Blue Angels Take To Georgia Turkey Woods

GON Staff | May 11, 2024

If it comes as a surprise that an annual onion harvest could spawn a week-long festival that has spanned 47 years, you’ve probably never tasted the sweet goodness of a true Vidalia. The 2024 Vidalia Onion Festival was held April 25-28 and featured live music, vendors, rodeo and fantastic food—onions included. The grand finale was an air show by the United States Navy Blue Angels. The Blue Angels extend far beyond its legendary pilots—the team consists of 158 active-duty men and women from the Navy and Marine Corps with a range range of duties and responsibilities to keep the planes flying and pilots safe.

When the Blue Angels came to Georgia for the 47th annual Vidalia Onion Festival, some die-hard sportsmen decided this would be a great opportunity to show some team members the thrills and excitement that can be found in the Georgia woods. One of the hunters was TJ Fountain, of Glenwood, who you might recognize from the recent Toenails Gone Wild On Georgia Gobbler article.

“Conner Thigpen had contacted me earlier asking could I help take a group of guys with the Blue Angels turkey hunting,” TJ said. “Conner orchestrated a group of local guys to take the Blue Angels turkey hunting and hog hunting, and I was fortunate enough to be included. I had the privilege of taking Staff Sgt. Patrick Angles and Staff Sgt. Guillermo Hernández on their first turkey hunts. Saturday morning came and I picked both Guillermo and Patrick up and took them hunting to a tract in Wheeler County. We got on some birds early, but we just were not in the right position to make things happen.

“We changed properties and were able to strike two gobblers. We got close to them and had them come in to a fan. Once they got close, Guillermo shot first, and Patrick shot the other. At the time, I didn’t know that neither of the guys had hunted much, and this was each of their first turkeys. I felt super blessed to be a part of that. Both were great turkeys, with Guillermo’s turkey being a beautiful red phase with pink ivory spurs.

“I also took two more guys on Sunday morning, but we didn’t kill anything. We got close and heard some but couldn’t make it happen.”

Staff Sgt. Patrick Angles, a powerline mechanic with the Blue Angels with blue angels, got his first-ever gobbler during a hunt with TJ Fountain (center) as did Staff Sgt. Guillermo Hernandez (right), a flight equipment technician with the Blue Angels.

On Friday, May 3, Conner Thigpen, Dusty Harris and Alexander Darley took Nick Otteraaen of the Blue Angels on a beautiful river swamp hunt of a lifetime. Conner and Nick doubled up for a very memorable hunt.

“We got into the swamp about 5:30 a.m.,” Conner said. “Darley had went and slid the boat in the slough the evening before. We made two trips across, paddling 75 to 100 yards across to the island. We eased about 50 yards from where the boat was to listen for the first gobble. About 6:15, we heard the first gobble, then another bird sounded off next to him a little ways. About 6:30, I did a fly-down cackle… little did we know there was a hen roosted straight above our head that went crazy. For probably 10 minutes she kept cutting and purring in the tree. Funny thing is, even after we shot, I never heard that hen fly down.”

Even though they were on gobbling birds, few turkey hunts are textbook, and these birds were no exception.

“For about a 10- to 15-minute spell, it was touch to tell what the birds were going do,” Conner said. “That’s when they went from gobbling in separate places to gobbling together, and then they went silent for a short period. The next gobble we heard was on top of us, but we couldn’t see them yet. About that time Nick whispers, ‘I see him in front of us.’ And that’s when he stepped onto a grassy knoll that was 8 to 10 feet above us. He hit full strut, followed by his buddy doing the same. Then the hen walked around them, down that knoll and straight to a decoy that was set up about 10 yards in front of us. The two gobblers, still in full strut, are staring straight at us. He finally works his gun into position (for Nick). Bam, first bird falls. The second bird ran 10 yards to our left, and I swung around on him and dropped the hammer,” Conner said.

The results of a beautiful and special morning in the Georgia turkey woods. Pictured are Nick Otteraaen (left) of the Navy’s Blue Angels, and Georgia turkey hunters Conner Thigpen (center front), Dusty Harris (right) and Alexander Darley (back). Conner and Nick doubled-up on Toombs County gobblers the morning of May 3.

One of the guys who hunted that Friday and Saturday, Staff Sgt. Joey Domicoli, didn’t kill a bird, but he had a close call with a gobbler.

“Well, he came back for another hunt,” TJ said. “He was so ate up with it, he wanted to finish what he started, and he killed his first gobbler while hunting with Avery Washinger, of Montgomery County. They got in there early and the gobbler was close to where he was the morning before. They worked around him a couple times with him being henned up, and he finally came off the hen around 9 a.m. and came in with a jake. Joey is hooked and now has his first gobbler.”

Joey Domicoli of the Blue Angels team with his gobbler killed during a hunt with Avery Washinger. “Joey is hooked,” he said.

“We did our best to show them southern hospitality and a good time in the woods that they don’t get to see very often as they are very busy entertaining crowds with their air shows. I believe we achieved our goal in showing them a good time by hunting hogs with dogs and thermal and turkey hunting. They were all very appreciative of what Conner put together for them for hunting and showing them a good time,” TJ said.

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