Last spring, while hunting the red-stained hills of western Oklahoma, my then 10-year-old son Hunter closed the deal on his first turkey — a stubby-bearded jake. He was elated. Weeks later, while tossing the pigskin around in the front yard, he said, “Dad, when we go turkey hunting this spring, I want to kill a tom.” I smiled and nodded in approval.
We had a close call during the early-season in Oklahoma, but a too-sexy hen pulled the tom just out of shotgun range. He stood at a distance of 60 yards and serenaded us with gobbles for 20 minutes, with his lovely lady feeding casually just to his left. Frustrated, we gathered our gear and headed for the truck. That would be our only Sooner State opportunity.
Weeks later, minutes from our southern Colorado home, I used the Heads Up Decoy Tom Turkey with a real Rio Grande tail fan to bring a longbeard within range. The setup wasn’t ideal for a young shooter. He was kneeling in some waist-high cover with nothing to support my 12-gauge that was too heavy for him — a bad coaching error on my part. I should have let him bring his 20. I just wanted to give him a few more pellets and extend his range a bit. The gun didn’t fit him, and he couldn’t get steady. He took a shot, but missed. It really hurt his confidence. The worst part? It was my fault.
Be sure and let your youth tote a shotgun that fits them. Handing them yours during the moment of truth or simply, as I did, letting them take yours isn’t a good idea. As with anything, confidence is key, and it’s hard for them to feel confident with a weapon they aren’t overly familiar with.
It was now mid-May, and the Colorado season was coming to an end. Multiple inches of rain had flooded the Arkansas River (very rare for this part of the country), and we had pretty much called it a season. In fact, during our baseball and football tossing conversations in the front yard, the talk had turned to archery deer season. We were actually playing catch when my phone buzzed. It was my good friend and Emergency City Manager. He was out checking flood stages when he saw three toms and a wad of hens moving across a property he knew I had permission to hunt. It was too late in the day to make a move on the birds, so Hunter and I jumped in the Chevy and went to roost them.
The birds flew up in a perfect location — a huge cottonwood hanging out over the raging river. The woods surrounding them were flooded. Aside from the hens wanting to feed and the toms needing to strut, I figured the flooded timber would leave the birds with no other option than to pitch into the cut corn field come morning.
We got in early to avoid being seen and slipped into a spot I’d marked on my phone from the previous evening’s scouting sojourn. The Avian-X and Dave Smith Decoys were set, and we slipped down a slight bank where we could lay prone and wait.
The woods boomed as rays of light shot through the timber. Hunter’s eyes grew wide, and I simply patted him on the back. Moments later, the birds hit the field less than 100 yards from us. Two of three toms instantly went into strut and started working toward our fakes. They were coming slowly, but their heads were still red and didn’t appear to be too fired up. Then, for no reason other than being turkeys, the duo turned and began following the hens out into the field. Hunter pushed his forehead into the soft bank and let out a big sigh.
The toms tailed the hens who wanted nothing to do with them around the field for 30 minutes. We didn’t do a thing but watch them. Finally, as the sun began to climb into the sky, the two dominant birds started gobbling aggressively and pushing the less-dominant tom off. I reached behind me, grabbed the Heads Up Tom Decoy, pushed it into the soft ground inches in front of me and started yelping and cutting. That’s all it took. The duo, which had already drifted a good way from the hens in an effort to run off the other tom, blew up into strut and started coming on a string. Their heads went white and they closed the 250 yards in minutes.
I’ve used the Heads Up Tom Decoy when running and gunning with a shotgun, attached to the stabilizer of my bow and as secondary decoy, as we did on this hunt. Here’s the deal: it works! As my son Hunter puts it, “This decoy is pure poison.” What makes the decoy great is its mobility. It weighs nothing, and whether I use it or not, I always have it with me. It’s a piece of gear that can change the outcome of your hunt on a dime. At a distance of 250 yards, the jake decoy simply wasn’t enough to get the toms that were becoming more aggressive by the second to come in. They would stop often and look at it, even while running off the other gobbler, but wouldn’t approach. They second they saw the fan, and realized another tom was coming to breed the hard-yelping hen (me), they came on a run.
When they reached the Dave Smith Jake, Hunter was about to burst and was ready to shoot. I had him hold off, talking him slowly through the shot and explaining we had all the time in the world. The bird’s heads were ghost white and they were now kicking the jake decoy. Finally, one bird separated to left, and as you’ll hear in the video, I told Hunter to “shoot him in the face,” which he did. The shot from his Winchester SXP 20-guage was true. The bird didn’t even quiver. The second tom, out of sheer shock, jumped in the air and then stopped. He had no idea what happened, and never will. A load of Federal 3rd Degree 5,6 and 7 shot fired from my Browning A5 dropped the bird in his tracks.
What a special moment — a father-and-son double and my son’s first tom ever. This is a moment that we will treasure forever. Lord, what a blessing it is sharing my passion of the outdoors with my children. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it.