By: Todd Sanders and Rod Slings, Guest Bloggers
Introductory note by Rod Slings, hunting safety expert, retired Iowa DNR law enforcement supervisor, and member of the Central Iowa Longbeards Chapter.
Todd Sanders was a very active outdoorsman who was injured in October 2013, when he fell from his treestand. Todd spent three months in the hospital after his injuries. He is wheelchair bound…for now. Our National Wild Turkey Federation Chapter's Wheelin’ Sportsman hunt took place the Saturday of Easter weekend. Todd has recently faced some major challenges in his personal life, aside from the physical injuries he sustained from his fall. Todd has a strong faith in God; Todd’s story below brought him back from a place that would challenge anyone. We are honored to open the door to the great outdoors for Todd and others with the help of our sponsors, volunteers and the NWTF.
By: Todd Sanders
April 19, 2014, was a very special hunt I was invited to by a good friend, Rod Slings, who is a retired law enforcement supervisor with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The hunt was the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Wheelin’ Sportsmen Wild Turkey Hunt put on by the Central Iowa Longbeards Chapter. This was the 7th annual hunt intended for disabled veterans and people that face some disability challenges.
To say that I was excited was an understatement, as Rod and I texted back and forth the final week before this awesome day! After what seemed like a sleepless night, my alarm sounded off at 2:00 a.m. I gathered my gear and Rod met me at my house at 3:30 a.m. to pick me up.
Butterflies and sweaty palms accompanied me as we drove to Jester Park, where our hunt would be based, smiling like two young kids. I was able to meet all the great people who made this event happen. We gathered for a wonderful breakfast and a prayer to give thanks and asked for safety for the hunt. I was loaded into a Kubota UTV and soon Rod and I, along with my new friend Zach, were dropped off at the site where our blind was set up and ready. Within ten minutes of the park rangers and event volunteers leaving our location, I suddenly heard my favorite sound in the world! There it was - “GOBBLE-GOBBLE-GOBBLE” - about 100 yards away in the timber behind us.
We all looked at each other with smiles and big wide-open eyes like children in a candy store. As the morning sunrise broke through the timber, we all started calling, nice and easy. This big tom apparently liked what he was hearing.
Rod said, “Breathe, Todd, breathe!”
I smiled and gripped my bow tighter. Well, as all you turkey hunters know, gobblers are incredibly unpredictable. We heard the gobbler fly down from his roost and then…he went AWAY from us! A sassy hen was answering our calls. As I used the diaphragm call, Zach did the box call, and Rod followed with calls on his slate.
Suddenly, another gobbler, not far away, got very fired up from our calls - we probably sounded like a Sunday choir. This gobbler started responding back, getting closer and closer. Then, the hen passed five yards behind the blind to my left. Minutes later we heard a very loud "GOBBLE." As I looked over Rod’s left shoulder, the majestic gobbler appeared, all tail feathers fanned out, about 65 yards away in the hardwood timber.
I whispered, “There he is, I see him over Rod’s left shoulder, he’s looking this way.”
My heart was pounding as the gobbler disappeared. Now he was circling us, trying to get a visual of those sweetheart hen noises that fired him up.
Zach said, “don’t move there he is!”
Well, naturally, I moved and looked through the window near Rod. I saw a big blue head weaving through the brush and briars.
Zack whispered, “Draw back, draw back!”
As I did, he slipped right past the hunting blind window, my first shooting lane, on a beeline to the Jake decoy. As I regained my composure, Rod and Zach coached me. I did two sharp cuts on my diaphragm call - the gobbler stopped and turned. He was at 22 yards, quartering away, bumping up against the Jake decoy. I steadied my 20-yard pin on my bow sight behind the back of his wing and touched the release to see feathers immediately fly as the big gobbler flipped upside down!
Within seconds, the big tom was up running directly toward our blind wobbling like a drunken old man.
I yelled, “GET HIM, GET HIM,” as the big bird took off into the timber. Zach desperately tried to open the zipper on the back of the blind by my wheelchair. Imagine this - I am on the edge of my seat in my wheelchair in the blind,and I am now watching Rod and Zach go running into the timber out of sight. All I could hear were branches breaking and wings beating the dry leaves, but couldn’t see anything!
I yelled, “Did you get him?”
"YES!" Zach yelled back.
I screamed and hollered like a crazy man! Rod and Zach came back off the ridge, Zach holding my gobbler by the leg. Zach said, “Man, could you have shot a smaller turkey?”
I couldn’t believe the size of the big gobbler as it was dropped at my feet. We yelled, hugged, high-fived and thanked Jesus, like we had just won the World Series. Rod called the park rangers and said, “Gobbler down, head this way.”
When the rangers arrived, we took pictures, again slapped high fives and celebrated this awesome hunt. After arriving back to Jester Park, our base for the hunt, we found out that two of the other hunters had also harvested birds. We shared fellowship over lunch, took more pictures, and relived and shared the story of our hunt over and over.
This hunt was a real blessing to me having just recovered from a bow hunting accident where I fell from my treestand and broke my back leaving me wheelchair bound. This hunt gave me strength, hope and faith that my best days are still ahead of me! I look forward to next year and thank God daily for this wonderful hunt that will be engraved in our spirits forever! A very special thanks to Rod Slings who invited me to this event allowing me to harvest my best turkey to date! 25 pounds, 14 ounces with a 10-¾ inch beard and one inch spurs!
(Zach, Todd, and Rod)