A special vest worn for successful turkey hunt

Every once in a while, a plan comes together. Such was the case of my opening morning of spring turkey season in Missouri. Experience on the property I was hunting, along with an understanding of how the turkeys typically react to certain weather patterns, allowed me to draft a plan that put me exactly where I needed to be. The turkeys gave the whole show, and I ended up with one of the nicest Easterns I’ve ever taken. 

There are numerous reasons why this hunt was special. First of all, it took place on land owned by an older couple who are very dear to me. We meet a lot of people in this world, but few of them have real meaningful impact on the direction of your life. My friendship with these folks resulted in a game changer for me. So, it’s always wonderful to spend time with them on their beautiful farm in north-central Missouri. 

Another reason I so enjoyed this particular opening morning hunt has to do with a turkey vest and a box of shells. You see, last fall I attended an auction flush with all the things I like; tools, books, and fishing and hunting equipment. You can tell a lot about a person when all their possessions are laid out for sale. Based on what this gentleman left behind, I could tell I would have liked him a lot. 

By the time the auctioneer had worked his way to a rack of hunting clothes and a couple of tables of gear, hours had passed and the crowd had thinned out. The high-quality clothing and equipment was selling for far less than it was worth, so I was buying. I was buying a few things for myself, but mostly for people I could give the gear to. It was just too nice to let go for basically nothing. 

When the auctioneer came to a turkey vest and it was selling for only a few dollars, I thought I really don’t want another turkey vest, because I’ve logged so many miles in so many states wearing the vest I’ve had for two decades, but the zippers are mostly broken, and barbwire has left enough scars to make my old vest quite ragged. I thought this is something I can actually use. So, I bought it. 

To my surprise, the vest was loaded with some bonuses. A few calls, chalk, gloves and even a full box of Remington 3 ½ inch turkey loads. All those finds were exciting. What saddened me, what hit hard with a humbling lesson, was the half drank bottle of water and a bag of half-eaten snacks. When this man hung up his turkey vest after the last time he wore it, he clearly did not think that was his last hunt. He planned to hunt again, wearing this vest, but it never happened. 

This recognition spun me into deep reflection. It hit me how one day, I too would take my turkey vest off for the last time. Few of us have the knowledge of the last time we’ll do anything. Participating in our passions included. It made me wonder if anyone close to me would care enough to want to hold onto to my turkey vest when I’m gone. Hopefully a grandchild. But maybe not. No did in this man’s life, so I chose to take on the role. 

On opening day, I wore this man’s turkey vest and loaded my shotgun with his shells. As I settled into my spot against the base of tree next to a blown down log along a creek bank, I said to the wind, “Ok old man, let’s have a good hunt.” 

As the eastern sky started to turn orange, the whippoorwills began to sing. Many other birds soon joined in, and then first gobble. For the next 20 minutes gobblers sounded off in every direction. Then I saw the first turkey pitch down on a hillside about 500 yards away. The entire flock soon followed. The boss gobbler went into strut as soon as his feet hit the dirt. 

At this point, I had no idea where these birds were going to head. It was windy, so I though they may head into the forest, but in the past on windy days I’ve watched them huddle in a protected corner of a picked corn field. So that’s where I was waiting. When a single hen led the group down the hill, over a levee, and into the corn stubble, I knew I’d made a good plan. For the next 30 minutes, I wondered if they would see my decoys and react to them. They did.

 The hens were working past me about 100 yards out. There were a couple of jakes in the flock and the gobbler was staying busy keeping them away from his hens. He showed no interest in the hen calls I was making. He had plenty of them to deal with right in front of him. I had three hard body decoys set out. A feeding hen, an alert hen, and a jake. When I took out my gobble call and gave it a shake, the boss gobbler took notice. He stopped dead in his tracks. I shook it again, and the jakes started running to my decoys with the gobbler now waddling right behind them.

Just before the gobbler jumped on my jake, I fired one of the old man’s shells. The flock scattered and the gobbler lay dead a foot from my decoy. I unloaded my shotgun, pulled off my facemask and exhaled the breath I’d been holding. I whispered to the old man, “What a hunt. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.” Then I stuffed the bird in his vest and headed to the farm house for breakfast. 

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler

Pic: The author wearing the old man’s vest he bought at auction.

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