This adventure started back in February when staffers met up to help run the Cervicide booth at the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg. I had first met Tony there and while chatting he had kicked around the idea of holding a turkey event at his family’s camp. It was not long before the event was officially up on the page – I immediately signed up. Fast forward to May, the event was upon us and a few guys I had not met were engaged in the event’s group chat, including Kyle Waldron. What started as a great opportunity to meet up and get to know fellow staffers ended as a truly life changing experience.
Wheels Up! 5/9/19
I arrived to camp Thursday evening with my dog Zorro after running around near home after work; looking for odds and ends, Federal TSS loads and other loads to try, and buying a replacement license due to my inability to remember whether it made it aboard (I found out later, I had packed it). After a 4 and a half hour trip, I pulled into a foggy drive where I found Tony’s truck sporting a pro staff decal, I knew I was in the right place.
Tony had been out glassing the farm field, putting a group of birds to bed in the fog and rain, giving us an idea on where to start the day. I had started unpacking my Griswold mobile containing one of everything I might need (often two) as Tony’s dad Mike pulled in, I introduced myself and chatted for a minute before Tony strolled back in on the road from the woods. We sat down and discussed some of the plans for Friday morning as we waited for Kyle to make his way back from a piece of state land he had been listening on.
The plan was for Kyle and I to set up in a blind overlooking the hilltop field, which we did that night in the dark and pouring rain. Tony and his dad were to set up down in the holler after a bird that they had been hunting for the first two weeks of the season. I came into the event with a primary goal of helping call and film a bird for Kyle since he had not had the experience yet. It was an exciting night filled with beer, rain and wet gear, amazing ham and potato soup (courtesy of Mike), and no sleep.
Beers Down! 5/10/19
It rounded midnight and we were still storytelling, drinking beers and bullshitting just as all good hunt camps should! I realized I was way too excited to sleep and had enough beer to make it tough to wake at 4:30am – all nighter! We carried on and had a really good time bonding, I knew I was comfortable and could feel safe while hunting there. Turkey hunting is one of the most dangerous due to the camo, the kickass turkey loads, and the fact that most of us are making turkey sounds – so feeling safe to hunt was great. The time flew by and soon it was time to fire up the coffee pot and gear to go. Kyle and I hit the road to execute the morning plan while the rain came down. I threw my strutter and hen decoy out and we got set up in the blind.
Tony and Mike had heard a few birds before 8 and couldn’t connect with them, while Kyle and I watched 5 hens work the hill top back and forth in the rain for the better part of the morning. I laughed as my strutter decoy eventually lost his tail in all the wind and rain. Looking back, I wonder if any birds had seen him and stayed out of the field as a result, hard tellin not knowin.
The lack of sleep and excess of beer was starting to take its toll around 9 and after the birds had all filtered out of sight Tony made his way up to us. With the threat of rain still real and silence from any lingering toms, we all picked up the set and jumped in the car to regroup at camp.
With a slug of water and a new plan we all jumped in the truck to find some birds hung up on the game lands. We located a gobbler and attempted to call him around after realizing he had split from his hen. No luck there, but Kyle and I watched a porcupine as we struggled to remain on guard for the rogue bird. As noon passed, camp called us back for a nap and a sandwich – what a combo.
Post-snooze, Tony and I looked to fly fish, as Kyle learned of a burst pipe and flooded bathroom which called him back home – life is kind of crazy sometimes. We wished him luck as he set off and around 4pm Tony and I went to try a small stretch of water that ended up being fishable after all the rain. Fishing for an hour with a few chases from small fish but no solid strikes ending at the camp where his previous event was located. We hiked up to listen for birds at the field edge and then worked the road back to the truck. Tony shared some of the history of the camp as we walked, and out of nowhere we jumped a hen, which flew down the road ahead of us. Zorro had joined the fishing trip and saw the bird blow down the road, he was all wound up.
