- Mike Suchan, Outdoors
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HEBER SPRINGS, Ark. Jack wanted it bad. And it was perfect.
The gobbler came in like a turkey hunters dream. Out of the wet morning air, the gobbler revealed itself at dawn to a guide, a dad and two of his children.
He did everything as advertised, flying off the roost into the field we set up in. He landed a short distance down a small triangular field in central Arkansas, responded to calls and made his way toward us.
The gobbler bopped up the rise looking for his hen, gobbled when he didn't find her, displayed and strutted. Rinse repeat. He flipped out its feathers, showed its fan, stuck out its neck and called for the hen several times. Quite a show.
The guide calling him in was Bryan Ross, among the calling champions assembled to guide kids at the Sam Lester and Friends 2010 Youth Turkey Camp.
On a soggy morning on a J.C. George's ranch, things were perfect.
Prelude to a hunt
"As (world champion turkey caller) Larry Shockey says, they can see you change your mind from 100 yards," Scott Hook of Hook's Custom Calls said while serving as emcee for the Youth Hunt Outreach Team.
Lester and friends (he's got a bunch) assembled youth, guides, support staff and land to take a dozen or so kids turkey hunting in the hills of central Arkansas. The campers stayed at Lindsey's Resort on the Little Red River, where, as Ross says, when the dogwoods are in bloom, the turkeys are gobbling. Yessir.
At the dinner where the kids received everything from calls and binoculars to a complete outfit of Deadfall camouflage, Hook informed them about heightened senses of the wild turkey.
"Their sight is 9 times better than yours, their hearing eight times better, they can run 30 to 35 mph and can fly 55 mph," Hook said. "They come in slowly but leave in a hurry. They can go from relaxed to airborne in 1/60th of a second.
He spoke of their attributes to escape danger, but also of the experience of the guides who would work to put them in danger. Alongside Shockey, two-man calling champions Stephan Richardson and James Harrison (who performed their routine) headlined.
"It's rare for a small town like this to get six world champions and grand national champions," said Hook, advising the hunters and parents to heed their instructions. "Listen to your guides. They can hear the little, subtle sounds that an inexperienced hunter can't hear. "
Safety was of first concern, and addressed accordingly.
Lester, who found educating his calling, spoke about the generosity of not only the guides and their time, but the landowners who allowed the hunts to take place on their property.
"I've surrounded myself with the best guides, mentors and support staff," Lester said. "And landowners, guys like Justin Clark, he comes out and loaned his land year after year after year, and he finds those birds and ties them up in the trees."
Lester's son, Sammy, prescouts, running the properties and telling the guides where the turkeys should be.
"I scouted more than what we got and pulled out the best ones," he said.
The guides, like Tony Brickley and Ross, have a reunion of sorts when they meet up.
"You're going with a really good guide," Brickley said of Ross. "There's a reason they call him the Rossinator."
Perfect set up
With rains swelling creeks, the walk in was slowed, and even stopped when a trickle the day before turned into a 30-foot wide, two-foot deep creek. It stopped progress to a pasture, a field where the majority of the turkeys on the property had been sighted.
Assessing the scenario, Ross decided to set up in the road trenched between our field and woods. He chose the far side of the pathway along the treeline. The field was lined with more trees and a barbed-wire fence.
"We'll wait and let him gobble," he said. "When the turkey flies down, we'll do our best to call him in."
Birds starting talking, and two distant gobbles were heard. One across the field in the woods, the other from the trees along the road.
"We must have just passed under him walking here," said Ross, whose yelps received return gobbles.
"He's coming, unless he heads over to that other one," he said.
Up the rise he came, looking for his lady. He stopped about 50 yards away, stuck his neck out and gobbled, then puffed up, all the while looking. The kids' eyes popped. They'd never seen such a sight. Both later related how cool the show was.
This searching gobbler walked toward the corner of the field, wondering where that hen went to. He gobbled again and fluffed up. His strutting took him toward the end of the field, then he turned around, never coming closer to us and not giving Ross the shot he wanted for a first-timer.
Ross got the gun up and Jack took aim, but at 40 yards, the .20-gauge might not have done the trick. The lad was disappointed to say the least.
"I can't believe he didn't let me shoot it," Jack said. "He was saying, 'Don't' shoot it yet.'
"He had said 'Ok, get ready to shoot,' then he changed his mind because it saw something and started to walk away."
Not finding a mate, the turkey slowly meandered back over the hill. Ross' assessment was understandable.
"I didn't want to take that shot, with that shotgun, and give him a bad first experience," said Ross, who lamented not having a couple more minutes to set out a decoy to draw the tom just a couple yards closer to the fence.
It was still early. The kids were thrilled with simply seeing a turkey do its stuff, although Jack was itching for more. The other fields were scouted, but Ross couldn't' get another to gobble and said he believed all were scratching around in the woods.
Jack pleaded to go out in the afternoon, and the boys hit the farm again for three hours of scouting, skulking and running, but no gunning. One turkey spotted in the field required a creek crossing over a fallen tree, and inaction turned the 12-year-old's attention to other avenues at times, albeit briefly.
First there was a dead cow. "You don't wanna go over near there," Ross advised, shifting winds proved that sage. A bleached cow jaw from another skeleton was picked up as well as a small rodent skull. A blue racer snake drew some gawks, as did an owl before it flew off.
Several more setups were attempted, and Jack and Ross talked quietly, but frequently. You could see Jack grow up some on his day of mentoring. He ever complained about the long walks, only got thirsty when the water ran out. He was pleased to be in the woods and said he wants to go out again, despite not succeeding on his first attempt.
He's a turkey hunter now, and introducing someone into the outdoors was the thrust of the event and pleased Ross that they kids enjoyed their time.
"We had a good morning," Ross said. "That was as close as you can get to killing a turkey without actually shooting. The important thing is that the experience was a positive one which hopefully exposed the kids to something that they will remember for a very long time and sparked their interest in the outdoors for years to come."