(Sereena Thompson is co-founder of Nature’s Paint)
My family has always been really close. Major holidays are always spent together and cherished to the fullest as we never know what tomorrow might bring. Being an avid hunter and outdoor enthusiast, every hunting season is naturally a major holiday for me! However, there is one particular hunting season that I look forward to more than the rest… blacktail deer hunting at my grandparents ranch in Northern California. You could say it’s the big bucks or the beautiful scenery that takes your breath away, but for me it runs much deeper.
More than just hunting
My Papa John has always been strict, but nothing less than a role model to me and someone I look up to. His perspective on life is well thought out and nothing shy of amazing. I look forward to hearing his many stories and tales of how life was growing up “back then.” For me, driving around “looking” for bucks isn’t necessarily my type of hunting, but reminiscing as we drive the ranch and hearing his amazing stories of life is well worth the truck time. And, you never know what’s just around the corner.
“Decent” blacktail buck
It was the fourth weekend of rifle season for blacktail and my third day out hunting on the ranch. Earlier in the day, we had spotted a few smaller bucks, but nothing that would make me pull the trigger this early in the hunt. My Papa and I decided we would go out after lunch and drive to the back of the ranch. Apparently, he had spotted some “nice” bucks there before season. “Decent” to my grandpa, as I have learned in the past, really means, nice, big, giant bucks!
As we made our way to the back of the ranch I made several small hunts with no luck, which was okay. I still had plenty of time to hunt before we headed home. And, I was enjoying the company and time spent, just me and my Papa. Just as the sun was starting to go down, and as we were heading back home, my Papa spotted three “decent” bucks across the ridge. He looked at me and said, “Well, that one to the right is ‘decent.’ Want to put a stock on him?”
Crawling toward an unforgettable moment
As I bellied crawled for what seemed like forever, I finally got to a spot on top of a rock that gave me a great view, and an even better shot. My heart was pumping as it always does right before I’m about to take a shot. The buck stood broadside at 80 yards. I quietly got set, placing my cross hairs right behind the front shoulder and gave the trigger a nice slow press. “Bang!”
I quickly chambered another shell, just in case. But the buck didn’t move. He didn’t even take a step before dropping right there in his tracks. Right then I called my Papa on the radio, “I got him!!”
I waited for Papa to make his way down the ridge. I wanted us both to see the buck up close for the first time, together. As we approached the buck, without missing a beat my Papa said, “Man he sure is a decent buck!”
It’s a moment I’ll always remember.
– By Sereena Thompson
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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, turkey 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 pig 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.
As the sun rose on the freshly tilled food plot, it was everything I could do to stay awake. All the caffeine in the world couldn’t keep me awake after the sunup-to-sundown hunting schedule I had been keeping for the past two days. And yet, despite my determination, I had yet to put a bird on the ground.
My lack of success surely wasn’t due to a lack of game, as the mornings leading up to the South Carolina season opener had been filled with birds gobbling in the hardwood swamps. But, my confidence was fading. As I sat beneath a hickory tree with my bow in my lap, fighting off sleep as well as the cold, I was completely unaware of the events that would unfold in the following hours. I was about to experience the turkey hunt of a lifetime.
The opening day of the South Carolina turkey season brought with it a terrible cold front, and three days into the season we were still feeling it’s effects. Like previous days, the morning of March 22nd found Robert Hewitt and I shivering on the edge of a field in complete silence, hoping with all we had to hear a faint gobble, despite the conditions. We had left the cabin that morning with high hopes, knowing that the 20 mph winds had finally begun to subside. But, those hopes were beginning fade away just as they had the mornings before.
As the sun finally begun to peek above the cypress trees, we heard it. Deep in the swamp a tom had come down from his roost, letting out a beautiful gobble as he made contact with the earth. I looked over at Robert and noticed the smile showing through the edges of his face mask. “Did you hear that?” Robert asked. “Get psyched dude, it’s game time,” I hissed excitedly while quietly clapping my gloved hands.
We waited until 9:00, calling every 15 minutes, but despite our greatest efforts to seduce this tom, we could not coax him from the safety of the swamp. It was as if someone had dropped a weight on my chest, something that had seemed like a sure thing an hour before now felt a million miles away. We packed up our gear and headed back to the cabin.
