Monday, June 6, 2011

Turkey Hunting with The Admiral

I’m a die hard, ultra competitive, super sleepless, ridiculously relentless,

gobbler getting turkey hunter. Spring is my thing. Period. When I go turkey hunting and come home empty-handed, I’m usually really disappointed. And grouchy. And irritable. And down right unpleasant.

So when I got skunked on my recent turkey hunting trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota, I was disappointed, but I was also thankful. I had the privilege of spending five days introducing a person I admire to my favorite thing in the world. I took the United States Navy’s recently retired Vice-Adm. Carl V. Mauney, or “Uncle Van” as I know him, on his first turkey hunt.

I can make a long story short when it comes to the hunting: for five days, it rained for 70% of daylight hours (even snowed one day), we got soaking wet and cold more than a few times and the few Merriam’s gobblers we found were unresponsive to calling. We didn’t even come close to getting a turkey.

Even so, Uncle Van (in his late 50s and in great shape) trudged up and down the Black Hills listening intently as I tried to teach him everything he had to suppose I’ve learned about turkey hunting over the last 13 years. I had to admire him for his effort and dedication to the hunt. Here’s a guy who’s led thousands of men on missions and assignments for the last 30 years, and he’s willing to listen to his nephew, who’s half his age, tell him where to sit in the pre-dawn minutes before gobbling time.

As hard as Uncle Van listened during the hunting, learning as much as he could, I felt like I did the same when we were lucky enough to have him to recount stories from his brilliant career.

Naval assignments forced Uncle Van, my aunt Debby and their three daughters to move often as I grew up, and in turn, they were in and out of my life. The hunting trip allowed us to catch up on years gone by.

I heard how he helped lead the investigation in the aftermath of the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000, which was one of the first pre-9/11 attacks on the United States by al-Qaeda terrorists. Then, when Army Gen. Tommy Franks led U.S. forces into Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks, Uncle Van was at his side as his Executive Assistant. Sitting in the lodge during our hunt, as Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke on FOX news, Uncle Van commented, “he’s one of the finest men I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.”

Pretty cool stuff if you ask me.

I was surprised that Uncle Van kept smiling and enjoying himself even though the hunting was miserable. I spent months telling him how awesome the trip was going to be. I should have known better than do doubt his vigor though. It was almost as if he had a little experience with things not always going according to the plan. Thanks U.S. Navy for preparing my uncle to be a turkey hunter!

On most turkey hunting trips, a 20-pound, loud gobbling longbeard is normally the star of the show, but that wasn’t the case on our trip. Uncle Van, and his tales from oceans and command posts around the world, stole the spotlight – and I’m so thankful I was there to listen.

Big thanks to Winchester Ammunition and the National Wild Turkey Federation for teaming up to introduce my uncle to the sport of turkey hunting and for always supporting veterans and the U.S. Armed Forces. Uncle Van can’t wait to get back into the turkey woods, so I consider the hunt a huge success!