I recently had the pleasure in attending the 2023 North Carolina Armed Forces Initiative Turkey Camp as a mentor. There was a bit of trepidation on my part about being a mentor as I do not have a lot of experience hunting turkeys. It was not something my family did growing up in Pennsylvania. We were the standard white-tailed deer and small game hunters. All told I have a total of four seasons worth of turkey hunting experience.
Adding to my trepidation is the fact that I have yet to kill my own turkey. My first season I did not even see a turkey while hunting. Fortunately, after that, things got better and over the last three seasons I have called in at least one bird each season. Although, last year I completely whiffed a shot on a bird. Then this year I called in two nice toms just to move when they were just about in my shooting lane. That was the end of those birds, they were gone with the wind.
So, I am sure you can imagine why I was a bit worried about mentoring someone on turkey hunting. I had volunteered to assist with running the camp. As the Virginia AFI Liaison I wanted to help out our neighbors to the south and in the process learn a few things about running a camp. We have camps in the works later this year and next year and any chance I can get out and learn something in order to help others I will jump at the opportunity.
Unfortunately, there was a shortage of mentors for the camp and I was asked to step up to fill the void. I do know how to hunt turkeys, at least enough to help someone who never has, and I am relatively decent with a pot call and mouth call. Honestly, it did not really matter as there was a hunter that needed help and I was the one being called on to step up. So, I did and I am so very thankful I did.
I have mentored others in years past on how to hunt ducks, deer and small game. If you have never taken the time to do so you really should. The experience is truly life changing and always leaves you feeling recharged and ready to get back at it with a new mentee. Being a mentor is a lifetime commitment and I have been blessed to have great experiences. To this day, years later, there are people who still reach out, even if it is just to say thank you for introducing them to hunting.
In the end this turkey camp was a huge success for both my hunter and I. We both had a lot of fun and connected well. He asked a million questions and hopefully I did a good job of answering them. Given that we were hunting in the mountains of North Carolina, it was a new experience for both of us and those birds are some tough birds to hunt. However, we were fortunate to get on tom the very first morning. However, he had hens with him and wanted nothing to do with us. Still great experience though.
After an action-packed day with lots of turkey action we went right back at them on the second morning. The weather the night before was rough with thunderstorms rolling through, which led to a late start that morning. We worked our way back into the same area as the day before, calling every once in a while, hoping to locate that that tom again. Unfortunately, all was quiet on this cold and wet morning in the mountains. We set up in the spot we struck up that tom the morning before and gave it a couple hours but nothing game of it.
I suggested we work our way out to the truck, taking our time and just calling and listening. If we did not strike up a bird we could jump in the truck and go walk some other ridges and trails. Halfway back to the truck we stopped along a section of the trail where it starts to decent from the ridge down to the trail head. We had the ridgetop above us and I called down into the bottom below. Almost instantly a tom hammered right above us from the ridge. We both looked at each other in stunned silence. I told my hunter to follow me and we back tracked up the trail maybe fifty yards, then straight up the hillside to the ridge. Once we caught our breath, flat landers at 5,000 feet and out of shape, I gave a few yelps on the mouth call. The tom fired off down where we just came from. That was good news though as far as I was concerned. Meant that we finally had a bird that wanted to play the game.
We moved along the ridge maybe ten or twenty yards and set up. I put us just on the opposite side of the ridge with me a bit lower down the side of the ridge. Wanted to be able to make it sound like I was a hen working away from the tom to keep him fired up and working to us. It worked and that tom came right back up to the top of the ridge and started coming right into where we were set up and waiting. That tom popped up over a little rise on the ridge right at twenty yards. My hunter let him take a few steps as he calmed himself and then squeezed the trigger. That is how he tagged his first turkey ever.
Both of us were beside ourselves with excitement. The way it went down, run and gun style, was pretty exciting and I believe it really taught both of us something. Honestly there were a lot of lessons learned on this hunt. The biggest lesson though is the lesson of just how important it is to share this journey with each other. Being there to call in that tom and watch my hunter tag his first is an experience I will never forget. This hunt just hit different and I am grateful for the time spent with my hunter in those mountains.