It’s Monday morning, the 17th of April 2017. It’s early and I’m trying to get focused for the busy work week ahead. It’s proving difficult because my heart and my mind are fighting to keep this weekend from becoming a memory. If you are a turkey hunter, you know that getting the weather, the birds, the set up, and all the other circumstances to all align for a perfect hunt is the greatest challenge in the sport. It is the reason that no one will ever master this sport of ours. Think, if you will, for a second about all the times you’ve said to yourself “Man, if only we had set up this way”, or “If that bird had just walked 10 more yards”, or “If my buddy had just had his gun up when the bird walked out.” In turkey hunting, there is a laundry list of things that can go wrong, and they usually do throughout the course of a season. These birds are one of nature’s great challenges and that’s why they draw us in like bugs to a porch light. But this past weekend in Edgecombe County, preparation collided with perfect timing (and most likely the Hand of God Himself) to create what will most certainly go down as the best weekend of turkey hunting I will ever be a part of.
We hit camp early Thursday morning, with a few guys having been there since before sunrise nailing down birds for Friday morning’s hunt. Thursday was mostly a prep day and rest up period for the turkey marathon that was about 12 hours from kicking off. Our first group of Warriors arrived just before it was time to roost birds Thursday night, throwing their bags inside the cabin and loading up in the trucks to go put an ear to the Spring air to see which tom wanted it first the next morning. Best options were identified and two groups headed out under the light of the full(ish) moon Friday morning. By 7 AM, two stud turkeys were flopping in the decoys. We scouted a few other spots before all gathering for a heavy southern BBQ lunch that would make any man take a nap against a tree.
Around 3 PM, two more Warriors arrived, ready to hit the woods. Professionally, these guys have a mission and they don’t let anything get in the way of accomplishing it. They treat turkey hunting the same way. Greetings were exchanged and flip flops traded for boots and we were outbound. We shot back to a secluded field on the farm where 3 toms were seen the previous afternoon. We drove the truck in and parked, eased doors shut, and walked about 10 yards before seeing a strutting tom down in bottom corner of the field. Chinese fire drill ensued. I hopped in the truck, cranked it, and backed it up (about 35 mph) into the next path out of view. Josh Pelletier and the hunters shoved the strutter decoy into the dirt at about 10 yards and dropped out of sight off the side of the elevated road. I wanted to witness the act so staying in the truck wasn’t an option. I sprinted down the road until I remembered I’m too old to sprint anymore and dove into a clump of trees to watch what I hoped would be bird number 3 of the day get piled up at close range. About the time I stopped hearing myself wheeze, I see a white and red head bobbing across the field and he was, by no means, taking his time. As he escaped my sight I smiled and waited for the gun report. Less than half an hour in camp and one of our newest arrivals was toting a long beard over his back and a smile on his face. There was another hot bird behind us when we shot this bird but he may have been close enough that the gun shot changed his plans from making an entrance.
We swung back to camp and relaxed for a few before hitting the next spot for the evening sit. As we arrived to the next spot we expected to see a gobbler in the far corner of the field as he had been the day before. We pulled in and there he was. Game on. We slid down through the cypress bottom and crept up to the field edge and settled in between him and his bed. The way the day was going so far this should be an easy one. Josh crawled the strutter out to the edge of the field and started talking to him. We were maybe 10 minutes into the sit with ears glued to the far corner waiting to hear back from the bird we had seen on the way in, when another gobbler fired back about 75 yards away right where we had walked in! Josh was calling and he was cutting him off. This bird was coming. Josh had positioned himself to watch the bird we’d seen already and I happened to be facing the tree line this bird stepped out on. Josh and I locked eyes and acknowledged that I had eyes on the bird. He wasn’t running but there was no doubt he was bound for the skillet. With another former Marine by my side I knew the turkey was approaching his final resting place. He strutted in and stopped at the decoy, well within range. I whispered, “Kill him when you can” and, well, he did. These guys had been in town maybe 2 hours and were both holding their first gobblers they’d ever shot. The fact that this weekend was going to shake out the way we had been dreaming about since duck season was starting to set in.
When Saturday morning rolled around we had one Warrior who had yet to bag a bird. Our mission was singular. Every man was leaving with a bird, period. Travis took him and one of the other guys to a nearby farm where 2 strutters had been seen the morning before. The rest of us fanned out to some other spots with one of the Warriors getting his second bird of the trip. But everyone’s minds were on the fourth quarter bird that needed to fall to round out the best weekend of turkey hunting all of us had ever seen. The birds on that farm didn’t show for Travis but he texted Josh with a plan. “Come to the farm and bring me the strutter decoy. We’ve got a bird hung up and we’re going to crawl him”. Josh and I raced to that farm and threw the strutter decoy to Travis and peeled back out to the road to watch what we hoped would be the most glorious ending to the weekend. Travis and the Warriors made haste through the woods separating them from the strutting turkey. He was with 3 hens which explains why he wasn’t eager to walk 600 yards through the woods to find one more. Josh and I watched from the road through our binoculars. We kept eyes on the strutting bird hoping he would stay put while they made their way to him. He strutted in circles for several minutes and we finally see the boys belly crawling out of the woods with that strutter decoy in front of them. You see, when a turkey won’t come to you the only options are to go home empty handed or try going to him. We were all out of time for option A. This bird was about to take a truck ride. We see the guys crawling quickly, trying to crest the ridge in the field so that this bird can see them. I am 300 yards away in the truck but if you judged my breathing I was laying behind the decoy myself. Turkeys just do that to me. They slid to the top of the hill and as the fan on the decoy came into sight of that dominant bird, Josh and I both started freaking out. This bird dropped strut 150 yards from the guys and ran dead at them until they popped up from behind the decoy and showed ol’ boy what it’s like to come face to face with a Marine at 5 yards. The shot rang out and you would have thought that we won the lottery sitting in that truck. I think we’re both still sore from punching each other. A storybook ending to the greatest weekend ever.
All in all, we killed 7 birds in a little over a day, and we did sleep for a couple of hours of that time after the campfire and the guitar playing died down. Our goal was to send every man home with a bird and we did just that. The turkey gods shined down on us this weekend and there couldn’t have been a better time for it. We have come to live for these weekends. What started as a one-time thing has become a force in our lives that drives us in more ways than we ever knew possible. We may never know what some time in the woods does for our guys, but we don’t really need to know. As long as they know that we appreciate them and that our door is always open, that’s enough for us. I can’t help but glance over at these men as we spend time together and think back to my grandfather, the Gunny. A career-Marine, Francis Marion Eddings, he would wait in a parking lot for what seemed like forever just to talk to someone with a USMC sticker on their truck. He told me stories that maybe I didn’t know how to fully appreciate when he was here but this has become my second chance. I look into the faces of the men I wish I had become and get to see my Pa again. He would be thrilled to see the ways in which Combat Warriors gives back to the service members he so adored his whole life. I can never repay these men for what they do and I can never thank Combat Warriors enough for helping me become involved. Sometimes a void has to be filled for you to even know there was a void there in the first place. If you’re not involved yet, we can help you change that. Contact us via the Facebook page or our website and we will plug you in.
I need to take a minute to thank everyone that helped to make this weekend a huge success. The guides who put birds in front of the guys constantly this weekend: Travis Grimes, Josh Pelletier, Justin Cagle, and John Webb. And the biggest thank you of all to Roger, Nell, and Travis Grimes for hosting our group at your wonderful place. Your generosity in sharing your land, lodging, and turkeys with us is beyond measure.