By Brittany Schenck
My story is one of success, but not in the way most hunters define it.
I grew up in a strict non-hunting family – which really is a shame given the fact that we lived on prime hunting land in the Georgia piedmont. I grew up exploring our woods, and playing in the creek, but never developed true outdoorsman skills. The only person I knew that hunted was my uncle, who lived next door, and he was on strict orders from my aunt not to hunt our properties. I knew by the ‘deer meat tacos’ they ate that he was occasionally successful, but that was the extent of my exposure to the hunting world until I met my husband.
My husband took me out on my first deer hunt, and as I watched the world come to life in vibrant color, I was instantly hooked. Fumbling through the woods with him, I was the ever happy tagalong, but never felt comfortable calling myself a hunter. I’d never gone out on my own, never killed anything, and couldn’t tell you the first thing about scouting. In short, I was just along for the ride.
In late 2020, I decided that I wanted to try turkey hunting in the spring. My husband doesn’t turkey hunt, so I was relieved when my brother-in-law offered to take me out. I studied up on turkey hunting like I was studying for an exam. I attended classes, seminars, and soaked up every podcast I could find. All that prep work could have never prepared me for what I was going to find in the woods…nothing.
My brother-in-law and I hit the woods a handful of times, and never even heard the first hint of a gobble. The last time we hunted together, I’d finally gotten the courage to do the calling myself, but was still answered with silence. A sense of defeat washed over me as I watched my cheap Walmart decoy roll back into itself. (Apparently you’re supposed to unroll it well before the hunt so it has time to shape out.)
Some hunter I was panning out to be.
We took a sabbatical from the turkey woods while he worked on a home project. 1, 2, 3 weeks went by, and I was getting frustrated. He offered for me to go out on his land alone if I wanted, but he’d decided he was finished. I’d never gone out by myself before. The very thought of it terrified me, but I knew it was my only chance to get back out. I was so nerved up about it that I only got two hours of sleep that night. Needless to say, I did not go hunting in the morning.
The next weekend, I was determined to try again. The alarm went off at 4:30AM, and my eyes jerked open. All my stuff was packed up, so all I had to do was get dressed and hit the road. As I pulled in the driveway, and parked my car, I took a deep breath. ‘You can do this,’ I told myself. I slipped on my pack, jumped the fence to the field, and set out on my own.
As I crossed into the field, I realized it had grown up quite a lot in three weeks. The grass was as tall as me! I almost turned around, but convinced myself to keep moving forward. I finally got to the woods, and was thankful I had a little light to help me see. I found a tree with a small sapling growing next to it, which provided a little extra coverage. Once I got settled, I waited for first light, and let out a yelp. I thought it sounded pretty good! So good, in fact, that it convinced a nearby coyote that a turkey was calling it to breakfast. This coyote came in on my right, and I could see through the sapling that he was trotting straight for me. He had no idea I was there, and my heart was racing. He was 10 yards away when I finally spoke to him. He stopped and stared at me in utter confusion. In all my years playing in the woods, I’d never been so close to a wild animal before. I could see the color of his eyes, the intricate coloration of his fur. Looking him in the eyes stirred something within me that I never knew was there. I don’t think I even took a breath until I watched him cautiously slink away into the brush. I rested my head against the tree in utter disbelief. That just happened!
I did finally hear a turkey that morning. A hen. Late morning, I packed up, headed back toward the field, and walked out of the woods a changed woman. Not only did I find the courage to venture out on my own, I looked a wild coyote in the eyes without panic. I felt accomplished. Alive. Feral.
I certainly didn’t have the turkey season that I prepared for, but I found myself along the way, and that is the best success I could have ever asked for. Turkey or none, I am strong, I am brave, and I am hunter.