When the alarm clock in Carol Collins’ home sounded at 3:45 a.m. on a recent day in May, she was soon swept out of bed by her husband Milton’s eagerness to hunt turkeys.
“I got up with him because I’ve never seen so much energy at that time of day,” Carol said of her 86-year-old husband. “He was so anxious to get out there. I was wondering how he could do this, but I knew he would be in good hands.”
Her certainty rested with their son-in-law, Gregg Maes, 56, of Suamico, Wisconsin, who’s married to their daughter Bonnie. Carol Collins, 83, knew Maes would be arriving soon, so she got up to make breakfast for them.
Soon after eating, Maes and “Grandpa” drove north of the city to hunt land owned by Maes’ son, Dustin. They had set up a blind a couple of days earlier in a spot where Dustin Maes saw turkeys while scouting.
They arrived before daylight, set out their turkey decoys, and crawled inside the blind, with Collins toting his 12-gauge Ithaca shotgun, a prized pump-action gun he’s owned for 60 years. They talked quietly as the sun came up, ears perked to hear gobbling from toms near or far.
As 7:15 a.m. neared, they reminded themselves that the turkeys Dustin reported usually showed up about that time. Meanwhile, the woods remained silent. They hadn’t heard one gobbling tom or yelping hen since arriving.
About 7:30 a.m., Collins saw three hen turkeys silently milling around to his right, about 40 yards away, and motioned to Maes. Their excitement spiked but then waned as several minutes passed without a gobbler appearing.
Then their adrenaline surged again when a mature gobbler strutted into view 70 yards away, its wingtips dragging the ground and tall tail feathers regally fanned. As Maes and Collins watched the big bird, it eyed their decoys but kept its distance, intent on impressing the hens with its strutting and pirouettes.
After several minutes the hens moved off and disappeared into the brush. The tom started following as Maes watched to see if his father-in-law was tempted by the long shot.
“He never moved his gun,” Maes said. “He knew not to shoot. It was just too far. He knew his gun’s ability. I just thought it was game over when the gobbler followed the hens to our left and disappeared.”
Just when they were convinced the gobbler was gone for good, Maes saw it again. Its head was up and stretched out just right, possibly within range now. Unfortunately, Collins didn’t have a shot.
“He couldn’t see it from his angle, so I grabbed his shoulders and lined him up so he could see it,” Maes said. “By now it seemed the gobbler didn’t know what to do. He was looking at our decoys, but then moved away again. We called to him a few times but he must have been following the hens. He never gobbled once. He stayed quiet the whole time.”
About 45 minutes had now passed since they first saw the turkeys, so their hopes faded further with each quiet minute. Still, they waited. Without a sound, the hens appeared again about 30 yards to their left.
Collins smiled as he slowly poked his shotgun barrel through the blind’s only screen-free window. Maes had been encouraging him to shoot through the replaceable mesh in the other windows, but Collins didn’t want to destroy a screen with a shotgun blast unless he had no choice.
As the hens moved closer, the gobbler suddenly ambled back into view. “He was coming in fast,” Maes said. “Grandpa had an opening and lined up to shoot. When the gobbler stepped into that opening, he dropped him. He was down!”
Maes was so happy for Collins that he couldn’t contain his excitement.
“I was screaming like a third-grade girl,” Maes said. “That was the most rewarding hunt I’ve ever been on. It was only Grandpa’s second year of turkey hunting, and it was the first gobbler he’d ever seen close-up. It was an awesome experience.”
After walking over to claim the bird, they called Maes’ son to give him the good news. Dustin Maes left work immediately to join them and share the excitement.
“It was probably the hunt of a lifetime for me, but I know I’m partial,” Maes said. “Now I totally understand why those mentored-youth and disabled hunts are so popular. It’s incredibly satisfying to be part of a hunt with someone you care about.”
Carol Collins was waiting for them when they came home with the big gobbler.
“Grandma was a little choked up, because she knew Grandpa had gotten to do something really exciting, and he really enjoyed it,” Maes said. “It was a great team effort. Plus, it got him out of mowing the lawn that morning.”
Images courtesy Gregg Maes