Spring Turkey Hunt Makes Lasting Memory for Father and Son

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

Many people that don't hunt or fish or go on long backpack trips scoff about the attraction that the great outdoors holds for us. Forget about them.

There is one reason why you have to get out there and spend those precious days afield. It has nothing to do with amassing wealth or possessions. It has everything to do with creating memories.

The bond that unites families is reinforced when fathers and mothers spend time with their children outdoors in the pursuit of a goal. The goal can be catching a grayling in a high lake, watching the sunrise over the desert, photographing a bighorn sheep or calling in a tom turkey. It is not even important what the goal is, as long as you have one.

Young kids know this. That's why six year-olds want their dads to take them fishing on opening day. That's why they want you to teach them how to shoot a BB gun or a bow and arrow.

Sometimes, adults forget what it was like to be a kid and, too often, pursue their own goals with a single-minded focus that excludes their offspring.

My friend Mike Carey is not one of those people, but he is a busy man. One day, his six year-old son, Brandon, reminded him that he had promised to take him turkey hunting.

New to Oregon, Mike didn't know where to look for gobblers. It was snowing in the mountains, there was work to be done and a business trip to pack for, but sometimes a parent needs to drop everything and do the right thing for his children. Especially, if the child wants to go turkey hunting.

Carey called a friend in Prineville and was given directions to a spot where Jim had heard a turkey gobble before the season. There were no guarantees they'd find a bird when they got there.

Father and son didn't get a lot of sleep that night before the hunt. Father worried about the snow, the roads, finding birds in country he'd never seen before, and wondering how his six year-old boy would handle the cold and wet of early season. Son couldn't sleep for the excitement of going on his first turkey hunt.

In the morning, Brandon dressed in one of his dad's camouflaged parkas. The big coat hung to his ankles. He wore a hat that was too big and warm gloves. His smile was as big as all outdoors. Brandon helped keep Mike awake with his chatter till they reached Prineville where Brandon fell asleep.

Mike Carey remembers: "So I'm driving, trying to find my way into the Ochocos and the snow has stopped falling. It's changed to sleet. It was real cold, miserable weather. The kind of weather you don't even want to hunt turkeys in alone, much less if you're bringing your son on his first hunt."

After missing a few turns, driving into a snow bank and almost sliding off the road, Mike found the place Jim had described. Steep country. Rugged under the best of conditions, but near impossible for a father and a young boy to negotiate in the snow and sleet.

Up the hill they found a little meadow and Mike spotted turkey tracks. Choosing a loud box call from his vest, the two hunters climbed up to a rocky point to do some calling with the hope that they could locate a gobbler.

"I called and called and couldn't hear anything," Mike said.

But Brandon did. "Dad, did you hear that gobble?"

Mike went to work on his box call again and, sure enough, heard the faint, but unmistakable sound of a tom turkey answering him from the opposite ridge a half mile away. Father and son climbed down the hill, bumping into a herd of elk as they headed toward the opposite slope.

Cold and wet, the pair was exhausted. Mike didn't think that they could make the climb up to the gobbler on the hill. He decided to set up a decoy and call from below the gobbler in the hope that the turkey would come to them. It didn't.

The only way they were going to get that bird was by going up the hill. Mike wondered if the boy dressed in the oversize parka could make it. "I'll try Dad," Brandon said.

"Pretty soon, I was almost carrying him up the hill. He was absolutely worn out," Mike remembered. "But he wouldn't say so."

It took the pair over an hour to get to the top of the hill. They set up under a big pine tree and Mike put a decoy out, then helped Brandon into his facemask. Using a mouth call, Mike let loose with a series of yelps, eliciting a furious gobble from the old tom.

Right then the sleet stopped and the sun came out from behind the clouds. For the first time, Mike thought maybe they had a chance at bagging this bird. Now, every time Mike called, the gobbler answered. And he was coming closer.

"So I got my gun up and I whispered to Brandon. ‘Don't move.' Pretty soon this bird comes into view on the spine of the ridge, moving in and out of the timber in full strut. Just gobbling and strutting, coming in slow. ‘Don't move Brandon.'"

When the bird was 40 yards out, Mike squeezed the trigger. The sun was shining down as father and son admired the big tom that sported two beards: a nine and a half-inch beard and an eight-inch beard.

The excitement was worth the long drive, the grueling hike and the bone-chilling cold. Mike looked down at his boy, "Brandon, you did good. You didn't move."

The boy in the man's parka had a huge smile on his face. "Daddy, I wasn't even breathing!"

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