With a slow day in all aspects (I blame the rain) we headed back to camp for the BBQ venison I had going in the crock and a hearty meat and potato dish Tony had planned for dinner. We were surprised on the ride back by a call from Jimmy McKinney letting us know he and his buddy Toren had made the trip up to camp. What a surprise! We rolled up and were greeted by them as they had been sitting outside waiting for us. We talked and caught up over food and waited for Josh McKinney who happened to also be in town. It was a good afternoon! We set up a plan and waited to hear if Kyle was coming back – the plan was if he made it back, him and I would hunt some public, if not I would set up with Josh. That evening Tony and I scouted the public spot we had visited earlier in the afternoon and got on some birds but didn’t hear any before dark. When we got back to camp, the news from Kyle was bleak, but there were birds talking around the farm. It was me and Josh then! We all continued to chat and enjoy camp on into the morning again and I finally felt the sandman knockin’.
Birds Talkin’! 5/11/19
Up at 4:30am, this would be the last day to hunt. Josh and I discussed a plan and since he had been hunting pretty hard in Ohio with success, he insisted I take a shot if given the opportunity. On the walk in we planned to set up based on potential roost locations of the tom and two fighting hens he had observed the night before from the “Tajmahal.” We picked a tough spot where Tony had already set a blind – facing uphill with about 40 yards of visibility. We were confident to not blow birds off the roost, but knew we had to call them over the hill. Josh set up his Avian x jake and hen at 15 yards and the morning started with multiple gobbles in what seemed like 4 or 5 different directions. Josh was adamant on getting a bird to respond and lock on to his calling. We took turns calling, early and relatively sparing, but never really quite got the result we wanted; that for sure gobble directed right at us.
Things got quieter on into the 7 o’clock hour and by 8am there were pretty much no gobbles we could hear – we wouldn’t hear another the rest of the morning. I got out to pee around 8:30am and as I finished, I turned to look over the blind and thought I saw something. It disappeared, but I continued to watch the spot, it appeared again. I could barely see the top of a fan working the well road 60 yards out. Whispering to Josh and jumping back in the blind, we tried some light calling. He gave no response and we were unsure where the bird ever ended up. Right around that time Tony and Mike were making a move to the opposite side of the property where we had set my blind up in the rain on night one. Upon arrival, it was apparent to them that Amish had moved in and set up 10 yards from the blind – they left. According to Tony, the birds stayed talking on the far side, but Josh and I stayed ghosted by the birds. It is likely the interaction on the far side spooked the bird I saw before it could decide to walk in. Unknowingly, I crawled up the hill to where I could see at the chance that bird was still just out of sight. After coming up empty, we took a walk around 9am to scan field from the hilltop where a goofy looking set of decoys were displayed.
With nothing visible, we had planned to spend the rest of the morning working down toward where we had heard some birds early. We hoofed down through the woods making light calls every hundred yards as we worked down past the blind. We ended up setting up in some brush off a pretty heavily beat path, across from a finger of pines. With the hen decoy and camera set, I made one short calling sequence using my voice. It was not 10 minutes after, Josh whispered, “bird at 60 yards.” I turned in disbelief and responded “what?” to which he repeated, “bird at 60 yards, get ready.” I was set up a bit lower and didn’t have the vantage point, so I covered my face and clicked on the Tactacam as I raised the gun. Josh said “30 yards,”and at that point I was confused because I couldn’t see the bird and excited because there was no way he wasn’t gonna show. As the bird moved out from behind a tuft of grass, I put the bead on him, whispered “ready?!” and right as Josh responded, I squeezed and the bird dropped. It was sweet victory on a bird that never made a peep.
We struggled in the film department; between the Tactacam not working and the tripod not being set high enough to get over the grass the shot never really made it in frame. We were pretty open and I am glad we didn’t try to make any sudden adjustments outside of me pulling up my mask and hitting the switch on the Tactacam. The aftermath of the shot was very much a blur of adrenaline and celebration. We both approached the bird, Josh behind me with the camera, ready to catch all the good stuff to come. We could see Tony down talking with his dad and neighbor, Jay.
It wasn’t long before we see him RUNNING up the hill (beast mode) to see what the commotion was about. We had finally strung one up within two hours of hunting time left at camp. It felt good, I was in shock the rest of the morning, still in disbelief that we had pulled it off. We picked up the gear after a quick post shot interview and we strolled down the hill back to the truck. Loaded down, we made our rounds to pick up the rest of the gear and blinds and rolled toward the greeting party back at camp. Jimmy and Toren were hanging out on the porch as we pulled up, they both hopped down with the cameras in hand – it was awesome to share the story and get post success film and photography around camp. It was a truly memorable and fun experience.
