I want to tell you a story about the “Wild Turkey Takedown.” The story is simple, but the message is lasting, and it’s certainly one I’ll never forget.
Going All In
If you have children or have younger siblings, then you have likely seen how an infant begins to walk with no regard for danger. For example, when a child stands up and begins to walk toward a porch drop-off or even into a wall.
You could say I was the same way in how I learned to hunt last year. I also got an extra course in bowhunting for beginners!
A non-hunting history
Like Henry Ford said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”
A little back story to get started… I am a woman without a childhood of hunting. Although many surrounding my family were hunters, my family was not.
As a child, I always envied the friends I had that would talk about their weekends spent hunting. So, at the start of last year, i got an offer that would change my life. My fiancee’, who has 30 years of deer hunting experience, asked me if I wanted to learn how to hunt. Clearly, I answered yes!
It has been a blur ever since. I have been privileged to no longer be an observer of nature, but instead to interact with it as a part of the life cycle. With many laughs, a few tears of joy, and also some sorrow, I want to tell the story of my very first harvest. For me, this N1 moment locked in my true respect for hunting as well as my ability to be confident and be my own person.
One person asking one question can lead to… hunting!
After coming home from a trip to town, I found myself almost running off the road. Why? Because I saw a field full of wild turkeys, just a mile from my house. Without a second thought, I all but put my truck on two wheels as I whipped into the driveway of the closest house, hoping the owners of the property lived there. I jumped out and to the door I went.
To my surprise, someone answered! Even more surprising was that they gave me permission to hunt the land and the turkeys I had seen!
I jumped in my truck and flew home, grabbing my vest, gun, boots and hunting gear. I came back shortly and struck out to call the turkeys.
Rain cancels the hunt… or not!
Unfortunately, a massive thunder storm rolled in. I was literally about 3 miles back in the woods next to a river, taking shelter under trees and waiting for the lightning to stop. Somehow, I was never once bothered or upset that I just got drenched and had not one turkey to show for it.
And, just my luck, on my way back out of the woods, the tom had come back to the fields I initially saw them in. And, of course, my shotgun decided it did not want to fire. I got to experience for the first time just how well wild turkeys can fly, as they took off running and into flight as I tried to get my gun to fire.
Wild Turkeys come to those who wait?
A few days later, and after doing some scouting, I had identified a turkey roosting location! I decided that I was going to take my bow for the first time. After all, turkeys are just birds, right? It’s not like they could be hard to kill (or so I thought).
The sun was high, the sky was blue, and there was a light breeze that day. Here I was in a backed-up position that I felt would be crossed when the birds headed to roost that evening. My hunch was correct. Soon, I began to hear the turkeys come up the ridge, making racket like a siren in the night.
When they came over the top into view, my body instantly reacted and my heart lost control. It took all I had not to draw my bow as soon as I saw them. The waiting seemed like a lifetime to me. Finally, the turkeys came into range…
I went to full draw. After this moment it was as if I was in auto pilot! When the turkeys were at approximately 20 yards, I released and held my breath. My eyes felt like they were the size of watermelons as the tom I had aimed at was now thrashing and making sounds like a demon. I could see the bright orange and white vanes of my arrow flopping around with his body. Then I realized that instead of dropping, the tom was attempting to take flight! I instantly jumped out of the blind and went rushing to grab him, like a kid at a rodeo chasing the mud-covered hog for a prize.
I had no idea how destructive these birds could be until that thing grabbed me as I grabbed it. From there I can only describe the scene as something out of a movie. I tried to get on top of him to drive the arrow further in and end the situation, but then I realized my shot was far from perfect, landing close to the base of the neck.
It’s a hard concept for some to understand, but as a hunter, I have no joy in killing and truly attempt to make this a swift moment for anything I hunt. I knew that even if he got free, he would suffer and die slowly somewhere so I felt I had only one option. I pulled out a hunting knife I kept in my boot and fought to turn him over. This resulted in in exposing myself to his claws, which to this day have left their marks on my body. After a swift insertion to the proper region, the tom finally relaxed and took its last breath.
