The Ups and Downs of a Mentored Turkey Hunt

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Up at 4:30 AM, out the door by 5:00 AM, and in the blind before 5:30. Is this what turkey hunting is like? If so, I love it and I hate it all at the same time. We get to sit in these tiny stools, as still as possible, watching this field for the next 6 hours. And unfortunately, we didn’t bring enough coffee. But as soon as the sun came up, we started hearing gobbles in all directions, along with the chorus of songbirds. I start feeling like maybe this was going to happen.

After all, I was sitting in a turkey blind with an extremely experienced turkey hunter. While he hasn’t taken his Michigan bird yet this season, he’s helped 8 other people do so. As time passed, he got frustrated. For hours, these gobblers had stayed in the same spot, a few hundred yards out. Yet I remained hopeful as I doze off one more time. By midday, all we saw was a hen. The gobblers went quiet a long time ago. At this point, there was only one thing left to do; go get lunch.

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Why I Signed Up for a Mentored Turkey Hunt

As a brand new hunter, turkey hunting seemed overwhelming. Lots of gear, lots of calls, lots of waiting, and a type of firearm I didn’t own, nor have ever used. Wanting to learn how to hunt so bad, and not feeling like I could on my own, I scoured the internet for courses, mentorships, and other learning opportunities (sparse in 2020). Finally, I found a mentored turkey hunting opportunity, sponsored by the National Wild Turkey Federation. The 3-day event was taking place only an hour from my home, for a minor fee of $150.

I did next to nothing in order to prepare for the weekend. I almost forgot to buy a turkey tag. I didn’t know what a bearded turkey was, which is vital to legally shoot a bird (I now know). Over the course of 3 days, I learned first hand what it takes to find, communicate with, and hunt turkeys. All thanks to hours spent inside a hunting blind with an experienced turkey hunter and member of the local NWTF chapter.

We would spend Saturday morning hunting for about 6 hours, followed by an evening hunt from 4 to 8. Sunday morning included an optional hunt for those of us who wanted the extra time in the woods, of which I took advantage of. At the end of the weekend, 2 other mentees shot a jake; one in the morning, and one in the exact same spot in the afternoon. The event host showed us how to process the turkey, which got me even more fired up to shoot my own the following morning.

But alas, I learned that turkeys don’t always do what you want them to do.

Why Didn’t I Take the Shot?

On my third and final hunting session, we ventured out into the woods feeling confident. Lots of toms were spotted in these woods over the last few days. It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, I suppose. After about 3 hours of silence in the woods, without a single gobble, I finally laid eyes on a tom. 2 toms actually, both quite large, with another jake following close behind. With a pounding heart, I raised the big, heavy shotgun, pointing it down the hill the turkeys were walking across and waited. I was hoping they would come a few yards closer. And I was hoping they would stop moving.

At one point, I felt I was perfectly aligned with the tom’s head. I should’ve pulled the trigger. I didn’t realize that was my only chance. After that moment, they only got further and further away, until they were out of sight, never to return again. I hesitated because I’ve never shot a shotgun before.

Afterward, my mentor said I would’ve killed him. Then we measured the distance, which was about 42 yards. He then changed his mind, saying I might have wounded him instead. I think he was trying to make me feel better.

Measuring Success

Part of me is glad I didn’t take the shot. After all, I was in someone else’s blind, on someone else’s land, holding someone else’s shotgun, and wearing someone else’s camo.

I didn’t even make my own calls. He did it all for me. It was an incredible experience and I learned a lot, but part of me would’ve felt bad about shooting a turkey this way. The other part of me just wishes I pulled the trigger and walked away with a turkey to take home, regardless of how “easy” it was.

But I suppose that’s hunting, right? That frustration gave me just the spark I needed to want to get back out in the woods as soon as possible.

All in all, I’m very happy I signed up for the mentored hunt, surrounded by super friendly, super knowledgeable hunters. I would recommend something similar to anyone else just getting started. You don’t need to feel embarrassed. At 29 years old, I was one of the youngest at the event.

Justin Jaeger

There is so much to do in this world, and quite honestly, I’d like to do it all. Or at least most of it. I didn’t start fishing until my late 20’s. Didn’t even touch a gun until age 29 when I decided I’d like to try eating squirrels. But now I love both hunting and fishing. My bucket list is incredibly long, as I hope to hike, camp, fish, hunt, dive, paddle, climb, and bike in dozens of states and countries.

One thought on “The Ups and Downs of a Mentored Turkey Hunt

  • May 25, 2021 at 7:48 pm
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    I really enjoyed reading this piece about turkey hunting. I too have a love/hate relationship with turkey hunting, but ultimately I find myself out there every spring. I like how you discuss measuring success because not all hunts turn into a harvest. I always measure success if I learned something new. And I always do. Thanks for your time.

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