Homecoming turkey hunt completes full circle 

The first place I ever saw a wild turkey was on a farm in Newton County, Indiana. I was sitting in my treestand, bow in hand, waiting on a deer to make its way in my direction. When I heard leaves crunching under footsteps, I thought the biggest buck in the woods was walking right to me. Then magically, the buck turned into a flock of turkeys. I nearly fell out of the tree. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was like a dinosaur had walked down the trail.

From that first sighting, a lifelong passion was born. Turkey hunting is at the top of my list for outdoor pursuits. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have completed World Slam of turkey hunting, which consists of taking at least one each of six different sub-species of wild turkey – Eastern, Rio Grande, Merriam’s, Osceola, Gould’s, and Ocellated. I’ve taken turkeys in 11 states and multiple in Mexico. But this past week, I took a turkey that means as much to me as any I’ve ever taken before. 

I was 14 years old when I took my first deer on the same Newton County farm where I saw those turkeys. That was 30 years ago, as I’m now 44. It’s strange to think about a 30-year block of time, but somehow three decades have slipped away. Those years have been full of living, and I don’t look back with many regrets, but one is not spending enough time hunting back home where my roots are firmly entrenched. 

When Indiana’s turkey season opened on April 26, I found myself for the first time in over 25 years back on the same Newton County farm where I saw those birds so many years ago. I had never returned to hunt turkeys there. But, this year, thanks to a gracious invitation from the farmer to come back and hunt for a gobbler, I was able to close the full circle from seeing my first turkey to hunting one in the same woodlot 30 years later. It was a nostalgic homecoming. 

Opening morning was calm but cold. As the sun began to rise, I was situated in the middle of a 40-acre woodlot with my three-decoy set spread out in a beautiful opening. With each passing minute, I was sure a gobbler was going to sound off in the next few seconds, pitch down off a limb and start strutting towards me. It never happened. I finally gave up a went looking for a bird. 

Most of the northern Indiana landscape is highly segmented. Meaning, tracts of land are typically small with woodlots, usually running between 5 to 20 acres, dotting the enormous expanses of agriculture fields. This farm is different. I had about 600-acres to roam. So, when I finally made it to a finger woods jutting out into an open ag field, I had walked just under three miles. I needed to drink a little water and respond to some work emails on my phone. 

I eased back into the woods about 20 yards and found a fallen over tree to sit on. I took off my face mask and gloves, laid my shotgun on my left side and pulled out my phone. At this point, I still hadn’t heard a gobble and it was now 8:30 in the morning, two hours after legal shooting light. Before temporarily diving into my work obligations, I struck my box call. There was no response, so I laid my call down next to gun and started scrolling. 

With my eyes fixed on the screen in front of me, I didn’t see the gobbler sneaking in. My senses exploded when I heard the unmistakable spit and drum of a mature gobbler. Sometimes, and this was one of those times, when a gobbler drums close enough to you, you can feel the vibrations. This old boy had slipped in to about 15 yards without making a peep, and I couldn’t have been situated any worse. I was sitting exposed on a log with no facemask or gloves and my gun was on the wrong side. All I could do was freeze.

For five minutes I didn’t dare blink. I tried to breathe only every 30 seconds or so. I was sure he’d be gone in an instant. But with his head up like a periscope moving side to side in search of his lady love, he looked past me more times than I can count. When he finally looked over his shoulder to the right opposite my direction and made just the slightest movement to turn and head that way, I grabbed my gun with my left hand and in one fluid motion brought it to my right shoulder where my trigger finger swiftly found its mark. I fired. The bird never moved after the shot. There was flop in this game. It was over. 

It took a moment to sink in. In all honesty, my eyes welled up a little bit with tears. So much life has happened in between seeing my first wild turkeys on this very farm and killing one of their descendants so many years later. So much change. So much loss. But through all the ups and downs, my love of wildlife and the pursuit of fish and game has never waned. My commitment to conservation has grown to levels I never expected, and this farm is where much of that loved was first developed. I’ll be forever grateful to the landowner for sharing his special piece of Heaven with me and allowing a young boy to explore the natural world. His generosity helped mold my life. Think about that the next time a young person wants to hunt your land. What’s more valuable. One more for yourself, or potentially lighting a fire in a boy or girl who could go on to serve conservation for 50 years. 

For those of you who read last week’s column about the special turkey vest I wore and shells I used on Missouri’s opening day, I am happy to say I did it again. I am two for two on opening mornings this year wearing the man’s vest and shooting his shells. The hunting Gods have smiled bright on me this season, and I believe it’s partly because I’m carrying his energy with me. If you missed the column, it’s available on my website, driftwoodoutdoors.com.

As another turkey season begins to wind down, I am left thankful for the people, places and wildlife I have encountered. Time in nature cleanses the soul, and this turkey season has been special, one I’ll never forget. I hope you have made good use of this beautiful month of April we were gifted and lasting memories in the great outdoors. 

See you down the trail…

by Brandon Butler

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