It is possible to become a self-taught turkey hunter with time.
A single yelp cut across the field as I sat, anxiously waiting. I was alone on the edge of a tree line, trying to visualize the success of my first solo turkey hunt.
Late to the game, it wasn’t until I neared my 30s that I decided to explore the world of hunting. (Watch Marissa in the film Never Too Late) My cousin welcomed me to join his family for a spring turkey outing. All it took was that one hunt to completely captivate me.
Intrigued by the ability to speak an animal’s language, I focused on learning to track, call, and hunt on my own. To say it was easy and without frustration would be a far cry from the truth. There were many moments I wanted to throw my hands up in exasperation and admit defeat.
Picking a turkey call seemed like a logical place to start. I chose the mouth call, or diaphragm, as my first victim. There is nothing about a mouth call that feels natural. I couldn’t get the piece to stay at the roof of my mouth. I cut the call down, trying to make a better fit. Unfortunately, I cut the edges too short, rendering the call completely useless. Back to the store I went, avoiding eye contact with my usual sales attendant.
After intently watching “how to” videos from experienced hunters, I thought I was ready to give it a try. The sound that came out was atrocious and not from this world. I promptly removed the mouthpiece and stared at it with disgust. Surely it was this call and not my lack of ability. I tried again. The same terrifying noise came out and I set the mouthpiece aside, deciding to work on my box call instead.
The land I was hunting was an area I had never been before. Knowing I needed to find the roost, I snuck down on early mornings with owl calls trying to elicit a shock gobble. When this failed, I walked the property and fortunately stumbled upon tracks. I followed them, taking note of different areas to set up camp.
I lost count how many times I spent in those woods trying for a successful hunt. But every time I went home empty handed, I took a different lesson with me. I learned where the birds weren’t. I learned that hunting in the cold, drizzling rain is miserable without a ground blind. More importantly, I learned how inspiring it is to be out in the woods on your own.
On my next outing, I found a hidden field at the edge of the woods and set up my two lonely turkey decoys. I picked an area nearby that appeared to be a good place to settle down. Unable to shake my nervous excitement, I re-positioned and changed locations several times.
After finally committing myself to a spot, I reached for my mouth call, but came up empty-handed. I knew I had packed it and remembered digging it out earlier. I looked over to where I previously sat and there it lay, squished down in the mud with my boot print decorating it perfectly. Terrific. There was no way I was putting that back in my mouth. Fortunately, my box call was tucked away just for this occasion.
I took a deep breath, let out a series of yelps then sat back. Shortly after, I saw a head pop up over the tall grass across the field. I sat, hoping and praying he would come in. As he came near, I saw he was accompanied by two younger males. Hesitant and anxious, they refused to close the gap to my decoy. The distance wasn’t right and I didn’t feel confident in my shot. They circled, not wanting to come closer and finally departed.
I was heartbroken. I got up and stretched, feeling defeated. Glancing at my watch, I decided to give it another hour. I let out one loud yelp and waited.
He slipped in like a ghost; I never heard him coming. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted a vivid flash of red. My heart leapt into my throat and I was shaking from adrenaline. I couldn’t believe my luck, he was less than ten yards from me. Fully fanned out, locked in on my Jake, I quietly and slowly shouldered my shotgun. I lined up the shot, took a deep, shaky breath and pulled the trigger. Nothing. Wait, nothing?! The gun was loaded, the safety was off, where was my shot?
I slid the chamber open, verified nothing was awry, and prepared the shot again. The chamber loudly slammed closed as I held my breath to see how he would react. The tom nervously glanced in my direction, took a few steps back, then resumed his dance with my decoy. I lined up my shot again. I paused with nervous anticipation. I positioned my finger on the trigger. And then I squeezed.
He dropped as my ears rang with the satisfaction of my first successful solo hunt. I glanced over at him as I was filled with conflicting emotions. He was beautiful, a large tom that any hunter would be thrilled to take, but I also experienced a sadness for the loss of his life.
It was time to gather my things and make the long trek back to the car. As I walked, I felt a longing for another person to celebrate my success with. As I paused to contemplate this, I realized with a grin on my face and a twenty-four-pound Eastern wild turkey slung over my shoulder, this was my moment.
Marissa is a licensed vet tech and biology major with a strong passion for the outdoors. Born and raised in Nebraska, exploring local uplands has become the foundation of her enthusiasm for hunting. She enjoys being involved in organizations devoted to helping others learn about conservation and outdoor activities. Much of her free time is dedicated to her family, fishing and all things related to bird dogs.