I stood up and noticed the blood on me (mine and the bird’s). I was sweaty, covered in grass and breathing heavily. During that moment, I was somewhat conflicted. I was saddened by the death and the thought of causing suffering. But, I was saved by the thought of how nature would have ended the bird’s life via coyote or other predator. This made me feel at peace with what I had just done. I took the tom, and with much effort, slung him over my shoulder. I had just accomplished something massive in life.
Shortly thereafter, I went home and butchered the bird myself and stored up the meat to prepare for future meals. Of course, all after I cleaned and covered the cuts caused by this struggle.
To some, this was some silly bird that should have been left alone. To others and myself, this was a moment that I had to prove to myself. How bad did I want it? What am I willing to chance for it? These are things a childhood of hunting can’t create. The lack of knowledge may have been the key for me. Had I known how much of a struggle I would have faced, would I have jumped out of that blind? Would I have even taken my bow?
Each of us have to remember that we don’t need the approval or recognition of anyone else to do what we desire. On this day, I realized that I didn’t need to meet other hunters’ criteria, I just needed to hunt. On this day I felt capable, independent and able.
I encourage each person to spend less time scrolling and comparing, and more time setting goals that seem insane and remembering to be the positive voice to anyone else who may be needing encouragement. It was just a bow and a bird on the outside, but inside it was the birth of a provider. The serenity in the storm that day and leaving behind the first world problems has been what I continue to seek. Any day in the woods is another day to refine skills that can’t be purchased in a store.
We hunters cannot be duplicated. We are capable and able humans. It’s never too late to do something great. If you haven’t experienced life as a hunter, I urge you to give it a chance. Who knows what’s waiting for you while you sit in the dark, waiting for first light. What will you see in the forest while you’re 35 feet off the ground? And, what will you hear as you control and quiet your breathing to sync with the forest? I can tell you one thing, it’s worth a shot to find out.
Deer dogging has been around for many years, and deer hunting with dogs is a tradition in my family that has been passed down from generation to generation.
From a passion to a business
I started White Water Kennels, in Elba, Alabama, in 2014. In the beginning, it was simply a name for my personal hunting dogs kennel. But, over the next several years, it grew into a well-organized group with several members in several states. We take our love for hunting with hounds very personal. We try to develop a dog through a process of training techniques, with very strict guidelines.
A dog is born with a natural instinct to use its nose and to hunt. We simply help the dog reach it’s full potential. And, while there is no perfect dog, we train deer dogs to be the very best they can be. We take pride in what we do and pour countless hours, days, weeks and months into training dogs to become well-developed and experienced hunting and running machines.
Our decision making is based on careful studying of our packs. We have what we call brood males and females that we breed according to what we are wanting to gain in the packs. For instance, if we are wanting to add more trail dogs, then we have certain dogs we breed for that. The same holds true for running dogs.
When puppies are born and ready to train, we put them through a series of training techniques that we developed to see what each dog has to offer. In addition, we determine what areas we need to spend the most time in correcting shortcomings.
The way we look at is, a dog is only as good as it’s owner. The time you spend training a dog will show, as well as the time that is not spent. Because laws are getting very strict in our area on dog hunters, we collar break, whistle break and horn break every dog we produce to a guarantee.
Investing in the dogs = memories waiting to be made
I enjoy watching how well all the guys work together for the benefit of the kennel and the work each one puts in to make White Water Kennels the best it can be. We love each other, the hours spent together, the memories made, and watching young hounds develop and progress through our training techniques.
I strongly encourage anyone who has never hunted with hounds to try it. And, when you do, I believe you’ll feel the thrill that we do every time we dump the boxes. To us, it isn’t about the kill. It’s about the sound of the hound and the race between the dogs and the game. Its’ in our blood, and we’ll love hunting with dogs till the day we die.
This barefoot buck was a moment that I would have never have imagined I would ever experienced in my lifetime.
(Not) Growing up in the outdoors
For people who know me, they know how unconventional my outdoor story is. Growing up, my parents did not raise me hunting or fishing, and being involved in the outdoors wasn’t something I knew much about. In fact, all my life I was classified as my family’s “girly girl.” I was a ballerina, then a cheerleader, and on the dance team in middle-school. Oh, and I absolutely loved fixing my hair and dabbling in makeup.
