Before I get into telling the story of how I bagged my first turkey (and first animal ever), I want to explain a little bit of my previous hunting experiences leading up to it.
Over the last couple of years, since I have been with Jesse, I have learned so much about hunting, and the hunting culture. Never in my life did I think I would actually become a hunter. Growing up in North Carolina, I was surrounded by the country folk who participated in such activities. I always thought it was cruel, being such an animal lover. My family never participated in hunting or fishing, but we always enjoyed the outdoors in many other ways. So, I just never had the opportunity to learn the importance and benefits of hunting. Until, that is, I fell in love with a Missouri country boy who was living the Colorado mountain life as a horseback and elk hunting guide. He cooked me many meals with the elk he had harvested the fall before and successfully acquired a wild turkey on opening day of turkey season in Colorado the first year we were together. We did a road trip together to visit his family in Missouri, and my family in NC. Along the way, we found out we were pregnant! Thanks morning sickness! But, while we were in Missouri, it was Spring turkey season. So, I joined Jesse and one of his friends for my first hunting experience ever for three days in a row. Of course, we did a lot more turkey scaring than harvesting, but I was fully involved. Early morning wake up times, beautiful sunrises, and lots of wildlife activity while stomping through the woods. I really loved it, since most of that wasn’t too new to me. Jesse even gave me a bow that he had stored in MO and we bought some women’s camo at the original Bass Pro Shop in Springfield.
As our baby girl grew in my belly, Jesse spent a lot of time in the backcountry hunting for elk that following fall. We watched endless hunting videos on the Pursuit Channel and I could feel the excitement of it all as he would tell me his close encounter stories. I totally understood where the addiction came from.
In October of 2017, after Jesse’s elk season was over, we decided to move back to his family property in Missouri to kind of reorganize our lives and save some money, since we found we weren’t really able to do what we loved while paying super high rent in Colorado. Ellie was about 10 months when we moved back. It was in the middle of whitetail deer season, and it’s literally all Jesse, his dad, and his brothers could talk about. They each spent so much time out in the woods trying to get one. Here in Missouri, you can harvest multiple deer per person because there is such an abundance of them. After a while, I got tired of just hearing the stories, and I wanted to be a part of the action too! If I was going to be a member of the Moore family, I was not about to just sit around and wish I could hunt too. I decided to get my hunter safety certification course done online, and acquired my license. On the very last day of deer season in January, Jesse took me to one of his friend’s tree stands on some private land that we had permission to hunt on. As we sat in the stand that evening, we saw a couple deer come right out in front of us in our ideal line of fire. A doe, and what appeared to be one of her young-lings. She was about 25 yards in front of me, and I could have had the perfect shot. But, I didn’t draw my bow. I was too afraid I was going to spook her. After a few minutes she spotted us, and they both took off. I learned a lot in that 5 minutes. After hours of waiting and things going slowly, suddenly as the deer show up, things happen real fast and decisions must be made quickly. I lost my perfect chance to get my first deer on the last day of the season, but I don’t regret it. She could have been pregnant and my heart would have been totally broken and maybe scar me from hunting. She also was very likely to be the mother of the other younger deer. Overall it was an amazing experience for my very first deer hunt. I just don’t think I was quite ready yet. I then decided that the upcoming spring turkey season was my time to shine.
Growing up with a pretty liberal family that doesn’t hunt means I never grew up around guns and learned to be comfortable with them. But, of course being around the Moore family, it’s just something I was going to have to adopt into my life, especially if I wanted to hunt. I had shot Jesse’s shotgun a couple times before, but it was still very intimidating for me. So, about a week and a half before turkey season started, we brought the gun down to the river for me to sight in. Turns out I did pretty great, and really focused on my breath. I read Eva Shockey’s Taking Aim, and remembered a specific moment when she talked about shooting. Focusing on your breath, relaxing, and squeezing the trigger on the exhale. Things were much easier while wearing ear protection. I will always wear them. After watching hours of turkey hunting videos, and feeling confident with my shot, I was ready!
During the week, I was unable to hunt because I was a stay at home mama to our little Ellie. So I made sure Jesse went out to see if there were any turkeys around. We stayed the night at his mother’s house in Springfield one Thursday, so we could wake up early and leave Ellie with Nana, and go hunt on a family friend’s property in Marshfield. It was a beautiful morning, and as we stalked through the woods in the darkness, we stumbled upon a turkey in their roost. We thought it was a gobbler seeing that it was all by itself. We stopped, backed up quietly and set out a couple decoys. Jesse started calling. No response. He saw it fly down, and it turned out to be a hen. She headed down the hill towards the creek. We didn’t hear any gobbles all morning, so things were not looking good. They just weren’t really around that morning. We headed home empty handed and a little disappointed. But, we were so proud of Ellie for being so good with Nana while we were gone all morning!
