Updated: Jan 3
Well here we are again. The Fall hunting season has returned to grant all of us who have been chomping at the bit and drooling in our sleep the wonderful meat we enjoy. As you may have noticed far too much time has flown by since my last post. I won't bore you with excuses or explanations about why that is. I will simply say I apologize. It would be amazing if during my absence a great deal of study and research watching animals in the wild had imparted vast amounts of knowledge and skill to assist in my endeavors and yours. However, that's simply not the case. I was able to keep connected to several Facebook groups and read my copy of "Wildlife of North Carolina," but I can't claim any sudden increase in my knowledge or skill base. So if any of you more experienced hunters were afraid there would be fewer opportunities to chuckle or laugh uproariously at me, never fear. Even though the new season is here I would be remiss if I didn't take us back a few months to talk turkey.
Amazing organization Chappy's Outdoors
Shortly before the end of deer season last 2020 I was reaching out to many people and groups on Facebook in an attempt to get help learning how to hunt. During one of these posting exchanges I was contacted in a private message by Ryan Clark. Ryan, Mr. Clark is his dad and Mr. Ryan is too formal, is the Executive Officer for the Franklin county chapter of Chappy's Outdoors here in North Carolina. Ryan's open and friendly personality easily demonstrated the stress free and companionable nature of the weekend. "The mission of Chappy's Outdoors is to conduct hunting and fishing trips for our nation's wounded veterans in order to facilitate physical, emotional, and spiritual healing through proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Before anyone jumps to any conclusions about Chappy's Outdoors, its mission, its people, or this hunt I want to make a few things perfectly clear. No one was beating anyone on the head with a Bible. Scripture verses and sermons were not popping up ad nauseam. I personally am Christian and just another sinner saved by the grace of God. I know the comfort God, the Bible, and fellowship with other Christians brings to a troubled heart and soul. The kind and loving wonderful people who work in this ministry do indeed seek opportunities to do the Lord's work; however they don't cram God or anything else down one's throat. There were prayers at the start of the day, before meals, and at the end of the day, but attendance was not mandatory. No one would chase down the wayward veteran who simply chose not to participate in the religious practices. Space was provided for each individual to determine their own comfort level and interest. It was also clear that if at any time someone had a question or was interested in learning more any of the people assisting with the event was available to talk and or pray with us.
I want it clearly understood that the focus of this event was healing for the veterans by fellowship with others who understood what they have gone through and communing with nature that is God's creation. I fully believe that these wonderful men and women understand that concern over one's eternal soul is of utmost importance, but sometimes it is necessary to focus on healing one's physical, mental, and emotional wounds before it's possible to even discuss spiritual wounds. Full disclosure, it's important for everyone to know I never actually saw combat, nor am I what most people would consider a wounded warrior. My medical issues are of a very different nature and I was honored to be allowed to join these heroes who actually faced the horrors of war.
Spring Turkey Hunting Season 2021
Let's get back to the original story now. Ryan let me know that they had a hunt for vets scheduled for opening weekend of spring turkey hunting season 2021 and there was a spot open if I wanted to attend. He also explained that hunting land, food, lodging, weapons, and ammunition during this hunt would be provided for each hunter by Chappy's Outdoors. Obviously I was ecstatic at this wonderful news since I had no idea what I was doing as usual. During the next few weeks while preparing for the event Ryan and I exchanged several text messages and phone calls to clarify certain things and nail down addresses for meeting. Unfortunately, there was a minor miscommunication between a property owner and the event organizers that lead to a double booking at the previously arranged lodging. Fortunately, this led to only a small change of plans as alternate lodging was quickly arranged well before the scheduled meeting time.
We ended up meeting at Saint's Delight Baptist Church where Ryan's father Pastor John Clark and his congregation graciously donated their fellowship hall for meals and some space in the church to layout our sleeping bags and or inflatable mattresses for lodging. Though we had several conversations and a fabulous weekend I never got a chance to ask Pastor John if he had ever heard of Dr. John Clarke who was the pastor and founder of the first Baptist Church in the American colonies and was instrumental in the charter founding the colony of Road Island and Providence Plantations. This charter also contained entirely new levels of freedom and religious liberty that up to this point were unheard of even in the colonies. Sorry, as you can see I tend to get side tracked from time to time especially when history is a topic of discussion.