Luckily for my poor dad, who has a wife and FOUR daughters, I played basketball, mainly because, against my mom’s wishes, he convinced me to at the age of eight (fortunately, I truly loved it and stuck with it every year until I graduated).
Being called “girly” all my life and not being introduced to the outdoors definitely forced me to label myself as “unworthy” of ever trying to fish or hunt. So, I never did. I had several friends growing up that hunted, but most of them were pretty unethical and egotistical. There were many disheartening moments I had witnessed because of them, and unfortunately, it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth toward the outdoor industry. I started to hate seeing photos of successful hunts and fishing catches. I unfollowed people on social media that expressed their love for hunting. And, I even blocked hunting pages so Instagram’s algorithms would get the point.
But luckily for me, I met someone who was patient enough to challenge my reasoning for hating outdoor sports and the so-called conservationists. And after I realized that I did not have any solid answers for him, I figured out that the reason I did not “like” hunting was because I did not understand it… not even a little bit.
As time went on, Cody finally convinced me to at least try it. So, I did… and I have been hooked ever since!
And just when I thought hunting could not get any better than what I had experienced over the last year and a half, I got to experience this incredible N1 moment.
I had sat in this same spot for two weeks straight. I watched and passed over 100 deer in the thirteen days that I hunted this area. The majority of them were does, but I did have the opportunity to watch several small bucks chase during my hunts. I was starting to get discouraged. So, I mentioned to Cody that I may need to try a new spot if things didn’t start picking up.
Instead of encouraging me to try a different spot, Cody decided to come with me to the same spot, once again.
Big buck and barefoot stealth
We sat there, as usual, and watched several does graze and play, and then the occasional spike or young buck that would run them off. But shortly after we got settled, Cody said, “oh my gosh, big buck! Big buck, Alyssa!” He says this same phrase, A LOT. He loves to get me excited only to tell me that he was “just kidding.” So, naturally, I didn’t believe him. But when I was rolling my eyes at him, I spotted what he had already seen… a beautiful eight point that we had watched in this field the previous year. In fact, it was the same buck that Cody has missed in the previous year (just saying ?).
Anyway, the buck was well over 300 yards away. But that wasn’t going to discourage us from doing our best to get a shot on him. We quickly grabbed our guns, ditched out spot, and made our way to the wood line so that we could walk through the trees until we were close enough for an ethical shot. Cody insisted that we take our shoes off to be quiet, and I was too in shock to argue with him, so we made the 240-yard trek barefooted.
Once we got within 60 yards, Cody decided that we didn’t need to test our luck, so we didn’t go any further.
As both of us were trembling all over and praying to the Lord (not even exaggerating), Cody allowed me to prop my gun on his shoulder so I didn’t have to free-hand my shot. I swear, it didn’t make it any easier. The adrenaline was rushing through my body and I couldn’t quit shaking to save my life. It took me over ten minutes to shoot the deer, and because of the anxiety during the moment, it felt like it was taking a stinking hour for me to get steady and make the shot.
Finally, the buck forced me to pull the trigger. He looked up at a snorting doe that was down wind from us, and was just about to take off running when I got the guts to pull the trigger.
The N1 Moment – The Barefoot Buck Goes Down
He ran, which was super hard to watch because that left me wondering if my shot was accurate and fatal. But instead of worrying, I hit my knees and cried. I was so thankful, so excited, so anxious, and so completely overwhelmed. But mostly, I realized how rare and unforgettable this moment was and how lucky I was to experience it with my best friend.
We both sat there smiling, shaking, and laughing as we replayed the whole thing over and over. After we let some time pass, Cody decided it was okay for us to go look for some blood… which we never recovered. After frantically searching the area for just a single drop of blood or a strand of hair, and coming up with NOTHING, we decided to just move on to where we last saw him in the wood line.
Once we got there, there was no need to search any further… he was right there.
I can honestly say that moment was one of the best moments I have ever experienced; excitement, adrenaline, fear, and thankfulness… all N1.