The title of this article may sound as though I will be writing about "The A Team," but I am not. This is a story about one of the most complex turkey hunts I have been involved with. There were so many moving pieces I almost lost track.
It all started last summer when our oldest grandson, Ayden, told us about a class trip this June to Washington D.C. He really wanted to make the trip but had to raise a substantial amount of money in order to go. He was doing fundraisers like bake sales and selling candy bars.
I told him if he worked hard to raise money for his trip that I would, as well. I came up with the idea to raffle off a guided turkey hunt in west-central Illinois. This idea was good but I did not have permission to turkey hunt anyplace where I could take a stranger. I went to my good friend Tom for some advice.
Tom and I have been friends for decades. His last name and the location of his property are not important to this story. Tom has already been thanked. I have hunted one of Tom's farms for about 30 years. I told him Ayden's story and my idea to help. He immediately offered his property in support of Ayden and the raffle. The plan was beginning to take shape.
I chose second season for the hunt hoping for good weather and favorable breeding conditions. I advertised the raffle and began selling chances with an Oct. 1 deadline. This would give the winner plenty of time to apply for a permit and make their plans. The lucky winner was Daniel Hood from Springfield.
I notified Mr. Hood of his good fortune. He was elated! He told me he had been turkey hunting off and on for about eight years. He also informed me that he had not yet gotten to harvest a gobbler. In fact, he had never even shot at one. Furthermore, he had never even seen a tom strut. His bucket list was long and empty.
Several weeks after I told Dan that he was going turkey hunting he called to tell me that he had made his application for the second season to the appropriate county. He also asked me if I knew that weekend included Easter Sunday. That question stopped me in my tracks.
Remember when I told you this was a complex plan? My error of not knowing when Easter fell just added a huge level of complexity. I was obligated to fulfill my end of the deal no matter how bad it hurt. Luckily, Dan called me back and said he was not willing to miss Easter morning Church services with his family. That relaxed me significantly.
Our plan got modified to a one-day hunt. I told Dan I would make up the other day of turkey hunting at a later date. All was good.
Stoney Creek Inn in Quincy agreed to host us for this hunt to help Ayden out. We arrived there on Friday night before the second season opening day to fresh, clean rooms, professional hospitality and a great staff.
Diamond and her crew at Quincy's Stoney Creek Inn make my stay great every time I visit them. The atmosphere there is perfect for a hunting or fishing trip. I highly recommend this spot anytime you are in west-central Illinois for any reason.
Saturday morning Dan and I were up early and headed to the farm. Then, as we did during the previous evening's drive from Springfield, I shared with Dan the benefit of my decades of chasing these very elusive birds. His excitement was palpable.
As we stood at the truck birds were already gobbling. We walked the quarter-mile from the truck to "My Tree". My Tree is THE spot to be sitting to kill a big gobbler in the spring. Dozens of birds have been taken there by a handful of different hunters. This was the very best I could do for my raffle winner.
After we got set up we began to listen. Birds were gobbling all around us at varying distances. We were literally surrounded. Of the six birds that we could hear gobbling from their roosts, three were easily within calling range. There was one close to the truck, one down by the creek southeast of us and one more right down the hollow to our west. This bird was less than 200 yards out.
I do not call until I am relatively sure the birds are on the ground. The first one that pitched off was the one down by the creek. I hesitated a couple of minutes until Dan said he saw and heard the closer one to us fly down. I made a series of hen yelps with a diaphragm call. He answered.
I put the call in my pocket and began preparing my video equipment. I saw the big gobbler step into the field. "There he is," Dan whispered. "I got 'im," I quietly responded. "Sit real still and just wait," I told my partner, remembering he had never seen a strutting tom before.
The big black bird strutted and gobbled for over 10 minutes as he methodically made his way up the hill. He would stop and stretch his neck looking at our decoys. I have seen this scene play out dozens of times at this spot. It was just a matter of time and Dan Hood was really enjoying the show.
After about 15 minutes of strutting and gobbling to intimidate the jake decoy and run him off, I decided to get this show rolling. I picked up my box call and gave him three crisp, loud jake clucks. His demeanor changed instantly. He folded his strut and came right in.
I let him inspect my hens but when he jumped up on Tommy, my jake decoy, I told Dan to shoot. Daniel Hood's first ever gobbler weighed 22 pounds. It had a 10½-inch beard and inch-long spurs.
We were both very happy. Dan because of his first gobbler and me because an extremely complex plan came together.
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