My job is one that actually requires me to spend time in the woods hunting for whatever is in season – primarily whitetails and turkeys. You’d think I’d have this thing down to a science.
Yeah, well, don’t ask my son about the science lesson I gave him.
Noah is my very best hunting buddy. He just turned eight years old and it’s time for him to hunt. Unfortunately, our home state of Michigan doesn’t allow him to hunt turkeys for another two years. So it was off to neighboring Ohio for the youth season.I’ve hunted Ohio gobblers in the past with decent success and I’ve done a fair amount of hunting on public land there. Killed a couple of longbeards and watched a friend tag a pair of respectable bucks off public ground as well. I figured the youth turkey season would be lightly-hunted and finding a rockin’ bird wouldn’t be too difficult.
Man, have I got a lot to learn.
The trip started mid-day on Friday when I picked my son up from school. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a kid more happy to grab his backpack and hit the road. To say he was excited would be an understatement as big as the smile on his face as we headed south.
The trip was an easy one – about four hours and we’d be where we needed to be. When were just 30 minutes out from our hotel, we stopped for gas and snacks. After I jumped back in the truck and fired it up, I noticed that the battery indicator on my dash was flashing. A quick check of the gauges showed that the voltage meter was running a bit low.
"Nothing to worry about right now," I thought. "Probably the alternator is getting bad and I’ll change it when I get home."
Well, you guessed it, 10 miles later the volt meter went to zero, all the dash gauges clicked off and I knew we were in trouble. Fortunately, we were in a town and an auto parts place was just ahead. I pulled into the store, bought a new alternator and proceeded – in less than 30 minutes – to swap out the part right there in the parking lot. There is one major advantage to growing up with junker trucks – you know how to fix things. With minimal fuss – and a $160 bill later -- we were back on the road in no time and I was breathing a sigh of relief.
We scouted the public ground that afternoon and it looked great. Beautiful hills, lots of timber and no shortage of turkey sign. After a long day of travel, we sacked out and dreamed of hard-gobbling birds.
When the alarm sounded at 4:15 a.m., Noah was up and ready to roll. We were out the door in record time, plenty early to get in position on the gobblers I just knew were roosted on the ridges we had scouted.
But there was, however, one problem.I couldn’t find my truck keys.
I flat tore that hotel room apart, panic starting to claw at my throat. Then it dawned on me. After settling into the room the night before, I realized I had gone back to my truck to grab my cell phone charger. My keys were in the truck. The doors were locked. I had no spare.Panic time.
With the dawn fast approaching, I tried in vain to use the old coat hanger trick to open the doors. No luck.
I tried calling a tow truck for help – they were an hour out. When I told Noah that it looked like we were going to miss the first morning, he looked at me with one of the most devastated looks I’ve ever seen.
I couldn’t take it. Paternal instinct took over and I did what any dad with half a brain does – I asked him to step back and I put my hand through the safety glass of the passenger window. Then I lifted my son into the truck, he grabbed my keys and we were off. The wind blowing through the gaping hole in the truck was cold – but we were going hunting. Seemed like a small price to pay at the time.
We pulled into the parking area shortly after flydown, walked about 100 yards up a trail, hit the calls and were rewarded with a thundering response. For the next two hours, we were treated to some outstanding gobbling but the bird simply wouldn’t leave his hens.
It was an awesome experience and worth the price of a busted window.Unfortunately, we never heard another gobbler all weekend. The weather was gorgeous and that brought scores of people to the public lands. Many were hunters, many more were riding horses or mountain bikes. Trust me, there is nothing quite as frustrating as hiking a mile back into the woods, setting up on a prime spot to call and watching a steady stream of horseback riders flow past. Kind of kills the mood if you know what I’m saying.
We hunted hard all day, covering about 10 miles on foot in hilly terrain. My son hunted as hard as any grown man would have. He never stopped, never complained. In fact, when I was ready to pack it in for the day, he insisted we hit several more areas.
I’m not sure I’ve ever had a hunt that was more disappointing and rewarding all at once. Noah has earned a bird. We’ll be heading back to Ohio to see if we can’t finish the job.
And this time, I’ll have a spare set of keys.
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Steve Hickoff is Realtree.com's editorial director and turkey hunting editor. 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.