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​Hunting with the Old Man

By Kevin Ward
04/12/16 -- Many years ago my father-in-law called me from his home in Florida. He was having some domestic issues that resulted in a split with his wife. He had two daughters and a son who all lived in different locations along the western US. They are all wonderful people. I was lucky enough to marry his oldest daughter. After a few minutes of friendly conversation I asked him if he wanted to talk to his daughter. He said no, he wanted to talk to me. He informed me of his upcoming separation from his wife and then said he was selling off everything and moving back to the west. He said he loved all of his kids dearly but asked if he could move in with my wife and I. He said he hoped that at least I would take him hunting and fishing as he got older.

I immediately answered yes as he was always fun to be with, very helpful with building projects, gardening, and helping around the house. I could not have ordered a better father-in-law if I had the opportunity. I figured it would also give me another excuse to go hunting and fishing, as if I needed them. Fast forward several years and many enjoyable hunting and fishing trips later and the beloved father-in-law is now pushing 83 years old. His drive and desire is as strong as ever even though his legs have slowed, his eyes have a hard time telling a sea gull from a snow goose, and his hearing varies depending upon whether his hearing aids are in, turned on and have good batteries. He was always fun to hunt and fish with. He still is. He used to be a lot of help on our trips. Now he adds a lot of extra work to make the trips happen. It’s similar to hunting with my boys when they were little. You can’t go quite as far from the truck. You can’t go on really wet or cold or hot days. Although I do find myself starting to enjoy joining him for his mid-day naps under the shade of an oak tree listening to the breeze blowing through the leaves.

Man holding turkey he shot, photo by Kevin Ward
Photos of author's father-in-law with his birthday turkey, photos by Kevin Ward

Today was his 83 birthday. Also opening day of our 2016 spring turkey season. He had asked several months earlier if I would take him on this day as it would be his birthday. I told him I would take him but I had recently injured my knee and had just had knee replacement surgery. For the first time my mobility would be considerably less than his but I had to give it a try.

I have one small spot that occasionally holds a bird or two and the walk from the truck is only about a half mile to where we hunt. It was just getting light when the truck rolled to a stop under canopy of large oaks and Digger pines. I knew my knee would not be able to make the trek up hill in the dark. We got to the little clearing in the trees just after legal shooting time. The sky was already turning a beautiful blue with a gentle north breeze. As we set up the decoys and the camo blind we could hear a gobbler sounding off right back where we parked the truck. I was not able to run and gun so we had to stay put and try to coax him up to our position. I ranged several trees and prominent rocks for Dad to use as 20 yard range markers. I told him to shoot if anything stepped closer than those markers. After discussing the range markers we determined that, yes he did wear his hearing aids and yes they were turned on but alas the batteries were dead. We also agreed that if I gave him an elbow in the ribs, something went wrong and he was to shoot immediately.

After at least an hour of hearing the gobbler slowly approach closer, he got cut off by a hen and then he stopped gobbling all together. Dad was disappointed but it was such a beautiful day we just sat and enjoyed all the sights and sounds of a perfect spring day.

Mark Ward's Father-in-law with his first turkey on the first day of turkey hunting, on his birthday. By Kevin Ward
Opening day of spring season turkey hunting results in a very happy man!

About 8:30 a herd of deer came across the opening. We anxiously waited and watched hoping to see a nice buck that still carried his antlers. Every 10 to 15 minutes I would call to see if we could raise any response but nothing answered. After the deer passed Dad started to talk about his garden and the things he still needed to plant and wondered if the fish were biting at the lake. A half hour later movement caught my eye from where the deer entered the opening. The movement quickly became a large turkey fan in full strut. The bird slowly and quietly danced and pirouetted towards our decoys. By the time the bird had approached to within about 80 yards I could see his hands trembling with excitement. The gobbler fired off with a thundering gobble that even Dad could hear. Each time he started to turn and strut away I turned him back with a few soft purrs and clucks. The closer he got the more he gobbled and the more Dad’s hands would tremble. Dad was so spellbound watching him strutting and gobbling he forgot to get his gun up. As the bird went behind a large Digger Pine trunk I grabbed Dad’s gun and pushed it up. Dad realized what he needed to do and brought the gun up when he stepped behind another tree trunk. At this point another gobbler stepped out into the opening. I whispered to Dad to see if he saw it. After several unsuccessful attempts to see if he saw the other gobbler I realized he was so focused on the first bird that he was never going to hear me anyway. I wanted to try to tell him to let the first bird get real close so I could have a chance to bag the second one. I didn’t want to talk any louder and so started to give him an elbow just as I realized that was the signal to shoot so I just relaxed and enjoyed the show.

As the first gobbler rounded one of our tree markers I gave him a soft purr that sent him into a gobble. By now Dad’s gun barrel was waving figure eights in the air as his arms were getting tired. When the bird finished his gobble he stretched his neck for a better look. Dad’s gun fired and the gobbler started doing back flips down the hill. Dad screamed, “I got him”. I told him to keep his gun aimed at him in case his head came up. He quit flopping about 60 yards down the hill. I told him to go get his birthday present. He leaped up and started towards the bird like a man with the legs of a teenage athlete. I had to yell at him to take his gun just in case the bird was playing possum. He grabbed his gun and worked his way down to the bird. He admired his gobbler for a few moments in the bright sunshine and then picked him up and started marching his way back up the hill. He made it about 45 yards back up the hill and then reality set in again. He had to stop and rest, claiming the bird was the biggest he had ever taken. I had packed up our seat cushions and back packs and met him at the decoys. After a big hug and a few pictures we picked up the decoys and I tied up his bird so he could carry it over his shoulders. As we slowly worked our way back downhill to the truck I told him about the other gobbler. He asked why I didn’t try to shoot it. I told him he looked like he would make a great present for his 84th birthday.

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