Kyle Hey

The Wanderlust Gobbler: Going to the Edge of the Map to Fill a Tag

By Kyle Hey

The top of the mountain was painted in thick green underbrush opening into a freshly timbered slope that stretched across the posted property line. The section public ground that I was hunting that afternoon was new to me. There was something about that newness that piqued my spirit of adventure, and excited me about the possibilities the ground held.

I would be lying if I said that the yellow turkey tag burning a hole in my pocket was not my primary motivation for that evening’s hunt. However, there is no doubt that a sense of wanderlust encouraged my beeline path to the furthest tip of the public land. And when I arrived at the edge of the public land I stood like a tourist staring at paintings in a museum with my head cocked, trying to interpret the new depictions of beauty surrounding me. Nature’s canvas is always beautiful, yet her complexities and subtleties always tend to reveal themselves after we let ourselves steep in the moment.

On a map, this small sliver of public grounds sticks out into the private property like an index finger pointing south. Distance from the road, slope, and I was hunting the last Friday in May meant that I was the only hunter on the mountainside enjoying the sights and sounds of a late Pennsylvania Spring evening. I was armed both with a tip from a friend about a turkey roosting area somewhere in the back corner of the Game Lands, and a borrowed 12 gauge shotgun, hoping for one last adventure before my daughter was due to be born in less than two weeks.

At 6 p.m., I dropped elevation to an area with good ground level visibility, hoping that a gobbler would feel comfortable using his keen eyesight to approach my setup. My plan was to sit for a few hours, calling periodically, in hopes of drawing a late season bird past my location on his way to roost.

Slipping out my box call, I announced the arrival of an eager hen to the mountainside. Anticipating a few hours of silence, I was daydreaming about my pre-baby to-do list as I sent my first few modest yelps through the oaks and poplars. To my confusion, I heard a distant clatter that seemed to respond to my call. Confused and disbelieving, I waited 30 seconds before sending another round of inquiring yelps.

This time there was no doubt, a gobble boomeranged back up the mountain. The tom seemed to be about 150 yards below me, and after one more call and response I was sure he was interested. The slope between us pitched down into a hardwood creek bottom. In all likelihood the gobbling tom had spent his humid late spring day loafing in the shade near the tucked away stream, enjoying the cooler surroundings.

With my decoy now positioned on a small knoll overlooking the creekbottom, I slumped in the shadows of a large oak and dove into the auditory courtship with the eager tom in earnest. Several yelps later a booming gobble revealed that he had cut his distance significantly.

My next offerings of flirtatious yelps were immediately met with the excitement of an emphatic double gobble. I could not resist seizing on the testosterone baked attitude of this tom, immediately I returned his call with a series of excited yelps, which were interrupted with a gobble yet closer still.

Rudely, I interrupted his response with a short series of loud and bossy yelps, eliciting yet another raucous double gobble. With my heartbeat ever-quickening, I finally admitted to myself; “He’s coming.”

As slowly as I could I moved the box call to the ground, shielding my movement behind my bent legs. I then elicited a few soft purrs from the wooden paddle as my final auditory offerings. Reaching next to the call, I scratched the mixture of dry oak and poplar leaves scattered on the ground, adding realism to my lonely hen persona.

Settling my cheek into the stock of my gun, my eyes darted to cover each detail of the foliage of my surroundings like a hummingbird trying to locate sugar water. Giving himself away, he tom’s rumbling gobble now revealed he was now at my elevation and closing the distance.

My novice knowledge of this new ground had caused me to cast a wager that the gobbler would approach from my left, up a natural depression in the slope. Now, I realized he was threatening my right flank, complicating my position as a right handed shooter.

After several anxious minutes of silence, a white head bobbed in the green underbrush on the ridge directly in front of me. I gripped my gun tighter, finding the trigger guard with my index finger as the tom’s head disappeared into a depression in the terrain.

Moments later, his head popped over the rise just 25 yards away. Searching for my decoy, the tom broke into a half strut, stopping just feet to the right of my direct line of fire. With a tree blocking the gobbler’s view of my decoy, I knew I would have to make a move to close the deal.

As the seconds ticked away the tom’s head bobs became increasingly sharp, personifying his fraying nerves. With the gun already leveled, I made my move and shifted my gun the final distance to the right.

The longbeard’s sharp eyesight easily caught my movement. He let out a loud warning putt and turned to flee, stepping behind a cluster of young trees. Spying a gap in the saplings, I found the bead on my barrel and broke the natural melody of the mountainside with the report of my gun.

In one coordinated motion, I sprung from my seat, and sprinted toward the big bird as he flopped in the leaves. A humane follow up shot brought a decisive conclusion to my deep woods excursion.

Pulsing with adrenaline I called my father to share my success. As soon as he answered I blurted out the question “Dad, do you know why I am calling you?”. Later, I realized that with my 38-week pregnant wife at home, he could have interpreted my question completely differently.

“Did you get a turkey?” he asked after a brief pause, which I took as an invitation to regale him with the details of the hunt.

I emerged from the woods that night drenched in sweat, but my reward was a 22.5 pound tom with 1 ⅛ inch spurs and a beard pushing 10 inches long.

The opportunities to hunt public land in Pennsylvania should be seen by hunters as a great blessing. A meritocracy exists deep within Pennsylvania public grounds, offering great opportunities for adventure to those willing to pay the admission fee of sweat and sore muscles.

If it weren’t for the innate desire to know what is around the next bend in the trail — to go to the far edge of the map– my turkey tag would still be in my pocket. Curiosity may kill the cat, but wanderlust kills gobblers, and I can’t wait to teach my daughter that fact.