By the time the grey walls of the hunting cabin were in view, we had already planned our next plan of attack. We loaded up and headed to the next farm only to experience the same results, and the farm after that was no different. By now, it was approaching 12:00 and I think the turkeys a county over were hearing my stomach growling. Luckily, Robert carted me down to a local store for a generous helping of fried chicken, collards, and rice with gravy. With stomachs full and pride recovering, Robert and I headed out again. The excitement was just about to begin.
Stairway to turkey hunting heaven?
After a painfully unsuccessful ‘spot and stalk’ on a brace of toms in a sour weed field, we once again headed for the cabin to draw up or final battle plans. We decided that our best bet was to head back to our original spot in the hickory trees and hope the birds were finally beginning to work their way out of the swamp.
As we turned the corner and approached a big pole barn, I noticed a large ladder leaning against a tree. “We use that to survey the property,” Robert responded to my inquiry regarding it’s nature. “Want me climb up and see if I can see anything?” he said.
I watched as Robert climbed the ladder perched against a massive long leaf pine. “There are 3 toms right behind us,” he exclaimed with a hurried hurried whisper. I headed over to a nearby thicket with our gear as Robert hastily placed our jake and hen decoys.
Once we were both hidden, I placed the diaphragm call against the roof of my mouth and tried to work the toms our way. The wind had picked back up by now and the birds were a good distance away, so we quickly realized we needed to be closer. Robert crawled to the corner and placed himself behind a group of pines. But, as I creeped in behind him, I still couldn’t see the birds. I decide to attempt a move that could make or break the hunt.
Binoculars, belly crawls and briars
Between us and the birds was an elevation change of about 2 feet which manifested itself in the form of a small hill in the middle of the field. I knew I would be able to see the birds from the other side of the field, but that would require belly crawling a distance of about 30 yards to an adjacent briar thicket. I slung my binoculars around to my back, grabbed my shotgun and hit the dirt.
As my long (and extremely awkward) crawl progressed, I looked back several times to see Robert stifling his laughter as he watched me flounder my way into the thicket. I picked the briars from my clothes and brought my binoculars to my face, seeing three red-heads bouncing for the timber. I fumbled with the diaphragm as I worked it towards my mouth, and the instant I let out a series of cutts and clucks, the birds did a 180. They could finally hear us.
I ripped off my glove and texted Robert. They were coming! I watched as his gun went up, with mine quickly following suit. I let out a soft ‘cluck-purr-cluck’ from the diaphragm and the toms headed for us at full steam. And, that’s when it happened.
As three beautiful long beards stepped in front of us, I leveled the red bead of my dirt covered Franchi on the middle bird. But, as I pulled the trigger, the rear bird picked up his pace and placed his head directly in line with the cloud of the #4 shot. My adrenaline level peaked as I watched the two birds flap their wings in the dust for a final time. I looked as Robert pulled the trigger on his Browning A5 . But, as he shot, the last bird standing took a step backwards, barely avoiding the fate of his friend. We could only watch as he flew back into the swamp, leaving Robert empty handed.
Though one bird escaped, we instantly hopped up and closed the distance between us, hooping and hollering. After several shaky high fives and congratulations, I went to examine my quarry. The middle bird (the one I originally targeted) possessed 1-1/2” spurs accompanied by an 11-1/16” main beard and 6” second beard, while the second bird boasted a pair a 1-5/16” hooks with an 11” main beard and 7” secondary beard. Prior to this, my largest bird was a 10-1/2” double beard. With one shot, I had killed my two biggest birds, both of which possessed double beards! It was absolutely the turkey hunt of a lifetime.
Reflections on the turkey hunt of a lifetime
Nowhere are the fingerprints of God more evident than in the pursuit of wild game. And, each time I head for the woods, I’m reminded to thank him for the blessings he provides. While I would love to say that my success on this hunt was completely of my own doing, I must give the credit to the one who created me, gives me the ability to do what I love, and who provides the very game I seek.
It’s far too easy to become confident in our own abilities as hunters. But, we must remember that without God, nothing we do would be possible. To God be the glory!
– By Benjamin B. Graves
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