Wild Edge team member Greg Staggs shows off two huge halves of a turkey breast he just finished cutting out. Though his family loves the meat provided by all his hunting, it’s the thrill of the kill that brings him back time and again.
Author: Greg Staggs
“What’d that turkey ever do to you?”
It wasn’t an unexpected question really, I guess… I mean, I knew her parents and they weren’t outdoors-people. Actually, I had taught both of them in my English 101 class when they were freshmen in college and I was a graduate assistant finishing out my master’s in English. Even though they came from a town of less than 15,000 people, neither was raised by hunting or fishing parents. Now here was their daughter, continuing on the family legacy of not understanding why we hunters do what we do.
We were sitting at the ballfield while her dad was coaching my youngest son’s baseball team. A few innings had brought on boredom and I started surfing around on Facebook. I came across a video showing a turkey hunt, and I showed her how majestic and beautiful a strutting tom is, replete with the ability to change the color of its head in splendorous red, white and blue. “But they’re gonna kill it…” she half-wailed, refusing to look at it any more. “Yeah, that’s what you do with turkeys,” I replied. “And deer. And all game animals.”
Yes. We kill things. It’s what we do.
“Why?” is a hard question to answer, I suppose. For some, it’s purely to help sustain their families. To supplement their ever-burgeoning grocery bill. That’s a plus, for sure. I mean, take me for example. My family was featured on NBC’s syndicated TV show “America Now” a few years back because we haven’t bought red meat from a store in over 20 years. Think about that: I’ve been fortunate enough to be so successful as a pure bowhunter that we haven’t had to buy beef of any kind from a grocery store in over 20 years … and we basically have red meat of some sort -- in some form or fashion – every single day of the year. I’m a meat eater, plain and simple – so we go through a lot. Yet, that’s not why I hunt.
I believe in eating what you kill. It’s how Dad raised me, and what he taught. It’s shameful to waste something that could be eaten. Now, to clarify, I’m talking about things that can and should be eaten. I don’t want any confusion later on when you find out that I’m a hard-core trapper. No, I don’t eat coyote. I have eaten bobcat, and it’s delectable. Surprised? You shouldn’t be; people rave over what wonderful table fare mountain lion is. But coyotes still need to be managed, irrespective of whether they can provide a meal or not. To wantonly waste what’s considered edible though is a different matter.
So I eat what I kill, but it’s not why I kill. I’ve been blessed in my life. I struggled at first financially. It’s what you often do when you’re the first person in your family to try to break the mold. To not be a factory worker or farmhand. I went to college, almost on a whim. Really, it was because only Hardee’s had called twice to offer a job after high school, and I didn’t see that as a career. So I went to college. It didn’t take long for bills to start piling up and money to run short. I turned back to hunting to help put some food on the table. But a few measly rabbits and a plate-full of crappie only go so far. I thumbed through the Arkansas Conservation Code book looking at all the game animals one could hunt and landed on whitetail deer. We didn’t have deer where I grew up in the Missouri Bootheel. Surely one of those could feed me for a few months! I went to Walmart that night and found a used bow hanging on the rack in the sporting goods section, and talked the manager into selling it to me for an even further discounted price.
So, yes – at one time, I did take to the field in pursuit of food. But that was years ago, and I don’t need a single thing I kill these days to help offset the grocery bill. I continue to hunt because I yearn for it. I need to be out there, taking my place in the food chain. To help participate in the struggle of life and death. I kill because I crave it.
It would be easy to relegate it to something my father instilled in me, and about continuing on a part of him and the love he gave me for the outdoors. But I’m not sure he “gave” me anything, if I were being honest. He got me a job at the local factory one summer too and I didn’t care for that too much, proving that just because Dad got me started in something didn’t mean I was going to love it. But when he took me frogging one summer night before I had even turned 10 years old, and I turned deathly sick and started puking after about two miles of paddling with about umpteen more miles ahead of us -- and we had to get out and walk home as the local river was at its closest point to our home it was going to be and forego the rest of the trip -- Dad was “afraid he’d ruined me.” His words. But he couldn’t. No force was great enough to keep me from falling in love with the outdoors. Yes, he exposed me to it. Yes, he facilitated the love affair. But he didn’t “give” it to me.
I greatly enjoyed rabbit hunting and frogging growing up in the Missouri Bootheel. It was the most prevalent game animals we had to pursue, I guess. But if I have a chance, I’d rather pursue something I can “match wits” with. I think that’s why my trophy room is full of 5-year-old public-land bucks and older. I love going up against wild turkeys because they beat me more often than I beat them. The show they put on when I finally finesse one in close enough? That’s a bonus.
So there’s all that wrapped up in, too. Matching wits. Admiring the many nuances of nature. Soaking in the beauty and serenity of being in the wild. But at the end of it all, I still enjoy killing. I love applying just enough tension to my release and then allowing my shoulder muscles to take over, squeezing them together towards my spine before the release simply lets go of the energy it had been holding back under my command, driving my arrow straight toward and through my target. For those who say they don’t enjoy the killing, I wonder if they’re being disingenuous. Perhaps there are some that don’t. Perhaps there are many who don’t. But I’ll be honest with you… I do.