Teaching pays the bills, but experiencing the outdoors refreshes Kyle Hey’s spirit. A lifelong resident of Southcentral Pennsylvania, Kyle loves hunting, hiking, kayaking, and pretends to know how to fish. To share his thoughts and experiences, Kyle started Relevant Outdoors, which promotes conservation, hunting, and anything that highlights our gift of creation.

Gift of a Mentor

by Kyle Hey

The familiar crack of rifles on the first Monday after Thanksgiving act as an invocation to Pennsylvania hunters who, whispering prayers of hope for success, participate in the holiest of days on the PA hunting calendar. Anticipation and hope mingle to create the opening day excitement shared by hunters both young and old. My earliest opening day memories included cold weather, hot chocolate, and my hunting mentor– my father.

Of all the opening day experiences I have had, one stands out above the rest. The wait for shooting light was as anxious as it had always been in years past. That morning I watched the sun paint the familiar mural of trees on the mountain side, and color the weathered grain in the field far below. As my surroundings brightened, I hoped more than ever to see a tag filled that morning. However, with my buck tag already filled, I was a mere observer that morning, sharing the tree with my father.

Like many lifelong hunters, my father has been my mentor, and in many ways still serves that role, both in and out of the woods. Those in the hunting community that have grown up hunting with our fathers owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for the knowledge and experiences they have passed to us. Even hunters who have not learned directly from their fathers often can point to a mentor that aided their young outdoor education.

Before we get too confident in our photo albums and social media accounts full of our “hero shots”, or puff our chests out as we hang yet another set of antlers from our wall, we are well served to remember that at some point in our hunting career someone had to explain the difference between a deer scrape and a turkey scratching. The influence of a father, or any mentor figure, not only teaches young hunters the 101’s of Woodsmanship and Hunter Safety, but also important lessons about the traits of true sportsman.

Sacrifice in the woods can come in many forms. I am sure my father often agreed to a longer “honey-do” list in order to curry favor in our family’s household for a few more mornings in the woods. Also, fathers and mentors routinely sacrifice time in their best stands to ensure nervous young arrow and bullet slingers an opportunity at a deer. The time spent following a youngster’s blood trail not only is an example of sacrificed hunting time but shows the respect a hunter should have for a fellow sportsman, and the importance of field ethics after the shot. These types of sacrifices and lessons are investments in the next generation of hunters and pay off with the continuation of the hunting and conservation traditions. It’s a lesson in the investment of others that extends far beyond the deer and turkey woods.

Experience and Encouragement:
Humans are always in a rush to accumulate. As a hunter I desire to accumulate knowledge, however, experience is a limiting factor. I have often listened, taking mental notes, to the stories of past hunts that my father, uncle and, grandfathers have told me. As a younger, inexperienced hunter I relished not only the thrills but also the information that came from those tales. Knowledge passed from one generation to another not only benefits the future of our sport but can also generate a thirst in young hunters that encourages them seek their own story worthy experiences in the woods. Watching a young hunter disappear over a ridgeside, venturing off to accumulate valuable experience will make any father or mentor proud. Veteran hunters are a great resource, but they are also an even better reminder to young hunters that there is something new to learn and experience every day in the woods.

Hopefully, every new hunter will catch the “hunting bug”. Infection can manifest itself with the symptoms of frequent daydreams, and large bills to sporting goods stores. The cultivation of healthy perspective is one of the hardest, yet most important, values for fathers and mentors to bring about in young hunters. Missed opportunities to pursue wild game are frustrating, but lacking a proper perspective on the goals and importance of outdoorsmanship and the pursuit of game can have an impact on ourselves and others. Fathers and mentors toe a fine line between promoting hunting as a passion but also instilling the realism that hunting is the pursuit of experience and enjoyment, not always a mad dash to success. It is not just about filling tags, the memories and bonds formed in the pursuit of outdoor passions far outweigh the gratifying feeling of hunting success.

The peace of the opening morning spent with my father was abruptly interrupted with a short burst of welcomed activity. Betrayed by the tell-tale brush cracking of pressured deer, several ghost-like figures appeared in the gray shadows of the dawn. The bark of my father’s rifle sent the group of deer, including a nice buck, running down the mountain. The buck paused, for a brief moment. His legs were locked on as he small rock facing downhill in a strong, near defiant stance, silhouetted against the backdrop of the awakening woods.

From the backside of the tree, I watched in slow motion as my father’s gun leveled and fired, sending a bright orange spark out the end of the barrel. The shot animated the buck and a moment later, the sound of crashing brush confirmed a tag filled. The rest of the day was spent admiring and celebrating the harvest of a 3 ½ year old Pennsylvania Mountain buck, no small feat in our heavily pressured area. After years of sacrificing the ideal stand, my Father was able to capitalize on this proven location to create a lasting memory for both of us.

The mentor role of one generation of hunters to the next not only increases our role in wildlife conservation, but also extends the legacy of positive values learned in man’s first classroom. As we age our precious memories of our fathers, or mentors, teaching us how to shoot, helping us set-up our first bows, and celebrating our first deer will fade; but the lessons our fathers and mentors teach us become ingrained in our character. As the collective hunting community looks to the future, we must find it not in marketing, or antler size. Instead we must fortify our future in the bond, character, and experience built from the passage of knowledge and traditions that occurs when one we invest in another person.

Teaching pays the bills, but experiencing the outdoors refreshes Kyle Hey’s spirit. A lifelong resident of Southcentral Pennsylvania, Kyle loves hunting, hiking, kayaking, and pretends to know how to fish. To share his thoughts and experiences, Kyle started Relevant Outdoors, which promotes conservation, hunting, and anything that highlights our gift of creation.

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