Turkey Hunting Basics
Upon arriving at the church I was introduced to Mr. James Novak and Mr. Mike O'Brian who would be the two guides for my group. Jamie and Mike were both great guys with a wealth of knowledge about hunting in general but especially about turkey hunting basics since that was the intended purpose of the weekend. While we waited for everyone to show up Jamie took me to an area that had been set up for us to become familiar with the weapons we would be using. He quickly explained the operation of the 20 gauge shotgun and best practices for shooting a turkey with it. I appreciated the opportunity to put a few rounds downrange since the only shotgun I have ever fired before that day was a .410. I do regret not helping clean the weapon all weekend, that was unfortunately one of my many oversights at the time.
After becoming familiar with the new weapon those of us who happened to arrive early gathered by the trucks to talk and practice a few things. Jamie and Mike broke out several of their turkey calls and began showing us how they are used. Obviously no one shared any mouth calls, but they did pass around several box calls as well as a few slate calls for those of us who had never used one. Mike did most of the explaining with the slate calls and deftly demonstrated the variety of calls and just as skillfully showed us how each call could be altered in minute ways for different purposes. Jamie followed suit with a couple of different box calls. Finally getting my hands on some of these calls and attempting to imitate these men was certainly educational if not humbling. Not that I had any illusions I would be some kind of champion savant with a turkey call. They both also explained to us the purpose of each call and why it was important to know the difference between a put and a cluck for example. Since I'm not only a beginner but hadn't at the time procured any turkey calls refer to this video as a starting place Talkin' turkey with Deet Episode 3. Where we were gathered in the parking lot with several people talking in different groups and traffic passing by actually helped solidify in my mind a large misconception that I had before my arrival. But we'll talk about that a little later.
We probably talked about calls and practiced for about an hour before Jamie told Mike to explain to all of us beginners the whole process we would be using to hunt turkey and why we use it. They both told us many times over the weekend that if we want to be a successful hunter it was imperative that we consume knowledge obsessively. Read, watch, and listen to everything available so we can really understand how the animal or whatever we were hunting thought and functioned. Sorry guys I've been distracted but I'm getting back on track now.
Mike said in this case for turkey the first thing we needed to understand was that we were trying to convince the "tom" or male turkey to act completely counter to his nature. In normal turkey behavior the "tom" will attract the hens to him. He doesn't chase after her the way a buck will follow a doe. So all the tips, tricks, calls, and secrets we employ in our hunt will be completely counter to all the "tom's" instincts and experience up to that point in its life.
Locating Turkey Roosts
It was already about midafternoon at this point and everyone who was supposed to be there had finally showed up. So Ryan and all the guides went out to several locations to scout and roost some turkeys. The process of roosting the turkey or sometimes called putting them to bed is fairly straight forward. An experienced turkey hunter will scout the land he/she plans to hunt and will find the proper signs there are actually turkeys in the area. Then they'll use a variety of methods to try and find where the turkeys have decided to spend the night. An example of this would be using a crow call to mimic the sound of a loud crow. If it works properly any "toms" in the area will make what is known as a shock gobble. Basically it's the turkey equivalent of a six year old girls scream when the local naughty boy puts a frog in her hair. The hunter then uses that gobble for locating turkey roosts so he/she will know where to set up in the morning before the birds come down from the tree to look for breakfast. Yes, you read that right. Turkeys can actually fly short distances and spend the night up in trees to try and protect themselves from most predators during the night.
While they did that the rest of us helped the volunteers from the Church, mostly Ryan and Pastor John's family carry in the supplies and food for the evening meal. If you know anything about the military or veterans you know it's pretty much second nature to pitch in when things need done. That's especially true when those chores are setting up for chow time. For the rest of the evening we enjoyed fellowship, conversation, and great food as we prepared for opening weekend of turkey season. Before we turned in for the night we were informed breakfast would be a 4am or to most of us Oh dark hundred. What transpired in the next two days was one of the best weekends I've had in years and you can read all about them in my next post!