The gobbles were getting closer, so we decided to wake up the 7-year-old hunter sitting on my lap before the excitement started. Thing is, the excitement had already begun.
We’d driven 13 hours the day before, rolled out of bed well before sunrise, crept into the blind in the dark. Decoys out front, 20 gauge on a rest, red-dot sight hot and ready to go, we waited.
Gobbles echoed up and down the bend of the dry riverbed that curved in three sides around us. The turkeys were roosted as high as the twisted limbs of the live oaks would reach and, from there, the morning’s sounds launched into dry air carried forever. They gobbled at each other, at us, at the light from the rising sun. This is why we came to Texas.
After fly-down time came the lull, and the youngster lulled as well, leaning his head against my chest and drifting into a doze. What dreamscapes played behind closed eyelids I wondered? On his feet he’s turning into a little man, hard-headed, proud and conscientious but, as he sleeps, the little boy still shows all the way through.
Long before the trip, when plans were still in the imagining stage, we’d begun practicing with the gear. We’d talked about the difference between “quiet” and “turkey quiet,” about moving our eyes instead of our head, about what it means to be ready to shoot. We’d worked out a way to keep his right hand on the grip and his finger alongside the trigger guard. This we called “the ready position.” We’d talked also about listening to the field producer who’d be with us to capture it all for TV, about minding carefully when the birds got close.
As the gobbles began again and seemed to move our way, Mossy Oak’s Hunter McCool and I considered the boy and gently got him to stir.
“Wake up buddy,” I whispered, looking at him. “The turkeys are coming.”
Facing across me he opened his eyes, looked out of the blind and whispered back, “There’s some right there.” Hunter and I froze, turned our eyes as far right as they would go and saw five jakes standing five yards away.
“Don’t move,” I breathed as quietly as I could.
As the jakes drifted out toward the decoys in our front, I slid the little boy down and watched him move into position like a wraith. Gun on shoulder, cheek on stock, hand in ready position he waited. I spent three years of my life in the next 20 minutes as the birds stayed too bunched up to shoot, moved off, ran back, circled and stood behind a tree. In that time he had the go-ahead to shoot twice and held off both times for a better shot, showing the mature little man he’s trying to become.
Finally things were right and he connected perfectly. After the celebration was over I picked up the spent 20-gauge hull and told him to keep up with it because it was his lucky shell.
“That’s not luck,” he said, “that’s skill.”
Maybe his ready position is further along than I’d thought.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.