A Gobbler For Matthew Strickland

Hunter's Journal: GON readers share their favorite hunt stories.

Reader Contributed | August 9, 2018

By Scott Barwick

A few years ago at a local gym, I was walking on the treadmill and watching The Outdoor Channel to help pass the time when a stranger walked up behind me and started chatting with me about whatever outdoor show was on at the time. In this small talk, he mentioned growing up on a piece of property, and he began to tell me how many turkeys he had seen out there. He went on about this large bass he recently caught in the pond. Then he said he could take me whenever I liked. We all know how precious hunting and fishing land is, so I quickly let him know I would like to go and jokingly told him he was my new best friend. I had no idea how that “joke” would become a reality.

The next weekend, Matthew and I met at the gym, and I followed him to his family’s farm. We were just scouting when we stopped about halfway down a field to look for turkey tracks. I didn’t see any tracks and thought, this guy is just pulling my leg. No tracks usually means no turkeys.

We continued scouting when just down the next hill, I saw a small pond with a jonboat resting on the bank. Off a little ways into the woods was a small camping tent with towels hanging from a tree. I asked him if that was his uncle’s tent? His reply was not what I expected. He told me that he was actually staying in the tent. He would go there when he wanted to just get away from the world, sometimes for months at a time. He used his gym membership to shower and get ready for work as a front-desk receptionist at a local hotel. About a year after we met, he upgraded to a small barn behind his aunt’s house.

That same morning, we fished the small pond, caught a few bass and bream, and of course, exchanged a lot of fishing stories. He shared many of his memories and experiences on the property and about how difficult it was growing up without his parents. But, through all of that, with a smile, he told me how blessed he was with what God had done and was doing in his life.

We took a break for lunch at a small diner in Barwick. There the conversation continued, and it just came so easy. I learned that Matthew’s real dream was to either become a preacher or a famous singer. He didn’t dream small, which I found to be very inspirational.   

After lunch, we went back to the property to try fishing in a different pond. This required us to move the jonboat we were fishing in that morning to the new location, a few hundred yards away. That was a success.

When we got ready to launch, Matthew suggested I get in the jonboat first, and he would push us off the side and then get in himself. We carefully placed all our fishing poles and tackle into the boat. As discussed, I climbed in and sat down. Matthew pushed us off and was just about halfway in the boat when he lost his balance, causing the boat to flip over, dumping both of us and all of the poles and tackle in the water. Luckily, it was a warm, spring day, and we were in pretty shallow water. I couldn’t help but laugh as I began recovering the poles and tackle. We found all of our fishing gear and decided to try again. This time he got in first. As we fished, I just kept replaying our misadventure and thinking about how good of a story it was going to be.

A few weeks later, he invited me back to the same farm because he wanted my help calling in a turkey. Matthew had never actually been turkey hunting before and really had no idea what to do. All he had was a Benelli Nova shotgun, which he purchased a month before. He was so proud of that gun, mostly because he always wanted one like his brother and finally saved up enough money to get it. Before the hunt, we talked about everything he would need, like a mask and camouflage clothing. I told him I would let him borrow the rest. As I mentioned before, I was rather skeptical that there were turkeys out there, but we made plans to go the next weekend.

I drove into the property near the main drive, then walked about 300 hundred yards where I met him at his tent, just before daylight. About 50 yards from his tent was the bottom center of a field, with a thin treeline dividing his property from the neighboring plantation. We searched in the dark for a place to set up where we would both have a good view. Just after deciding on two trees close enough, but before we could set up, a gobble exploded behind us maybe 200 yards away on the bordering property. Our eyes lit up! I’m sure he thought, “I told you so.”

We finished setting up quickly, which can be a little difficult when excited and anxious. I picked up my slate call, made a slight yelp and hoped for the best. He answered me on the second yelp, so I gave the call a rest. This gobbler kept firing off once every minute or so, and I could tell he was coming in quick. He came to a halt and stopped gobbling just as he hit the brush behind us about 50 yards away.

We waited a few minutes, then I slowly and faintly scratched a few notes on the slate. He wasn’t going to answer now, but we could hear him walk from our back right through some thick brush, then he came straight toward us. I motioned for Matthew to get ready and to aim for the bird’s neck.

After another minute or so, the bird took a few more steps and was in perfect position. Even though it was probably only a few seconds as I watched the bird, I wondered if Matthew was ever going to pull the trigger. Matthew shot, feathers flew, and the bird went down kicking, just 15 yards away. We got up, ran to the bird, gave congratulations and took some pictures. I have to admit, it was a beautiful shot for a guy who had never hunted before. We took the gobbler back to my house in Thomasville to clean it and prep the tail feathers, beard and spurs for mounting.

Matthew Strickland with his Brooks County gobbler that was called in by good friend Scott Barwick. Matthew’s life was taken in an automobile accident on April 29, 2018. Hunting and fishing memories are what helped bond their friendship.

A week later my wife and I had Matthew over to eat the turkey and present him with the display mount of his turkey.

For some reason or another, and with both of our work schedules, we were not able to make any more hunting and fishing trips. Even though we didn’t see each other often, we still remained very close and spoke on the phone regularly. He was someone I knew I could call on when I needed a friend to talk to. I knew, without a doubt, he would answer the phone and listen to whatever problem I was having. He ended up moving into a house, and I would stop by his house occasionally to play the guitar and sing with him. I made a few trips to his work, where we would just talk while he folded laundry. It was always good conversation. He loved to talk about his big dreams, and I didn’t mind listening.

Now, I call his phone just to hear his voice on the answering machine.

Sadly, on April 29, 2018, our friendship ended as quickly and unexpectedly as it began. Matthew was in a horrible car accident and didn’t survive. I’m so grateful for the memories I have of our hunting and fishing experiences. It’s what brought us together as friends.

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