Jacob was the son-in-law of one of the camp members and my hunting partner for the afternoon. I was told that he’d never hunted turkeys before, so I ran through a list of firearm safety rules that I’d work into a conversation later on. Jacob was about 30 years old, tall, and in good shape. I had high hopes after our brief meeting. We were in the field only a few minutes when we had to cross a creek by walking a narrow tree trunk that made a tenuous bridge. Before crossing, he broke the action of his single shot shotgun and asked when he should load up for the hunt. Obviously, he had been trained in firearm safety and I asked about his background. He was using a custom Rossi 12-gauge single shot with a TRUGLO choke tube and front sight.
“I joined the Marine Corps in 2006 and deployed in Iraq with the Second Marine Battalion, Fifth Marines in ’07, did two tours with the Navy, and then in 2010 deployed to Afghanistan with the Second Battalion First Marines,” he replied.
I was instantly humbled and my mind swirled at the mere thought of the ordeals this man had endured for my freedom.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yeah. I was lucky and came back in great shape.”
“How about PTSD?” I asked, not wanting that terrible affliction to slide by without attempting to address it.
“No,” he responded. “I’m okay there too.”
With a lump in my throat, we crossed the slender bridge, Jacob loaded the Rossi, and we headed toward a distant pasture where I’d seen three gobblers strutting just after dawn. As I paused to glass, Jacob leaned over and picked up a shed antler still in great shape. A perfect souvenir of the hunt, I slid it in his pack next to the fan from a big Rio gobbler I’d taken earlier that morning, and we were off again.
What once was a casual hunting event between two individuals was now for me a matter of national honor. What a privilege to accompany this young man. In a similar way, the turkeys must have thought so too, as we traveled less than a quarter mile before spotting black forms feeding in a shallow ravine. This would be the classic “fanning” technique, as three gobblers were henned up, well out of range, and not likely to approach any type of call.
I’d shown Jacob how the fanning process worked and we immediately began to crawl toward the crest of the ravine, trying to avoid prickly pear cactus hidden in the grass. Once there, Jacob slide up beside me and we estimated shooting distances. If the birds passed a patch of choke cherry in front of us, they would be in range.
I opened the turkey fan and simulated a strutting gobbler while calling on a diaphragm to catch their attention. Immediately the three toms began to strut and gobbled twice. Soon the lead bird closed from strut and headed our way, as I silently prayed, Please let this work.
Slowly the birds approached, strutting and gobbling at 75 yards. They had to pass through a thick patch of choke cherry, an obstruction that could easily hang them up. When the birds disappeared in the cover, I whispered for Jacob to cock the shotgun and reassured the firing line. For long seconds we waited with no sign of the toms. I cut on the diaphragm and the gobblers thundered and then stepped into the clear, determined to take down this interloper. I’ve never seen gobbler heads so red, as every aggressive instinct in their body sent blood to their mating display.
“Shoot any time,” I whispered to Jacob and in seconds, the lead tom collapsed under the impact of the Rossi. “Reload, reload,” I whispered as the two other birds flew briefly up the hill, then considered flogging their buddy. Boom! Jacob filled his second tag in short order and then the celebration began. Wow! The hunt was less than an hour old and we had two big birds on the ground.
Jacob was absolutely jubilant about the success as we spent the next few minutes reliving the excitement. We finally came down to earth and took a few pictures. I remember saying, “Jacob, I’m as excited as you are…” I stopped, then added, “Okay, I’m not, but it’s close. “