Fall of 2016 was fast approaching as the leaves were changing here in Colorado. I was dreaming of a fall turkey hunt with all three of my young sons, Trent and Tristen (my five year old twins), and my youngest son Riley (now 4 year old). When the twins turned four I took each of them on their first turkey hunt. For Tristan, it was fall 2015 in Colorado, where the two of us put a great deal of time looking for a flock that I know winter in a valley. It took two weekends and we put down a respectable jenny, making Tristan's first time turkey hunt a success. A month later found Trent and dad in Kansas fall turkey hunting. With great success, my tag was filled the first evening with a Jake.
On Oct 21, 2016, it was time for Riley's first fall turkey hunt, now that he was four years old. This time all the Petersen tribe headed East to Kansas on my wife's family farm. Our minivan was loaded with bow, shotgun, decoys, ground blind, enough camo to look like were were a rep for a camo dealer, and a back pack with things each boy packed for themselves. It was a nice quiet drive dreaming of all three boys seeing dad kill a turkey and showing them skills I have acquired over the years. Little did I know what was to follow that evening...
We arrived around 4:00 pm at the farm and quickly unpacked the van, said hello to my wife's uncle, then got all the camo ready for the boys to quickly put on so we could pull off an evening hunt. Getting three young boys ready who are full of excitement is quite a challenge all by itself. After breaking up fights, several times telling them to hurry, and figuring out whose boots were whose, we were driving North to Steve and Cindy's farm where I have killed several nice turkeys over the years.
The boys and I headed to the north pasture, where I knew there is a roost tree for the Rio Grande we were hunting that evening. This pasture has trees to the south, west to the north, with a creek to the west, forming a horse shoe of trees and a cow pasture in the middle. It's perfect to see turkey coming from the corn field to the East for a night of resting in a familiar tree, except this time the Petersen tribe would be waiting in a ground blind for them to arrive.
Trying to keep all three boys quiet was no small feat. Fruit snack packaging rumbled as the boys tried to open them, then a conversation would spark up and I would have to remind them to be quiet. As the sun began falling quickly to the West, I knew we should be seeing turkey soon coming to roost. Anticipation ate at me, as I scan the field looking for any movement. It was now 5:50 -- much to my surprise NOTHING!!! What? Then I begin to second guess myself. Did they hear the wrappers? The boys talking? Or dad saying "SHHHHH!" loudly for the 300th time spook them off? Just as I was thinking this to myself I heard a loud and very distinctive sound behind the blind. Every turkey hunter knows the sound of a bird flying off the limb in the early morning that compares to it. Well another sound of a bird flying in the tree.. are you kidding me!! The turkey have back doored the tribe. I tell the boys to sit still and be quiet as the turkey are behind us and are flying in the roost tree. I sneak out of the ground blind and start looking up in the cotton woods for those sneaky turkeys. I know they are very close and take my time hoping I can see a couple on the ground. I tell myself, take your time they are in here. Then BUSTED! I spooked two toms off the limb, and watch them fly south down the creek into another tree.
All hell breaks loose as the two gobblers take flight, the sounds of turkey cables and clucks in front of me across the creek. A group of gobblers take off running up the creek bank, I raise up my 12 gauge shotgun and single out a red head about 30 yards away. 5:57 BANG echoes on the farm as the gobbler drops and starts the death flop down the creek bank. I watch eleven more gobblers run, now sky lighted on the horizon, as I debate filling my second tag. I choose not to take the second shot because my first turkey is looking like Michael Phelps in the creek below.
Soon the water head turkey expires. Great! He's right in the middle of a 20 foot across creek, possibly deep creek! I run up to the blind to grab the boys. The boys are now out of the blind and meet me. "Dad, did you get one?" I chuckle and tell them, "YES I did, let's go see him boys." We walk to the creek edge and I tell the boys, "you see that black spot in the middle of the creek?" That is our turkey, boys!" They turn and look at me with a look on each of their faces that I will always remember. I know the question that is coming next. Soon Trent asks, "well, daddy, how are we going to get our turkey?" As I look around for a long tree branch, the retrieval plan is hatched. "Well boys, let's get a long branch and we will pull him out of the creek." The boys help me carry the long branch to the creek's edge. We look down the creek bank and it's 8-to-9 feet straight down. The 9 foot branch is no good at this point. I know what I must do, but dread the thought of it. I take a deep breath and start stripping clothes off.
The boys turn and in a mortified voice ask, 'Dad! What are you doing?"
"Well, boys, I have to go swimming for our turkey."
