Baseball, Big Gobblers And Cool Hand Luke

Author guides youth to his first-ever turkey.

Lynn Stanford | February 1, 2012

Luke Leverett, of Eatonton, 12 at the time, killed this nice longbeard while hunting with the author on the opening day of the 2010 turkey season.

The two jakes stepped into the food plot at a fast walk, one behind the other. They were desperately searching for the “hen” they thought was there. I was positive neither of these jakes were responsible for the thunderous gobble just seconds before their arrival.

I whispered to Luke, “Get ready,” because the big bird was probably right behind the jakes. Instantly the big tom stepped into the field, and again I whispered to Luke, “Get on the big bird but don’t shoot until he stops.” No sooner had I said this when another big gobbler appeared right behind the first. My plan of action changed immediately. I wanted Luke to kill one of these longbeards, first and foremost. That was the bottom line, but it was opening day, and I did have my gun. A double just might be at hand.

At that very instant, the two longbeards decided they didn’t want the two jakes anywhere around, and they both exploded into a head-on charge toward the two jakes. The little food plot was in total chaos. We had targets but needless to say, they were moving and moving fast. The jakes did not want to leave the food plot, and the two big toms were determined to make them go.

I was beginning to get just a little nervous. I was afraid that if the jakes did finally run out of the food plot and the two big birds chased after them, then there was a good chance the two gobblers might not come back. I did not want to gamble on that chance. It had not been more than 60 seconds since the first jake entered the field. So much had happened in one minute that it was unbelievable.

Luke was excited. I could hear his rapid breathing, but he was calm and his hands were cool. He had his sights on one of the longbeards and was following his every move. I finally whispered to Luke, “Take the shot if it feels right.” I had no problems telling him this because I knew he could shoot and shoot well. Two seconds later… BOOM!

This hunt actually started four months earlier during the 2009 deer season when my friend Glynn Leverett and I were discussing our deer hunting success, or rather our lack thereof. Soon the conversation turned to turkey hunting, and Glynn asked me if I would be willing to take his son turkey hunting. Luke was 12 years old and a very good deer hunter, just as his dad is. Luke has several good bucks to his credit and was now wanting to learn to turkey hunt. Glynn said Luke had been a couple of times but had no luck because he simply didn’t know how. I was quick to say yes and felt blessed to do so. If Luke wanted to learn how to turkey hunt, then I was glad to help him get started the right way.

Luke and his parents, Glynn and Shawn, are members of Crossroads Baptist Church in Eatonton. For the past few years, Crossroads has had an outdoor youth ministry called God’s Great Outdoors that is dedicated to getting young people hunting and fishing. Glynn has been heavily involved in that ministry, and the results show. It is very popular with the church, the volunteers and especially the kids.

One of the most popular events they’ve done in the past is a youth turkey hunt. It begins on Friday afternoon of opening weekend at turkey camp and winds up at Crossroads Church on Sunday morning. There are so many different activities during this three-day event that everyone involved is blessed in one way or another. I love turkey hunting, but that is only an excuse for me to be out there. My biggest blessing is to teach a youngster how to simply enjoy God’s Great Outdoors.

On Friday evening, when the last of the day’s activities were complete, I spoke to Glynn and Luke about where and when to meet for the next morning’s hunt. I had already told them about the place I wanted to take Luke hunting. I told them I was positive we would have action sometime during the morning, and that we would simply stay with it until something happened.

This is where Glynn threw me a curve. He told me Luke was a member of the Gatewood School J.V. baseball team, and he had a game in Morgan County on Saturday around lunch. Luke wanted to go hunting, but he also wanted to play ball. He did not want to let his team down by not playing.

I told Luke and Glynn we would simply alter our plans a bit. I respected Luke’s wishes to support his team by playing in this game. After all, teaching kids right from wrong is the sole responsibility of adults. Playing in this game was the right thing to do. I told them we would hunt until about 10 a.m. and if we had not taken a bird by then, then we would come out, get some lunch, play ball and then go back hunting in the afternoon. This was our plan.

