Nick's Lucky 12s - One Memorable Turkey Hunt

There are some turkey hunts that fade after just a few days; they become a blur, a mix of events and moments that become muddled and forgotten after too many days of early rising, long days and aching backs or legs.  April 12, 2008, will not be one of those hunts.  No, for my 12 year old nephew Nick and I and my husband Brian, anytime we talk about April 12th it will certainly cause us each to crank our head to the side in quiet recollection, gazing off for several minutes as vivid images spread shameless smiles across our faces; images of the snow-covered sand country of central Wisconsin in April; snapshots of a wet, black-feathered tom making its way to our decoy and vivid memories of a young boy’s twinkling eyes and eager face as he embarked on his first turkey hunt during the Wisconsin Youth Hunt April 12th and 13th, 2008.

Nick’s hunt actually began back in December; when his mom and dad surprised him Christmas morning with his own Remington youth model 20 gauge.  It proceeded in January as Nick and his dad enrolled and began their hunter’s safety class.  Before graduating just a month later, Nick had called and asked when he could come out and shoot his gun.  By mid January, despite snow and damp, finger-numbing temps, Nick demonstrated his natural talent as a great shot by shattering clays in our woods as we hand-tossed them into the air.  In February and March, we moved forward with patterning his gun, aiming at paper turkey targets and shooting from various positions, again hounded by cold and record-breaking Wisconsin snows.

We soon learned Nick had been awarded a tag for period 1, which ran from April 15th thru the 20th, which also enabled him to hunt the Youth Hunt weekend April 12th and 13th.  Only kids age 12 thru 15 who have passed Hunter’s Safety can hunt that weekend in Wisconsin, and we knew that would be the best bet for Nick to get a jump-start on the season.  Nick and his dad shopped for camo, face masks and shells as turkey season neared while my husband and I planned where to take Nick.  As the hunt neared, forecasts were not favorable and the chance for cold and snow was inevitable.  At least it would teach Nick to hunt despite perfect conditions, we thought.  We warned Nick repeatedly as we drove north that we might be in for a long, hard day’s hunt with minimal gobbling and little turkey movement.  Nick merely responded with “I don’t care; I just can’t wait to be out there hunting!”  We laughed and told him he might not be so enthusiastic after a few hours sitting in the cold, wet snow!

Our alarms sounded off at 4:30am, and we awoke to find Nick bouncing on his bed, exuberant and anxious to hit the woods.  He informed me he woke up at 3:30am and had tossed and turned ever since!  After a light breakfast, we dressed in several warm layers, finishing with our rain gear and rubber boots due to high spring water levels throughout the area as a result of the record winter snowfalls.  The temperature was barely 30 degrees with a fresh inch of wet snow on the partially frozen ground.  We headed to a ridge where we’d spotted a group of toms at dusk the day before, but again warned Nick not to be too optimistic due to the weather.  At 5:15 we exited the car, made sure Nick’s gear was in order and gun safety on, put on our face masks, and began our silent trek east through the woods with Nick in the middle of us.  Minutes later as we neared the ridge and walked slower, a bird suddenly burst out of its roost overhead and flew down, landing not far away.  We all instinctively shrunk to the ground and stayed crouched and motionless for a moment, listening.  I whispered to Nick that we needed to back away quietly and slowly, and we began to retreat.  Just 50 yards away, I quickly motioned for Nick to sit at the base of a large red oak facing south, while I stuck our hen decoy in the ground 15 yards away.  My husband Brian setup 20 yards to our southwest, and I returned to quickly settle in against the tree and sit just off of Nick’s right shoulder.  Nick had asked if I would begin calling…but I told him no, we needed to let the woods settle down after busting the turkey out of its roost, and we needed to listen for other birds first.

All was quiet, when suddenly I heard a fly-down, and then another.  Nick turned and whispered to me that he’d heard two birds fly down.  I was impressed.  Shortly after the fly-downs, my husband brushed his box call together a few times, quietly yelping in the early morning.  Instantly, we had one loud gobble and two or three others respond farther east!  Nick’s head whipped around to look at me, eyes wide with excitement as we smiled at each other!  “Yup, we’ve got turkeys, Nick!” I whispered.  He turned to me then, and said “I think there are three gobblers…it sounded to me like three different gobbles.”  Again, I was impressed with his perceptiveness and told him he was right, there were!  Brian called again on his box call, and again we got a loud gobble, obviously closer.  I told Nick to raise his gun up to his knee, and get into a comfortable shooting position.  I reminded him keep his safety on, but be ready and stay still as the turkey came in.  Once Nick was set, I let out a few gentle yelps on my triple V Primos diaphragm call, and we were instantly awarded with several gobbles, closing in fast.  I again told Nick to keep looking for a bird, it could come fast now, but stay calm and don’t shoot until you’re ready.  Just as I peered over Nick’s head I caught a brilliant blue and red moving through the brush….it was just 35 yards away and moving straight to our decoy, not even aware of our presence.  I whispered to Nick, “There’s a bird, there’s a bird!” and Nick frantically replied that he “didn’t see any bird anywhere…where is it-- WHERE is it?!”  As I told him to move his eyes only and follow the barrel of his gun, he located it, and slowly began to raise his gun up as it continued to move closer.  It was just 20 yards now, and had cleared the brush, bursting into full strut as he did.  Nick uttered, barely audible, “Now?”….I responded with “No…wait til his head pops up.”  I saw Nick’s arm shaking like crazy as he followed the bird as it walked another 6-7 yards closer. I wondered for a moment if he might miss due to his shaking.   The gobbler was now between us and the decoy at just 12 yards as it lowered its fan and popped up its head.  “Anytime” I barely uttered into Nick’s ear, and a second later, Nick fired his Remington 20 gauge and sent the bird down, feathers flopping in the wet snow!  Brian and I burst into simultaneous congrats and smiles as we could barely believe Nick had already shot his first turkey and that the tom had strutted right in for a perfect shot.  It took Nick just 30 minutes to shoot his first turkey, on the first day of the 2008 Wisconsin Turkey season!!  Nick, however, sat smiling and stunned at the base of the tree; a bit dumbfounded that he had in fact shot his first turkey so quickly, and a bit unsure of what to do next as it flopped about on the ground.  We told him to go get his turkey and he ran and tried to pick it up…..saying with a broad smile, “this thing is BIG and HEAVY!”  Nick said he wasn’t sure if he should’ve shot it again as it flopped, and we explained to him the flopping around usually happens after being shot, but that you need to run and grab it just to make sure it doesn’t get up and try to run away.

It looked to us like my nephew Nick had the luck of the “12’s” this year…..he was 12 years old, and shot his turkey on April 12th at just 12 yards.  Lucky 12’s it was, and it was a day none of us will ever forget!