During that time and still today I enjoy taking other kids out as well. I've assisted with deer and turkey hunts for a couple decades now. Many of our KDWPT staff in several divisions have gone above and beyond to plan, coordinate and pull-off some fantastic hunting opportunities for youngsters, many of which are a one-of-a-kind, incredible experience.
And despite no relation to these other youngsters some hunts have been equally as memorable as those with my own children for many reasons. One in particular just happened a couple weeks ago on a youth turkey hunt near Hutchinson.
Elijah Hamby was a last minute edition to the turkey hunt conducted by KDWPT's Kyle McDonald and Steve Adams during the Kansas youth turkey season. Adams met 12-year-old, Eli, and his family at the cancer center during recent visits for both families. Adams' little girl, Blaisi, is battling cancer and Eli was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
"When I told Eli about the turkey hunt his eyes lit up," Adams told me.
Eli hasn't had much reason to light up in the last year. His grandpa, Ron, told me on the hunt that Eli is quarantined to his room much of the time. Chemotherapy and a myriad of other painful treatments and procedures have left the youngster's immune system compromised. A simple cold can send him to the hospital. A sanitizing station sits outside his room for any visitors and most of those are limited to immediate family. He has to take middle school classes online as a result.
Painful treatments have left Eli a bit weak and his voice mostly soft. The slight recoil of a 20 gauge shotgun was brutally painful and he was a bit hesitant to shoot much at turkey targets. But we loaded up a gun with lighter shells and I promised Eli in the excitement of that moment when he's staring down the barrel at a turkey he won't feel a thing. Thankfully, I was right as he'd admit later.
We arrived at our blind location to the sound of banging 5-gallon buckets. I thought to myself that's not a good sign as I knew Kyle and Steve had placed those in the pop-up blind for us to sit on. My first thought was cattle and turns out I was right. They'd trampled our blind and were knocking the buckets around as we approached. Eli had been paired with me as this blind was close and would require no lengthy walk or effort to get there. We hadn't counted on the 15-yard penalty on the cows for roughing the blind!
I quickly reassembled the blind the best I could and we crawled inside. I started calling occasionally and Eli and I chatted a bit. Some how we got on the topic of pets and he admitted he had a cat.
"Why?" I asked. "Does it fetch ducks?"
"No," he laughed.
"That's one strike against you," I told him.
As I checked one of the Final Four scores on my phone Eli mentioned he was a KU fan.
"Why?" I asked.
Again, he laughed.
"That's two strikes against you," I laughed back. "One more and you're going back to the truck."
Before Eli could get his third strike we got sidetracked by gobbling turkeys. It was a beautiful evening and birds were getting vocal. It wasn't long and we watched a hen peck her way around nearby. And then we saw not one, but a half-dozen red heads come over the hill towards the hen.
"Here comes a bunch of jakes," I told Eli. "We're going to get you ready and you're gonna shoot one of these."
I'm always amazed at the adrenaline rush hunters get, even ones that have never killed a turkey or deer. Eli was no different and his breathing got heavy and labored. I told him to relax and we'd let them separate to get a good shot at just one bird.
They did and long story short Eli gave it several tries but failed to connect. As they wandered off I called and they all gobbled back in unison. That seemed to amuse Eli as much as his recent close encounter.
Another close call later had similar results but I knew our chances were still good as we still had plenty of daylight left.
I got more birds to answer the calls and it wasn't long and we had some big toms headed our way. But then all of a sudden the turkey flood gates opened and we were surrounded by a dozen hens and another bigger band of jovial jakes.
"We're going to get one of these," I told Eli. "I'm going to help you aim this time."
Kneeled behind him I instructed Eli to get lined up on one but not shoot yet. I wanted to make sure he was indeed lined up and he'd kill only one bird. I whispered for him to lift his head up and I'd have him adjust one way or the other and put his head back down. Each time the turkey moved after I knew he was lined up. Finally, after several tries I told him to pull the trigger. At just 12 yards or so the jake hit the dirt and the remaining birds scattered and gobbled as they retreated.
"I got him!" Eli squealed.
But Eli walked with a purpose to his prize and his smile said it all as he picked up his first turkey. If only for a few brief hours I silently hoped that Eli had forgot about his illness and his rough road that lies ahead. The outdoors is truly a therapeutic place and I'm glad Eli got to experience the splendor and beauty of a wonderful evening chasing turkeys. And I felt fortunate, and humbled, to witness that moment in his young life and wish him nothing but the best in the future.