The next morning, I met Glynn and Luke at the Ingles parking lot in Eatonton. We decided to meet back there at 11 a.m. so Luke could make his game. We had prayer together and Glynn wished us good luck. Luke and I left for the turkey woods. As we drove along, I told Luke what to expect for the morning’s hunt. Not wanting to discourage him, I also felt that he needed to know that turkey hunting is not a “slam dunk.” It is a lot of fun when everything comes together, but more times than not you’ll come home empty-handed. It makes no difference where you hunt or who you hunt with, it’s still hunting and not necessarily killing. That’s why I love it so much. Luke agreed with me and understood what I was saying. We both felt good about the morning’s hunt.

We arrived at our hunting area and walked quietly to the blind that I set up earlier on the edge of the small food plot. I had planted clover in the plot back before deer season, and both deer and turkeys were hitting it hard.

While we waited for gobbling time, we talked quietly. Luke would ask questions about things he didn’t know or things he didn’t understand. I think I was able to answer them straight forward and honestly. I sincerely believe this is the best policy for anyone. I will not cut corners when teaching kids. Luke is the kind of kid who I love to work with because he’s been raised the right way. His parents have done a great job and that made my job easy. We were going to have a good day. I felt blessed.

After only a few minutes in the blind, the song birds began to awake. I was about to do an owl call, but there was no need. A big tom sounded off about 300 yards to our right. He was giving notice to the world that he ruled that stretch of Murder Creek. About that time, another bird gobbled a couple hundred yards in front of us.

When I asked Luke what he thought, his smile told me exactly what he was thinking. He was excited, and so was I. In the next 15 minutes, we heard no less than eight different gobblers in several different directions around us, and of course we heard hens clucking and yelping. This hunt would be a challenge just as most of them are.

I worked the birds sparingly from the blind. I saw no need to go toward any of the gobblers. They were in every direction and were answering my calls. They knew where we were, and for us it was simply a matter of waiting. Unfortunately, “game time” came before the birds did, so we eased out of the blind and made our way back to the truck.

As we drove along toward Ingles, Luke asked if I thought the birds would show this afternoon. I told him I could not promise him they would, but I did not know of a better place for the afternoon hunt. With this, he was satisfied and looked forward to the hunt with anticipation.

We met with Luke’s parents and they left for the game. While they were gone, I went home, had lunch and thought about the morning’s hunt. The birds came there almost daily to feed. I felt that at least one of the gobblers that we heard that morning might be without his hens. This, along with the coaxing from my calls, just might bring one into range. I felt confident.

About 2 p.m., Glynn called and said they were on their way back. I asked him who had won the game. He assured me Gatewood had won. With this news, I told Glynn the game would not be Luke’s only victory that day. I felt like we would be successful that afternoon.

When Luke and I again reached our blind, we were both filled with anticipation. We talked quietly while waiting for the woods to quiet down. After about 20 minutes or so, I gave a soft series of yelps. Luke heard a gobble and said that it was back toward where the truck was parked. I did not hear the bird, so I just waited a minute and called again. We both heard the gobble this time, and Luke was right about the direction. We waited about five minutes and called again. The tom gobbled at maybe 150 yards. The bird was reaching what I call the “red zone,” which is inside 100 yards.

This is where many hunters blow the hunt. I know, because I’ve done it myself. There are just too many things to go wrong when he’s that close. I hit him with one more series of soft yelps, and he gobbled at about 80 yards. Now is when I use my favorite call of all —total silence! If done at the right time, it can be deadly. It will normally cause the bird to come and investigate the now silent hen. And that is exactly what happened.

Two minutes later the jakes showed up, and the beginning of this story took place. At the blast of Luke’s gun, his bird folded and the other three exploded skyward. No chance for a double, but that was OK. We were there for Luke to take a bird, and we had accomplished that.

We hugged and high-fived. I told Luke how proud I was of him to make such a great shot under the circumstances. He was really excited, but he was cool and calm. We took several photos at the kill site and then collected our gear and drove back to camp.

At camp we learned that three of the girls on the youth hunt had taken birds. Luke was the first boy to score on a bird but not the last. There were several birds taken that day by the kids. Everyone had a great time, including the kids who were not successful.

The church gave prizes for different categories of the hunt. Luke’s bird took first place in the weight division at 21.22 pounds, and as a result, he was presented with a new gun, compliments of Crossroads.

I’ll never forget my hunt with Luke. He is a very respectful young man and was eager to learn. He will be a very good turkey hunter. All he needs now is practice and patience. My hat is off to Glynn and Shawn for the job they have done with Luke. This hunt with him is just another turkey-hunting memory etched in my mind forever. Love ya Luke!

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