After lunch, the McKinney Bros and Toren all headed out to accommodate prior obligations. We had discussed the idea of taxidermy and I thought about it a bit throughout the morning. Tony was able to get a quote from his go-to guy Cliff at Cessna’s Taxidermy; since it was such an awesome story, a Cervicide event bird, and my first PA bird, I decided to go for it. We rolled a little after noon to drop the bird off. The shop was tucked back in the woods along a creek. Stepping into the shop, you could see Cliff had done some amazing work. On display and ready for pick-up were hundreds of pieces, as well as piles of antlers; elk and waterfowl, coyote, fish, and anything else you could imagine, including a MASSIVE Unicorn buck that was getting some finishing touches. We stayed and talked for about an hour, I gave Cliff an idea of what I was looking for with the mount, and then rolled back to camp.
Tony had planned to get some plot work done before we hit the water to fish, so we got started as soon as we got back. He asked if I could run a tractor and with a quick control reminder I was off and running to skid out some fallen ash for firewood. I got back and just like every good camp story should have – a truck stuck that needed pulling out. We pulled it out, strapped the makeshift “hooptie” sprayer to the tailgate and filled’er up with weed killer. As he sprayed, I relaxed and played with the dogs between fill ups, the plot is gonna look great! When the work was done we grabbed some food, gear and the dog and headed streamside.
We fished for a few hours at a spot Tony’s friend had tipped us to, some wild trout water on the west branch of the Susquehanna River. It was high and off color with tall muddy banks, making it not only a challenge to fish, but also to access. We fished from about 6pm to dark with few strikes here and there and a small one year old brown in the net. It was starting to cool off as the sun set, birds started to gobble in the distance, and we were both thinking about heading back to the car. We climbed out onto the bank and discussed our tactics as I looked down at a hole that we had been standing over. Tony was gonna head upstream and I wanted to throw at the hole before following. As he started up the bank, I climbed down in the mud and unhooked my streamer from the keeper. Peeling line off the spool, I prepped for a drift right through the heart of the hole. With line on the water I made a pitch for a tight line, dead drift presentation.
The fly made the bottom pretty fast and I pulled up some slack to get a better look at the line and fly presentation as it slid down into the hole. The line stopped hard, but I missed it and let it continue, then it stopped again and stayed as I raised the rod. I called out to Tony as I laid the rod into the fish, I knew it was a good one. I fought the fish for a few minutes before it started to wear, it then made a bulrush on me where I was able to snipe it with the net. In all the excitement, I nearly lost my legs and totally lost my voice.
My heart races as I write, because it was such an amazing moment and really one of my biggest achievements as a fly fisherman. Fooling these big wild trout is hardly ever a walk in the park. It all came after dropping off [probably] the biggest turkey I have ever killed at the taxidermist, which was no easy feat on its own. The day was a major treat; all that, on top of getting to spend time with Cervicide guys around camp – which is always a good time on its own!
Mother’s Day 5/12/19
No hunting on Sunday is probably the worst regulation ever, but honestly my pumps were not primed to run on 3 hours of sleep again. We got to bed after discussing the day and continuing to chat about life and gear and hunting. I slept in til” about 7am and after spending some time cleaning up the place and picking some of the sweet smelling lilac for the Mothers in our lives, we were on the road until the next time.
Finding words to show my gratitude is tough because the emotions brought on by that day, that weekend, are so strong and euphoric. I was so high on life. First of the gratitude I feel is for Tony and his Family. Without their blessing, camp would not have been open; with it being Mother’s Day weekend, I especially appreciate Melissa letting him off the hook for a few days (not to discount Tony’s charming conviction). Second would be Cervicide! If Cervicide had never come into my life I would never have met all these awesome folks and camp would never have happened. This is the second spring I have been a member and both seasons have been so awesome. Thanks for all the fun times and great memories, I can only imagine what next season is going to be like!