Some people believe they have guardian angels, myself included.
I also believe Jacob Holem, my 12-year-old outdoors buddy, might have a guardian hen turkey. It certainly seems he has a she-bird wanting the boy to succeed at turkey hunting. It’s pretty important stuff in our world.
When Jake and I met about 18 months ago, his mom was looking for someone to take him hunting and fishing because his father had died when the boy was four. One of our first times together he’d said he’d wanted to get into turkey hunting, which his father had deeply enjoyed. We got him four toms that fall. As fun as they had been, his second spring bird last year was better than all of the other birds combined.
On the first Saturday of the youth turkey season, I was working a flock of five two-year-old toms for Jake. Like most of their age the birds had cluster gobbled on the roost, and about every step of the 300 yards as they came to the sounds of my raspy slate call.
But atop an old railroad berm the birds had stopped, strutting back and forth there for several minutes, though still filling the valley with the sounds of their gobbles. I’m confident they could have been coaxed into shotgun range with some sweet talk.
There was no need, though, after a hen stepped out of the nearby woods and stood behind us, calling and pecking around in plain sight. Jake shot one of the toms when it stopped at our jake decoy on the way to the hen.
Last Saturday, also the first Saturday of the youth turkey season, Jake and I were in a pop-up blind on the same Butler County food plot. Rather than his 20 gauge, Jake was holding a bow. Bowhunting had been one of the other things he’d shown a deep interest in when we’d met. Again, it was also something his father had loved.
No birds were roosted nearby Saturday morning, but scouting and sign showed they spent a lot of time at the food plot so we waited confidently.
Things were pretty quiet the first hour after fly-down, but eventually distant gobbles started coming from around the ranch when I called. Then a hen rounded a bend and came in clucking and purring at only 20 yards away. She circled our blind, pecking occasionally.
But when she walked out by the jake decoy she stopped, opened her beak and some very familiar turkey sounds came forth.
The year before I'd commented to Jake the helping hen may have been the best sounding wild turkey I'd ever heard. Her yelps started sweet and ended with the kind of rasp I love to put into my own calls. Again similar to my calls, she liked to end runs of 10 to 12 yelps with some excited cutting.
There's no doubt it my mind it was the same hen as the previous year. There can't be many birds out there that sound that good.
She and I took turns calling for about 20 minutes, with a gobbler to the west sounding closer by the minute. The hen ended up pecking bugs and alfalfa 40 yards away, and I was beginning to wonder if the tom would just go to her and ignore our fake jake decoy. That would have been far beyond Jake’s shooting distance with his bow.
But when the tom stepped through a tree row, and into the food plot's west end, the hen started feeding in our direction and beyond.
The tom couldn't help but strut over to try to intimidate the perceived threat of our jake decoy as he passed. The boy arrowed the tom in the neck at eight yards for his first bow kill. It was a great bird, with a long, thick beard of about 10 inches, a gorgeous fan with white-tipped feathers and spurs wicked enough to hang the bird upside down from a tree limb.
Jake arrowed a young tom that afternoon, from the same food plot, without a hen in sight or hearing. He’s done for the season, having filled his second and last permit. I won’t return to the ranch again this spring, because I only have permission to take Jake to that place as good as any I’ve hunted in 36 springs of calling to gobblers. That it’s only for Jake just makes it that much more of a special spot in my book.
Hopefully we can get permission for the property for the 2016 youth season. If so, I know what food plot I’ll pick for our set up, and of a particular hen who is sure invited to join the party.