
As I stood over the beautiful 24-pound tom, which also sported an impressive 10-inch beard and matching 11/­4-inch spurs, I looked up to heaven with a tear in my eye and said, “This was for you, Dad.”

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