Author: Greg Staggs
It was eerily quiet… yet another morning offering little hope of success. I stared out into the murky grayness of the sky as my surroundings were caught somewhere between darkness and daylight. I should have heard something by now if it was going to happen. Out west, they would have been hammering for a good 20 minutes now...
I thought about how much we’d come to enjoy our annual trips to Kansas and the occasional foray all the way out to Northwest Nebraska. I smiled to myself. It was really hard to believe what this had turned into. In just a few short years, something I really had no interest in previously had come to occupy so much of my time and thoughts now. Before the season began, I cavalierly set a goal of 10 turkeys this spring, tempering the outlandish number by calling it a “stretch goal”. Yet, here I was now, attempting to kill bird number nine, and still sitting on a last remaining Kansas tag.
It hadn’t always been this way. I’m a die-hard bowhunter who chooses to use run-and-gun tactics to chase my beloved whitetails on public land, putting in over 100 sits per year for the last 25 years. Doing so necessitated I picked and chose my battles. When I started that intensive effort, I was newly married. A few years later we had kids. Leaving my wife to do everything on the home front was bad enough for three months out of the year – pursuing another species that would add a couple more months to that equation? Out of the question.
But as the boys got older and more self-sufficient, I looked at taking them with me… using a blind to bow-hunt these birds was the answer. The boys could stuff a backpack full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Hot Wheels cars, and whatever else their little minds could think of that would keep them entertained during the slow hours. It worked, too.
I had them in a blind somewhat brushed in against a fencerow during a fall deer hunt once. I was actually hoping for a string of does to walk by that I’d been seeing occasionally move from one side of the farm to the other. One of my boys was sound asleep and the other lost in some make-believe world he’d created when I looked up and saw a large flock of hens walking from my left to right, about 35 yards out in front of us. I let the bulk of the birds walk on by before picking out one of the last hens as my target. Easing my bow back and settling into my anchor, I split the difference of my 30- and 40-yard pins and squeezed off the shot, watching my arrow disappear directly in the middle of the turkey.
Surprisingly, she gained flight… and gained and gained until she was 75 yards in the air and headed to the woods on the east side of the farm. I followed her flight and watched her go down about 30 yards inside the timber edge. I turned and woke my sleeping son, who couldn’t figure out why his brother was so excited about what he’d just seen. We jumped out of the blind and went to the impact site and immediately found blood. What still amazes me to this day though is what else we found: Not only blood at the shot site, but blood heading towards the woods. “Okay,” I thought to myself… “This is where she took off running before getting airborne.” But we continued walking – and we continued finding blood. Lots of it. Fifty yards into our blood trail and I realized she was leaking the entire time she was flying, so much that we were able to stay on her blood trail all the way into the woods.
My son who had been asleep found her, piled up where she had crash-landed. We were excited: it was the first kill we’d all experienced together as “the Staggs men.” We took pictures to commemorate the event. I’m so thankful we did… that time seems so long ago now. Please, take pictures. Lots of them. More than you think you’ll need.
I pulled out my custom glass pot call and pulled hard with the striker against its surface, creating sharp clucks before rounding off with some softer yelps. I wasn’t even sure if the tom could hear me from this distance. I glanced at the time on my phone; it was 5:57 a.m.
We kept playing the game for at least 10 more minutes. I broke out my box call, which could hit audible levels so high it literally hurt my ears inside the blind. I knew he could hear that. Then I shut up for a while. He gobbled, and I could tell he had turned on the branch to face me. I kept quiet. He thundered out once again… still I kept quiet, as tempting as it was to respond. A few minutes later his throaty gobble erupted once again, but this time it sounded different, from another location perhaps. I guessed he had hit the ground. I offered a couple yelps, changed into a hard cutting routine and finished with a last yelp or two.
A minute later and he had cut the distance in half. I yelped softer this time, but I wanted him to know where I was since he’d started from so far away. Another minute and he gave away his presence even with me, but still inside the woods. A light purr would be sufficient. I looked outside a small hole in my blind where two panels came together and spotted his outstretched neck, peering above the pasture grass to survey the scene. His neck disappeared and then all I could see was the tip of his fan above the green grass. He alternated between full strut and stretching out his neck to look everything over before beginning the slow shuffle to my waiting hen and jake decoy about 12 yards in front of my open window.
When he was just 6 yards away, he blew himself up into full strut once again, and literally shook every feather he had as he spit and drummed. His waddles were fiery red, and the dark barring of his huge fan typical of our beautiful Missouri Easterns pivoted towards my decoys with every turn he made. He abandoned showing off for the fake hen, and slid over to my jake deke, brushing against it with his huge chest. He circled and I kept a close watch on his head and eye, and the moment those huge tail feathers hid everything from my view I snapped my bow back to full draw.
I stared at the back end of him, observing how all his tail feathers came to a single point at his butt and thought to myself that if I’d had a fixed-blade broadhead, it would be a simple matter to send it there and end this game. But with my big guillotine-style head, patience was needed. These were head-shot broadheads, not made to penetrate a body. Slowly he turned and exposed his blue face. I waited a bit more until I could see the waddles, burning red with an intense mixture of rage and love. I settled the green 20-yard pin in the middle of them and touched off the release; he dropped in his tracks instantly – the game over less than 30 minutes after it had begun.
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