At this point, the snickers and laughing begin as I strip to my skivvies. I ask my oldest Trent to hold my phone as I figure a way down the steep creek bank. As I survey my surroundings, I realize there is no easy way down. "Daddy, I have never seen you swim before," I hear as I kneel to grab the tree root. "Boys, your dad is a great swimmer!" I respond, as I consider the murky water below, thinking ... "I hope it's not THAT deep." I grab the root and slowly move my bare feet to hold my weight; as soon as my feet have weight on them they shoot down the Kansas slick muddy creek bank up to my knees. As I gather myself and stand up, I think to myself, "thank God it's not too deep." As I hear more laughter on the bank above me, I proceed slowly to retrieve my turkey.
With evert step, I feel the mud smooth between my toes and I try not to remember the catfish, turtles and crawdads that inhabit this lovely cold creek. As I slowly creep toward my water head turkey, and feel for a drop off with my feet as the water is getting deeper, anticipating at any moment a swim in this murky water. I see flashes coming from the now dimly lit sky, Trent is taking pictures with my cell phone and announcing, "I'm taking pictures, Dad!" I chuckle as I take another step.
The water is now mid-thigh as I am 5 feet from my turkey. As I progress slowly with my arms above my head, goose bumps the size of marbles appear, mud squishes between my toes and sky quickly loosing light with the sun setting, I think, "Well here is a lesson for the boys!" Another couple of steps and I should be able to reach my turkey. The water is now hitting a place man doesn't want cold water to hit - EVER! I now reach for my turkey while gasping for air and grab a wing. I pull what felt like a 40 pound turkey to me! I work my way to the bank while the paparazzi's flash continues. I now try to climb my way up the steep bank with the water-logged turkey in hand, slipping and sliding several times. I finally get a hand on the tree root I used to get me so elegantly down and pull myself up the bank. The boys are waiting for me at the top and help with our turkey. Trent wants to take a picture of me and my turkey. I oblige him at this point because all I want to do is get warm clothes on. We take a few selfies of me, the boys and head to the van.
On the way to the van, I tell my sons "boys, remember this hunt. If you are going to shoot and kill an animal, be prepared to go after it no matter what it takes. This will be a memory you will always remember." They laugh and say, "that's right Dad,! Even if you have to go swimming." Then we talked about what we were going to call this turkey. Some of the suggestions were water head, turkey creek swimmer. Then I said, "how about we call him skinny dipper?" After explaining what that meant, Skinny Dipper was his name.
When we get to the house the boys and I retell the story to my wife and her uncle. Of course there is even more laughter involved. Later that night lying in bed I look at the pictures Trent took with my cell phone, my wife and I started to laugh harder than before. Trent captured me wading out to get my turkey. But the best picture was before I got my clothes on - a pose with me behind the tail feathers fanned out, looking completely naked!
The next morning, we all got up before dawn to try and fill my second Kansas tag. We saw turkey fly south so we headed west out of the south pasture to see if we could get a good spot and maybe get a shot off. As we were walking, we heard a gobble to our left. We are now walking right in the middle of this pasture where there is nothing to hide behind. We all stop in our tracks. Trent loudly whispers, "Dad, did you hear that?" I reply, "I sure did! Quick get to those trees" as I point to the tree line. We duck for cover and sit at the first trees we come to. As the woods start waking up for the day, we hear hens soft cluck behind us.
"Daddy, do you hear that?" asks Trent.
"Yes, I do bud, that is why daddy tells you to keep quiet and listen."
Then a gobbler clucks in front of us down the tree line. We are in the right spot to fill our 2nd tag! We sit and listen to the turkey wake up and talk to each other for a minute, before I put in my mouth call and start gobble yelping and clucking. With each cluck I make, I get a response. I lift my gun into position, do a fly down cackle and wait. I tell the boys to watch out in front of us. Soon after that, two toms come soaring down and land 45 yards away from us.
A small voice asks, "Did you see that?"
I whisper "Yes - okay boys watch that turkey!"
At 6:41 am a BANG fills the morning air and the tom starts the death flop. I announce, "Okay boys let's go see our second turkey" and the boys run to the flopping tom with me in tow, while the tree to the left EXPLODES with turkey. As each one flies from the limb, I can see their silhouettes again in the morning light and start counting 1, 2, 3, 4... 12 gobblers total make an escape to safety.
In the end, we filled two fall turkey tags in under 12 hours it was a pleasure to share these experiences with my young sons. Some very important lessons were learned this fall that I am sure they will never forget.
As for me, I might have to add chest waders to my turkey vest, or a fishing pole! Skinny Dipper is now mounted right above the front door of our house. I am sure for years to come it will bring many more laughs and always be a lesson for my sons as they continue to grow a passion for hunting.
From the Draw
A website devoted to sharing bowhunting stories. From the draw in the mountains to the draw on paper, the moments live on.