Two Jakes

My son Bob and I both harvested jake turkeys Easter weekend. Nothing unusual there, right? Young toms are easy to call in, especially early season. What made this hunt special? The first turkey either of us ever killed. I’m 63 and he’s 37. It was a special hunt for another reason.

I’ve watched too many turkey hunting TV shows. You know the ones. The host locates a roosted tom, yelps, the tom gobbles. That sequence repeats itself for what seems an eternity while the old boy slowly works toward the seductive hen. When he’s in range the hunter smacks him with a 3” load of #4s. A huge bird! Eleven inch beard with 1 1/2” spurs. That was how I envisioned our hunt going. As we said in the Army, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

We parked the truck by the farmer’s house in the pre-dawn darkness and began to unload. As the first glimmer of light peeked over the adjacent mountain, with our gear and guns in hand, I shut the tailgate of the truck. A shock gobble echoed from the ridge near my planned setup. Yes! So far everything is going to plans. We moved quickly to our ambush point.

We set our decoys about 20 yards into the field, hid inside the nearby trees, loaded our shotguns, and I sent out a quick yelp from the box call. A throaty gobble came back from the same ridgeline. I waited a couple of minutes and called again. The old tom answered back. Then he went quiet. I whispered to my son, “He’s off the roost now. Watch for him to come around the tree line to our left in the field.”

My occasional call over the next thirty minutes went unanswered. I had read it is not uncommon for an old bird to approach quietly. I mixed up my calls, sometimes using the box, then a slate, and maybe a push button call. I thought maybe three different hen sounds might just bring him in a little faster. But patience was the name of the game. Anyway, isn’t that how it happened on TV?

We noticed a lone hen cross in the field headed to our left. While watching the hen peck her way across the field Bob suddenly whispered, “Two birds to the right!” I slowly turned my head and barely made out the birds through some nearby trees about twenty-five yards away. One of them was strutting. As they moved forward I could see that both of them were jakes with 3” beards.

I said quietly, “Get your gun up.” We had agreed beforehand that if two birds came in we would shoot both on a three count. After a couple more steps I still couldn’t see the trail bird. Suddenly they stopped and turned. I told Bob, “Take your bird.” Boom! The lead bird went down. The trail bird, mine, ran up the field ridge away from us. Instinctively I hit the yelper. He turned, ran back down the hill, and stood over his buddy. Now it was my turn and the second jake went down. The amazing thing: the entire sequence from seeing the birds to both on the ground was maybe three minutes. We looked at each other and Bob said, “That’s not how I thought it would happen but we’ll take it!”

The farmer was smiling as we approached the truck and told us he saw the whole thing unfold. He said, “Look over there.” Two old toms were strutting in an adjacent field, each with five or six hens. We each killed birds, but most importantly have a father and son memory. I just wanted Bob to kill a turkey. You see, he is about to leave on his sixth military deployment. Our hunting opportunities are limited. We will cherish that hunt for more reasons than just a bird.

Why Do We Hunt?

We all start hunting for different reasons. For some of us it is part of a family tradition. We grew up in small towns or in rural areas where it was just part of life. I’m dating myself, but who else carried their gun to school in their truck or car and went hunting after the final bell rang? Well, that trend is changing in a big way. And there is data to back it up.

Responsive Management, the leading outdoor recreation survey firm, recently released survey results showing more hunters are doing so mostly for the meat. Now I’m a grouse hunter so believe me that’s not my reason. More on that later. The survey is conducted by Responsive Management every four years and asks hunters to give the primary reason they hunt. In 2008 the largest percentage said they hunt primarily for the sport and recreation. Then it started changing.

In 2013 and then again in 2017 the trend changed and more people said it was for the meat. Responsive Management attributes part of the 2013 thirty-five percent response to most likely the recession we had just gone through. Hunting was a great way to put venison in the freezer at a considerable cost savings compared to buying beef at a supermarket. That upward trend continued in 2017 at 39% with a new causal effect.

And that effect is the locavore movement primarily among millenials. Many young people in their 20’s are concerned about their health and leading a natural lifestyle. They see harvesting local venison as a healthy alternative if they eat meat. Think about it. For the cost of a hunting license ($30 annually in NC) and a rifle (less than $500 for a lifetime) you can eat truly organic, free-range meat for the year by harvesting one or two deer. Compared to organic meat in the store that’s a bargain.

No doubt hunting for sport and recreation is still in second place but it is trending downward. What is seeing an upward trend is being close to nature; consistent with the locavore movement. Millenials do feel a need to connect with nature. He’s not a millenial, but who remembers Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg taking up hunting because he wants to kill what he eats? He wants to be part of the natural process.

And it is a natural process. It has been since time began. Recorded history is full of examples of people hunting. Being part of the natural process is in our DNA. One of my favorite verses from the Old Testament is Genesis 27: 3. Jacob tells his son Esau, “Now then, get your weapons – your quiver and bow- and go out to the open country to hunt some wild game for me.” It is marked in my Bible. I show it to my wife every now and then to remind her of why I hunt.

As I said before, my reason for hunting tends to be for the recreation and part of nature. Since I’m a bird hunter, we would starve if we only ate meat I harvested. But I am of a different generation and older. I do believe our reasons for hunting do change over time. In fact we teach that in Hunter Education, the four stages of hunter development. In my latter stage it is for enjoyment, time with friends, and passing along the traditions.

Personally I’m glad to see more young people getting into hunting no matter their primary reason. We need to reverse a negative participation trend. Here’s my thought although it’s too early to verify with data. No matter the reason for starting, young people who seek organic meat and time in nature will become lifelong hunters. We have many experiences in life and once we experience the thrill of the hunt, putting all of the factors together to harvest game, it becomes part of our character.

Let me leave with a quote that sums up the hunting experience. From Tom Kelly, considered the Dean of Turkey Hunting: “The first turkey that ever came to me on the ground did it a long time ago. I sat there with my hands shaking and my breath short and my heart hammering so hard I could not understand why he could not hear it. The last turkey that came to me last spring had exactly the same effect, and the day that this does not happen to me is the day that I quit.”