Tom Butler poses with his beautiful spring gobbler.
Many members of the non-hunting public have a misconception as to what hunting is all about. While most understand the main purpose of hunting is obtaining healthy, natural meat for one’s own dinner table, there is so much more wrapped up in experiences. The 2017 spring turkey season rewarded me with memories that will remain for the rest of my life.
For the fourth year in a row, my spring turkey season began with a youth hunt. This year was special, because the young man I took hunting had never been before. In fact, he had never shot a firearm before we practiced in preparation for the hunt. His father also had never shot a firearm before, and he accompanied us throughout the youth season taking his turn on the shooting bench.
Watching this young man and his father experience so many firsts in the woods together was a highlight of my season. The look on the boy’s face the first time he heard a turkey gobble. Having him ask me more than once what type of bird was he hearing? Watching him overcome the unknown the first time he fired a shot, and seeing his fear and misconceptions surrounding firearms diluting in an instant.
On opening morning of youth season, my young hunter, a cameraman and myself were situated in a ground blind popped up right in the middle of a clover food plot. His father and a friend were watching from a different blind a couple of hundred yards away. Before first light, gobblers were sounding off in multiple directions. It wasn’t long until a magnificent bird strutted out into the field. At about 25 yards, I told the young hunter to go ahead and take him when he felt ready. A few seconds later, the gobbler was sprinting across the field, scared but unharmed. It was a clean miss.
Throughout the weekend, many lessons were learned, like not giving up just because you missed the first time and trying something new can lead to greater understanding. Both the son and the father walked away with a new perspective on both hunting and guns, and assured me they would be back after turkeys next season.
Then my Uncle Tom came to visit. We chased turkeys for three days on my land in a remote area of the Ozarks, narrowly missing an opportunity to fill our tags on a couple of wily old birds. But then the rains came, and we were washed out of our backcountry area. We retreated north to farm country and doubled up on a couple of great gobblers. It was my uncle’s first turkey without the use of a ground blind.
My uncle is the person who introduced me to hunting over 25 years ago, so it was extra special for me to call a running-and-gunning gobbler into range for him. With our turkey tags filled, we turned to fishing, and caught a bunch of crappie and bass. We both also limited on trout at Maramec Spring Park. I don’t get to spend as much time with my uncle as I’d like, so I’m glad we were able to have five days together outdoors doing what we both love.
This season ended with a three-day trip my daughter and I took to a friend’s farm a couple of hours from home. I wanted her to expand her turkey hunting abilities, and also start chasing birds outside of the blind. She did great, learning to tuck into trees and brush, but end-of-the-season gobblers are tough, and we struck out. Yet still, our time spent together was so special.
My daughter is about to turn 12, and has entered that short time in life when both mental and physical changes are happening so fast it’s like the grand finale of a first-class fireworks show. My little girl is turning into a young lady, so I’m deliberately trying to squeeze in a few more youth adventures, before she’s too cool to hang with dad all the time. This trip together was perfect, one I’ll surely never forget.
I had an experience rich turkey season. I only killed one bird, which is fewer than normal as I usually travel to chase turkeys, but it’s not a numbers game. I love hunting because of the opportunities doing so provides to connect with people and places I love, and to procure wild game for my dinner table.
There was a time when turkey populations were depleted to near extinction, but today, because hunters desired turkeys to pursue, turkeys are once again thriving across our country. Conservation practices are in place, including seasons and harvest limits, that ensure wise use of the resource and propagation of the species into the future. If a hunting season exists, it’s because scientists have deemed the population of animals healthy enough to sustain wise harvest. Such is the case with the wild turkey.
This turkey season was special for me because I was able to spend time with the person who brought me into the fold, I was able to introduce two new hunters to our American sporting heritage, and further strengthened mine and my daughter’s bond.