Tomorrow morning, I’m going turkey hunting for the first time.
Me, the girl who once organized a funeral for a ladybug; the animal lover who could photograph wildlife for hours; the newbie bird watcher and volunteer frog monitor.
I’m going to shoot a turkey, or at least, I’m going to try.
It may come as a surprise to some of my friends and family, but not to me. I’ve always known that someone can harbor deep love and compassion for wildlife but also hunt. I know because I know my dad.
My dad was taught to hunt by his father when he was a little boy. Over the years, he has hunted whitetailed deer, black bear, grouse, moose, caribou, duck and turkeys. He even had the opportunity to travel through the Alaskan wilderness with his younger brother to hunt mountain goats. The taxidermy head of the great white beast was displayed in the den of my childhood home, where I would unmercifully host sleepovers for friends (who did not come from hunting families and probably weren’t all that comfortable with the goat, caribou, deer or black bear that looked down on our pile of sleeping bags).
It has always been evident to me that my dad loves and respects wildlife. Most of his hunting stories have to do with observing wildlife, not shooting it. While sitting in a tree stand at the crack of dawn, he watches the forest wake up around him. He often worries about deer overpopulation leading to their starvation. And then there’s the fact that he insists on eating everything he kills. And if he finds he doesn’t like the taste of it, he doesn’t hunt it again.
Due to my dad’s example, I’ve always supported hunting and eaten wild game. But throughout my childhood, I never felt the desire to go out and hunt with my dad. And he never pushed it upon me or my older sister. When I was a little girl, I actually remember feeling bad that my father had two daughters instead of sons. I knew that some women hunted, but the world told me that it was more of a men’s sport.
Now I’m all grown up. And this year, for no reason I can put my finger on, I want to go hunting. After all these years of listening to my dad’s hunting stories and watching him build arrows on the kitchen table, I’ve decided I want the experience. I want to be a part of my family’s hunting tradition. It finally sounds like fun.
I presented the idea to my dad, and his response was something like, “I’d like to call in a turkey for you.”
Last week, he led me through the hay fields at the back of his old farmhouse, set up a paper turkey target at the edge of the woods, and taught me how to shoot a shotgun. (I’d shot rifles and handguns at targets, but I’d never shot a shotgun.)
I pulled the trigger, the 20-gauge kicked back into the crook of my shoulder, the turkey target fell to the ground, and I thought, “Well that was fun!”
As I practiced, I become more comfortable with the gun. And pride welled up in my chest as my dad commended me for shooting well.
“Those turkeys don’t stand a chance,” he joked as we walked back to his house that day.
Tonight, I’ll snap the tags off my brand new camouflage outfit — a Field & Stream jacket and lightweight Under Armor pants, both covered with the same pattern of leaves, sticks and fir tree boughs. Oh, and my new hat, which includes a veil of camouflage to cover my face. My dad bought it for me from Outdoor Sportsman in Northport, where I received my first hunting license and wild turkey permit.
After a homemade dinner, I’ll settle into the guest room of my father’s old farmhouse in Swanville. Early to bed, early to rise.
We’ll wake before the sun rises, stealing out into the network of fields behind his house. Walking over dew-soaked grass, still matted down by the heavy snow cover of the winter. He’ll strategically set up the decoys, and I’ll help where I can. But I picture myself standing there, clutching the shotgun bag in anticipation and listening for songbirds.
Then, I imagine, we’ll sit our little square cushions, back against tree trunks, and wait.
I try not to picture what comes next, not because I dread it, but because I don’t want to get my hopes up — to think I’ll shoot a beautiful, big tom on my very first hunt.
The reality is this: my dad has told me just as many hunting stories of “failure” as he has of “success.” But even when he’s talking about the game that got away, his voice carries a fondness for the memory. For him, hunting isn’t just about bringing home an animal. The experience is enjoyable regardless. I’m eager to learn what he loves about it so much, first hand, by his side.