"Seven years ago I thought I would be the one teaching this little kid how to hunt turkeys and he ended up teaching me about life."
Hunting Associate Andrew Tressel harvested a beautiful buck this past fall - a heavy-duty, 8-point.
It wasn't his first hunt and, like many hunters, it didn't happen overnight or without challenges. You see, 21-year-old Andrew is in a wheelchair, and the group he hunts with is the non-profit organization Serve Outdoors.
Andrew's first hunt was a spring turkey hunt, eight years ago, with Serve Outdoors. Andrew's outlook on life as a 13-year-old "little kid" had such a tremendous impact Gene "Corky" Battey, leader of the Des Moines River Valley Chapter of Serve Outdoors, that he wrote an article for the Iowa Sportsman Magazine about it. It was the beginning of Andrew's hunting and life-changing experiences through Serve Outdoors, and the start of a life-long friendship built around enjoying the great outdoors, no matter the challenges.
The “Rooster” Tale
(May 2009, Iowa Sportsman magazine, with permission)
May 3, 2008, dawned rainy and windy. Our threesome headed to the turkey woods late, due to existing conditions. We were on a "special hunt" set up by Serve Outdoors, a group devoted to sharing God's creations with people with disabilities and the mentoring of today's youth.
Andrew and his dad, Rod Tressel of Ankeny, Iowa, were to be my charges this weekend. Rod's comment was, “I had reservations on how the people of Keosauqua would accept a kid in a wheelchair.”
His wonder was quickly diminished. Andrew, on the other hand, said, “It's not just getting one, it's the WHOLE experience.”
I was impressed with this youngster being wiser than his years.
Andrew has an infectious smile and an attitude to go with it. Little did I know what he would teach me this weekend.
As we sat in a midday pocket of timber, the wind howling overhead, conversation turned to turkey hunter habits. I mentioned to Andrew that turkey hunters will sometimes take a nap in the blind and it was okay if he wanted to. The mention of this "habit" was met with a stern, “That ain't gonna happen, Cork!”
Well, then, maybe the guide will get a little snoozin' in.
“If I drop off and a bird comes in, just touch my knee and I'll wake up quietly.”
As the afternoon rays warmed my Matrix, the turkey gods took me elsewhere. Soon, I felt a hand on my knee.
”Do you see one?” I asked quietly, slowly opening my eyes.
Again the response was firm, “No, Cork! You're snoring!”
So much for my new hunter's perception of naps.
The rest of the day passed with an occasional hen showing up and the sharing of tried and true turkey hunting tactics. Later, Andrew removed his head net and I noticed that the hair on top was at attention.
“You look like a little banty rooster. I think that should be your nickname - ”Rooster.”
Rooster and Cork...what a pair.
I was given this match by Al Smith, Director of Serve Outdoors. I met Al some 10 years ago at a NWTF function. I sat down to share some hunting photos. He didn't know me from Adam, but we hit it off right away. I found Al to have a God-given heart for people with disabilities and today's youth. He has been a true friend and I love him like a brother.
This afternoon, Rooster and I would laugh and converse, while his Dad strained to hear our verbiage from the other blind.
”Ha Ha Ha—psssss...psssss...Dad, hand me a sandwich will ya'...”
Yes, our threesome and equipment took up two blinds—turkey hunting requires a lot of “stuff" these days. But now, we had a date in Keosauqua, Iowa, for the celebration dinner. At each event, the hunters, their families, the farmers we hunt on, and guides get together with the fine folks of Van Buren County to laugh, shed a few tears, break bread and relive the events of the day. Pictures are taken, stories retold, hugs exchanged and a feeling of “this is more like family” fills the inside of the volunteer fire station. It's a true celebration, but tomorrow is another day. The three of us lay a game plan...we'll change farms tomorrow.
3:30 AM comes early and there's prep work to be done. Two double-bulls to set on their ground covers, five decoys to place, chairs to position, a spot for the wheel chair to be decided on and various other sundry details are fixed as I unload the Bad Boy Buggy in the pre-dawn darkness. Did I mention all the decoys have names (idle hours in the blind you know)? Andrew knows each one by "Bob," "Jake," "Henryetta," "Mabel" and "Ileane" (..because she does...sometimes). The star-lit timber was calm and cool this a.m., a 180-degree change from yesterday. There will be gobblin' at dawn. I head back to the farm buildings to retrieve Rod, Rooster and the wheel chair. As we cross the creek, mud oozes from the tires, but the electric buggy carries us silently toward our hide and the rosy fingers of dawn. Rod and I wheel Rooster onto the ground cover and place the blind over top of him.
Rod's comment yesterday was, “Cork, when you dropped that blind over Andrew for the first time, I have never seen a smile like that on his face before...thank you!”
That put a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye to say the least. More of the whole experience, as Andrew would say.
Was there gobblin'? You bet! But, as the morning glow enveloped us, it became less frequent. A return trip to Ankeny was set for 11 a.m. Time was getting short. I remember praying yesterday, “Lord, is there a turkey for this young man that you have allowed me to spend time with?”
The answer was quick and short, ”Yes! But, you'll have to wait.”
Well, we're down to the last hour of the last day..ever heard that before? I had just about exhausted my callin' bag 'o tricks, when Rooster says “I see one!”
”Over in the trees”
"I don't see him”
"Keep lookin', you'll see him.”
Finally, a hen, a tail fan, and then that beautiful snowball emerged from the timber. He sees the decoys. His demeanor changes 180 degrees again. He leaves the hen with fire in his eyes. He's gonna kick “Bob's” butt...or so he thinks.
The 60 yard fan-dance is quickly eclipsed and he's in “Bob's” face!
“Andrew, get your gun up...take the safety off!”
His tail has covered our movements. His dance takes another 180. Now, he's looking right at us at seven steps. I quietly say, “Take him whenever you want.”
The silence of the morning is broken by an unnerving “click." Do we have a gun malfunction? Tom gets that look in his eye, like “Oh crap, what was that?" Had he heard our muffled conversation or that click?
Anytime Andrew....shoot him....Shoot Him.....SHOOT HIM!!!!! The little 20 finally barks and Ben Franklin's proposed national symbol flips over backwards...NO!
His head is up...do we shoot him again? A quick survey says no.
”Put the safety on Andrew!” A positive click.
I flip the blind off and head for a bird that is trying to get airborne again. Now comes what Andrew calls the Cork Flop. I've carried wounds from birds in the past. This day would be no exception. A limb-hanger spur enters my palm, but do you think I'll let go? No way! I carry a scar today that proves Rooster's gobbler hangs on his bedroom wall. As stillness arrives to his bird, Andrew arrives, wheeled down by his Dad, to my arm's length. As I look up from my dew-soaked, turkey covering position, there's that infectious smile and I lose it! My emotions are as mixed up as a batch of Keebler Elf cookies. I'm laughing, I'm crying, I'm proud, I'm humbled, and I'm thanking the Good Lord, all at once. I have to get up and head into the decoys to gather my emotions. My part of the whole experience. After a few moments of alone time, I return and place the regal bird on Andrew's lap and step back. It's picture takin' time!
I've heard “the Cuz” say there are four stages in the life of a hunter.
#1) First you have to get one
#2) You have to get the most
#3) You have to get the biggest one
#4) You want to enhance wildlife and share it with others.
How soon you advance thru these stages is up to the individual. Some never make it all the way through. But, this day, I witnessed a new hunter (disabled? I think not) enjoy the sunrise of stage #1 and this guide look back from a coming sunset of stage #4.
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