By Toni W. Riley
The mock cluck, cluck of a hen turkey resonates from the friction call in the hands of Jason Morris. He and his son, Micah, 11, have been hiding inside the turkey blind since before daylight during the youth hunting weekend. The call works. Seconds later, a gobbler fans his tail and struts into sight.
“He’s a big one,” Jason says quietly. “Be calm, be still and don’t move.”
Micah waits patiently for the gobbler to move into range. The gobbler hears the hen call from Jason’s hand again and sees the decoys Jason and Micah have set up 20 yards from the blind. As the gobbler struts forward, Micah continues to wait until the bird is near enough. He pulls the trigger and harvests a wild turkey.
Jason will continue this annual hunting tradition with his other son, Eli, 9, as will many other ag families during the Kentucky youth hunting weekend and possibly again during the regular turkey hunting season.
The Morris family — which also includes Mom Christina and Niece Ashley — admits to being outdoorsy. Jason is a Hopkinsville firefighter and Christina is a reading intervention teacher at Crofton Elementary. Both are avid deer hunters with their children, but Christina leaves the turkeys to the boys.
“She went with me once when she was trying to impress me when we were dating,” Jason says. He laughs as he remembers Christina falling asleep in the blind and waking up startled because a turkey gobbled nearby — that was her first and last turkey hunting experience.
Jason loves hunting. He feels it is important to pass down his love of the outdoors, wildlife and hunting to his sons. He started hunting with the boys when they turned 7 years old.
In his youth, Jason’s dad took him deer hunting but not turkey hunting. Jason wanted to turkey hunt so much that, when he was 14, he begged his dad to go with him during youth hunting weekend. His dad didn’t hunt but tagged along as the mandatory chaperone.
Jason went into great detail about wild turkey hunting, “an art” that he is proud to be teaching his sons. There are two ways to hunt turkeys, with a blind or by walking. Both the boys started hunting inside a blind, which isn’t as strenuous as walking — and where a DVD player and snacks can help to pass the time. Now that Micah is older and can carry a gun, he is starting to walk, or “ground hunt.”
When hunting from a blind, Jason scouts a farm and finds a likely field where the turkeys will forage. He hunts on the Jason Parker farm in north Christian County, and like any hunter, he isn’t willing to give up the actual location of his excellent hunting ground.
Jason sets up the blind and decoys a few days before and will bring the boys back to the blind before daylight. The turkeys roost in trees and come down at daybreak to feed. Blind hunting is a matter of just waiting for the birds to come your way, he explains. Using the calls and the decoys bring the birds into range.
With ground hunting, the hunter walks and calls, and when a gobbler answers, the hunter sets up decoys, sits down with their back to a tree and continues to call until the birds come into range.
Jason points out that one of the most significant things about taking his sons hunting is teaching them about wildlife, their habits and instincts. Christina says the boys have learned to care about the animals they are harvesting. The boys have learned that during the spring, wild turkeys are mating and the hens are nesting.
The gobblers, which are the only legal targets, are anxious to mate with female turkeys, so the calls entice gobblers to come out and look for a hen. The older, more-experienced gobbler will call the hens to him. A younger gobbler, or a yearling called a jake, doesn’t have rank within the flock and is more likely to go looking for hens.
“Turkeys are really keen to what’s going on around them,” Jason explains. “They know when there are different sounds in the woods. They can tell when a deer makes a sound and when a size nine shoe makes a sound.”
That’s why getting an older bigger more experienced bird is quite a challenge and an accomplishment.
It is obvious when talking with the boys that they love hunting with their dad and are very knowledgeable about the craft. Micah expounds the type of special turkey shell he uses in his 20-gauge shotgun. He says it is important to target practice and get a tight shot pattern in order to harvest a bird.
Both boys depend on their dad’s knowledge to help them learn the difference in turkeys and when the gobbler is in range to shoot. They both said they’ve learned how to be patient — Eli admits that is still hard for him.
The family loves to eat the turkeys they harvest. Jason said he doesn’t do anything special to the breast, which is about the size of a small football. He just cuts it into small strips and fries it.
“Dad cooks it real good,” Eli says.
While the boys love to eat turkey, there are some tangible trophies involved with the hunting. One of the things that helps Micah decide if he wants to shoot a bird is the size of the beard, which is the long hair-like feathers that grow from the bird’s chest. Eli quickly pulls out a ruler to measure a beard from a turkey they had harvested and shows that it was almost 10 inches — larger than the 9-inch average for turkey beards.
The length of the beard helps distinguish the age of the bird. A bird with less than a 3-inch beard is likely to be a jake. An 8-inch beard is probably a 3-year-old.
The spurs on the legs of the turkey are the other trophies. Gobblers use these when fighting other males in the flock for dominance. A 3-year-old bird will have a 1-and-a-half to 2-inch spur. As the bird ages, the spurs lengthen and curve.
To commemorate the first turkey they harvested, Christina snapped a photo and had the tailfan, spurs and beard mounted on a plaque with the date and location of the harvest. The boys will save the spurs and beards off other birds they harvest.
Jason says he probably gets more out of taking his sons hunting than they do because he simply enjoys seeing them hunt.
“I have hunted all my life,” he says. “My dad took me and I want to take them.”
Eli beams with pride as he describes what it takes to be a good hunter — a good “trier,” working hard and most importantly, having a good teacher.
By Toni W. Riley