The next day we woke up a little bit later at home, but decided to go out any way. We were only going down the street to another property we have permission to hunt on, and Jesse’s dad (Paw Paw) was going to hang out with Ellie all morning. When we got dropped off, we headed down a big grassy field towards the woods and into a creek bed. We immediately hear gobbles, so things were already looking better than the day before. We get to a wooded area and spot two turkeys off in the distance. We get set up with the decoys and Jesse has me lean against a tree as he stands behind and calls them in. They were headed the opposite way until Jesse made a hen call, and they immediately turned around towards us. I was so excited. I thought that right away we were going to get one, maybe two turkeys! I was running only on coffee so I was a little nervous and shaky, and things were already happening so quickly. As we waited, the turkeys went down behind a hill, and never showed up again. They disappeared without a sound. We decided to head up a ridge into the woods assuming they may be making their daily loop around the property and hope to cut them off. We found a nice spot in the woods where we saw some turkey scratch marks on the ground. We set up our decoys, and hid in the trees. After some waiting, we heard nothing. Until, that is, we heard a gobble way off in the distance on the other side of the creek up on another ridge. Looking at each other with excitement, we decide to pack up and head back down into the creek and try and locate this turkey. As we got closer, the gobbles got louder. It was just one lone tom looking for some action on top of his hill. We sneaked our way close to the top and made some calls along the way. We didn’t get much response from him, for he was on his own gobbling schedule. We came across a small opening of a field and found the perfect place to hide behind a fallen tree stump. Jesse set up the decoy out of my sight to the left of me and I had a perfect opening range to shoot, if the turkey did what we wanted it to. After a while, the tom finally started to respond to our hen calls. All of a sudden we hear a THUMP and saw a hawk fly right in front of us. Jesse stood up slowly to peek over the tree stump and found that the hawk had attacked our decoy! The decoy was slightly off of its stake, but it kind of looked like a hen pecking the ground. We decided not to mess with it and risk scaring off our tom, now that he was engaged. After a while, our tom stopped gobbling. After being so active for about an hour or so, he just shut up. “I think he’s gone babe,” Jesse whispered to me. But, after watching so many turkey videos, and hearing and reading other people’s stories, I knew he hadn’t left. I knew that he was on the move towards us, the sexy hen he had heard. I was willing to wait for two more hours if I had to. I am a very patient person, and was very determined. After about twenty minutes, we start to hear some scratching to our left. Jesse slowly took a peek over our stump, and whispered, “there he is! He’s coming!” With excitement, I propped the shotgun against my knee as I was sitting. I aimed the barrel towards an opening anticipating the turkey to walk out in front of me. Just like we had planned, he walked right in my line of sight, only about 20 yards or so away. I nervously attempted to squeeze the trigger, but hesitated and didn’t squeeze hard enough. The tom stopped walking thinking he had heard me, and propped his head up, setting himself up for the perfect shot. I took a big, deep breath, sighted in on his head, and pulled the trigger with confidence on my exhale. BOOM! Turkey down! With excitement, I clicked on my safety and leaped up and gave Jesse a big hug! I was so excited and full of adrenaline. I’ve had plenty of adrenaline rushes in my life, but nothing like this feeling. My shot was perfect, and I didn’t even notice it’s impact against my shoulder like I had felt the other day when I was practicing. I ran over to my turkey and didn’t really have the guts to finish him with my boot, so I let Jesse take care of that. We snapped a couple of photos, and immediately called Jesse’s brothers and dad to tell them the news and to come pick us up. This was my first experience handling an expired wild animal myself. I grabbed the warm legs of this monster turkey and threw him over my shoulder with pride. I didn’t get the chance to weigh the bird, but he was pretty heavy. I hiked him down the ridge, over the creek, and back up the hill to the road where Jesse’s brother came to pick us up.
I was so proud to have been so persistent, and focused, and ultimately successful. It will always be one of my greatest memories. My first successful hunt, and my first turkey. As big as he was, it will be hard to top for all my future turkey hunts.
Elena Reynolds, Founder