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Close is good enough on this day

These hunters had been after it for the better part of six hours when Brody, the 10-year-old hunter of honor, revealed his game plan for trying to get his grandpa to get him a turkey gun for his 11th birthday in a few weeks. He said he couldn’t wait to go turkey hunting again.

This day’s hunt was a success!

Brody was the hunter. And I was his mentor, which is a nice way to say that all the pressure was on me to make sure he had fun during the Fort Bragg QDMA Annual Youth Turkey Hunt. The hunt, it its third year, is a great program that pairs the kids of military soldiers with turkey hunters to hunt Fort Bragg’s 251 square miles during North Carolina’s Youth Day.

Brody shows his shooting form!

Each hunter and mentor are teamed with a chaperone who is familiar with Fort Bragg’s terrain – a sort of human version of a GPS that proved quite useful.

The morning got started with all teams meeting for a safety / informational session at 4 a.m. This meant a 12:30 a.m. wake up call for my hunting buddy Chris and me to make sure we were on base in time. Upon talking with a couple mentors who had scouted the area Brody would be hunting, it sounded as though our chances of communicating with Tom Turkey were pretty high. So too was the pressure for me to give Brodie some good turkey-hunting memories.

We were able to hear a few gobbles off the roost shortly after first light. Sadly, they were all several hundred yards from our initial setup. We needed to move quickly.

Three setups and two hours later, we started a series of calls off the edge of a narrow LZ (that’s “landing zone” in Fort Bragg speak!). Two minutes into the set, a gobble some 100 yards away sets the woods to life. One problem, though. It was 180 degrees from where we were facing. We quickly swiveled around. Two more gobbles indicated the bird was coming our way, and coming in a hurry.

I caught a glimpse of the bird – check that, two birds – crossing an opening 50 yards or so away. The first of the two Toms crested the small ridge ahead of us – some 25 yards away – and was looking for a hen. Our decoy was roughly 20 yards behind is at this point and I was hoping his eyes would catch the decoy before they caught us.

Pictured here is the group of youth hunters who participated in Fort Bragg's Annual Youth Turkey Hunt

The lead bird moved to within 20 yards of our spread. The second bird was not quite as interested in spending a lot of time looking for this hen. He was starting to feel a little antsy and decided to walk the opposite direction. It was time for the shot. It didn’t happen, and that’s okay.

Amidst the excitement of the turkeys coming so close, Brody froze! He admitted later that he couldn’t have truly froze because he was “shaking really bad.” It was an adrenaline rush for all of us, but especially for Brody. His first turkey hunt and he had two long beards within range! I felt the pressure come off my back a little bit.

Following a fantastic lunch for the group of hunters, we headed back to the woods for a few hours of trying to get a turkey to answer us. We decided to call it a day after a few more hours.

With 13 hunters bagging three turkeys, the Youth Day at Fort Bragg was considered a success.

Brody said he wants to go turkey hunting again ... soon!

The bag total wasn’t the lone indicator for it being a good day. Also part of the measurement were the smiles and laughs presented by the young hunters throughout the day.

For the record: In addition to the Youth Hunt, Fort Bragg QDMA facilitates a Wounded Warrior turkey hunt the second Saturday of the general season. The organization also sets up deer hunts for youth and Wounded Warriors each fall. It’s able to do each of these with the support of a lot of donors and volunteers. While this was my first time participating, I look forward to helping again.

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