As a new comer in the hunting and outdoor industry, I quickly learned that this culture is unique in its appreciation of tradition and strong sense of community. My role on the digital side of NWTF operations is far removed from the turkey woods, but requires me to portray aspects of hunting and our organization. Despite my complete lack of hunting experience, I was warmly welcomed as the resident non-hunter in the communications department. However, spending each day listening to the clucks, purrs and yelps of my colleagues preparing for season was enough to spark my interest in turkey hunting. Understanding the important role hunting plays in conservation sealed the deal. An opportunity presented itself when a grant from Cabela’s Outdoor Fund allowed the NWTF to host a turkey hunting 101 weekend. Cabela’s “round up” program sponsored the event for a group of 13 young adults, most of which are current Clemson University students.
The weekend was divided into one full day of classroom learning and one morning mentored hunt. Students were taught about the history and mission of the NWTF as well as the background of wild turkey conservation. After an in-depth firearm safety briefing, shotguns were patterned. For several students, this was their first opportunity to fire a shotgun. Although I had one other experience, this aspect of hunting brought me the most anxiety. The 20-gauge Winchester Super X3 NWTF Cantilever Turkey shotgun I used was very manageable for me as I was able to easily and quietly control the safety. The gun came outfitted with TruGlo fiber optic sights that I used while learning the basics of shotgun shooting. They were easy to see and work with, even for an untrained shotgunner. However, I added an Aim Point red dot scope. This is one piece of equipment that really shifted my nerves into confidence. As a first time hunter, this scope made a big difference. It allowed for much more confidence in my ability to fire a safe and effective shot.
The serious tone of our firearm lesson gave way to the most humorous portion of the weekend, our calling lesson. All 13 of us sat in a circle with our slate and box calls firing off clucks, yelps and purrs. A chorus of cheers erupted when anyone was able to partially replicate the sounds our instructor was producing. I was certain that no gobbler would mistake me for another bird, but it was a great bonding experience for the group.
Five a.m. the next morning came quickly as we nervously readied our gear and headed out to meet our mentors. I hit the woods silent, sleepy headed and unsure of what the day would hold. As the first gobble resounded through the trees, I felt my heart in my throat. In that moment, the purpose of this hunt, and all turkey hunts, became abundantly clear. I’ve heard some of the greatest turkey callers in the world perform, but it was no comparison to the depth of a wild tom gobbling on the roost. This was when I understood that this was the prize. Bagging a bird didn’t matter, but the opportunity to witness the woods wake up and be a part of something so few people encounter was what hunting is about. Seeing hens and hearing gobblers carry on as if we didn’t exist was special and I couldn’t have asked for more out of my first hunt.
At the end of the day, I wasn’t bringing home a turkey, but I had gained a wealth of experience to aid me in the many turkey hunts to come. I shared in a community of millennials that were wildly eager to learn. An age group that so often receives a poor reputation showed enthusiasm that rivaled many of the seasoned turkey hunters I know. They were not only drawn in by the hunt, but by the opportunity to learn more about this animal and this hallowed tradition. I witnessed a spark in each of these students that I’m confident will serve as a catalyst for their family and friends and make a positive impact on the future of our hunting heritage.