Steve Hickoff is the Realtree Turkey Hunting Editor and Blogger. He’s been beaten by more birds than he can remember. Still he kills enough to eat well, and fool with beards, spurs and fans until the next season. Pennsylvania born and raised, Maine is his home base now. A full-time outdoor communicator with a couple university writing degrees, he chases spring gobblers and fall flocks around the country. It's "all turkeys, all the time" on the Realtree Turkey Blog.
Father's Day and Turkey Hunting
Father’s Day turkey hunting isn’t an option, but I think about turkey hunting every Father’s Day. Some of it has to do with a box call in my collection.
I’ve one of the last of the original M.L. Lynch decorated box calls — kept behind glass; never used again during a hunt, but highly valued just the same. My dad bought it from Mike Lynch himself as the turkey call-making icon made a road trip north from Alabama in the 1950s. Lynch visited the so-called “turkey hunting part of Pennsylvania” and sold his products out of his pickup truck. Only 15 states were open to turkey hunting at the time, PA being one of them. A guy once offered me a thousand bucks for it, but I’ll never sell.
The box call has a mark the size of a thumb print on the paddle end where you hold it to call. The day my father gave it to me I said: “You giving this to me means a lot, dad. I really like that your thumb print wore away a mark on the paddle.” I was thinking of that apparent personal touch in a nostalgic way. He laughed a good one. “That’s not a thumb print. I’d killed a gobbler and had it in my vest. I put the box call in there too.” He smiled. “The dead turkey took one last sh*t and that’s what wore the finish on the call paddle away.”
The story never fails to get a laugh in turkey camp.
Let’s back up a bit. I was twelve-years-old when my dad first took me spring turkey hunting, well before some of you reading this were born. As the cliché goes, it seems like yesterday. We didn’t kill a thing that day in north-central Pennsylvania, hiking the foothills of the Alleghenies where I grew up. A quick flash of movement in the woods said maybe a turkey was working to his calls, but it proved to be a red fox which curled up on the trail like a dog, no more than 20 steps away. I thought that was pretty cool and the anticipation of hearing a gobble was enough. We never did. That’s turkey hunting.
As a growing teenager I hunted turkeys alone, especially in the fall (the idea of spring hunting was fairly new then), or with my brothers, toting my father’s .22 Hornet (legal for autumn Pennsylvania turkey hunting then as it is now in many state locations). One afternoon, a huge flock of turkeys appeared just down the hill from me and I raised the rifle, aimed and fired . . . the bird dropped. The other turkeys scattered. As I hustled to pick up my fall turkey, it stood, jumped into the air and sailed down the hollow. We must have tried to find it for hours after that and never did. That first bird — a symbol of accomplishment and the frustration that turkey hunting can be — sort of shaped me into who I am now. I’ve hunted deer, rabbits, other upland birds and waterfowl, but somehow the turkey hunting thing dominates the deal. I owe it to my father.
A grainy home movie he shot of winter turkeys on a snow-covered hillside (running away, mind you) stuck. I asked him to watch it again and again, often to the point of annoyance. His turkey calls, homemade camouflage (this was before the invention of Realtree patterns) and other turkey gear he had held some sort of mystical appeal for me, as did the wild turkeys he brought home. What a cool and spooky-looking wild bird I used to think. Still do.
Later when I started killing wild turkeys with more frequency, in both spring and fall (with a 12-gauge not a rifle), I realized the early connection with that first hunt, and the steady fact he let us three boys chase turkeys and other game on our own, learning from our mistakes and occasional successes. Ironically I never did tag a wild turkey with my father — one bittersweet hunting regret in a lifetime of few.
He’s since retired from hunting due to ongoing health issues, but you can bet he’s been with me for every turkey I’ve tagged around the country. Thanks, dad.