Most diehard hunters will tell you the sport is more about experiences in the field than it is about the kill — a phrase perfectly illustrated by a recent turkey-hunting adventure featuring Dylan McElduff and Dusty McGehee.
McElduff,18, of Choudrant, and McGehee, of Ruston, have known each other for years, when Dusty became Dylan’s baseball coach — and the duo have kept in touch ever since.
“I always thought that Dylan was a great kid,” McGehee said. “He was a memorable one, and one that you hope your own kids turn out like.”
Their love for baseball was trumped only by their love of hunting, and both topics helped to keep their friendship going through routine text messages and calls to one another throughout the year.
But things started to change for Dylan in the late summer of 2015, when he began having headaches and suffering with double vision. He was soon diagnosed with a low-grade Stage 1 brain tumor, and was immediately taken to Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
“When I first heard about it, I began to wonder what I could do to lift his spirits, and one of the things was I offered to take him on a turkey hunt in the spring if he was able to go,” McGehee said.
With his fall deer season obviously on the back burner, Dylan jumped at the opportunity and the pair made plans to hunt when the 2016 Louisiana turkey season came around.
In March, with the all clear from doctors, the pair made their first trip on some land that Dusty hunts in Union Parish. Things didn’t quite go as planned their first afternoon and on the way out, Dylan offered up a different idea.
He suggested going the next week on some land he hunts in Jackson Parish to see how they would fair in a different location. The spot turned out to be on Dusty’s route to work, so they set a date.
The morning of April 1 found the pair trying hard for a turkey, but things just weren’t going right.
They listened intently, but there was no sign of a gobbler whatsoever. In a last ditch effort, Dusty pulled out a mouth call that he bought from a man doing a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
“This particular call is made by Mike Langley (with Headcrusher Game Calls) and is unlike any other diaphragm call in my vest. It produces a very high pitched ‘front end note’ that rolls over into a loud raspy backend yelp,” McGehee said. “There is no doubt that the volume I can produce on that call can elicit a shock gobble over a mile away.”
Dylan distinctly remembers Dusty’s words when he showed the call to him: “If we’re going to kill a turkey, it’s going to be with this call.”
After several attempts at getting a shock gobble, there was nothing but silence and it was evident the hunt was over. The pair said their goodbyes, and Dusty headed out on his way to work.
As he drove away, he decided to try one more spot, just to see if anything would happen. Sure enough, after he cut hard on the diaphragm, a shock gobble came from more than a mile away.
“When I heard that, I immediately called Dylan and told him to come here — I just heard a bird,” he said.
As Dylan made his way over, Dusty — who was unfamiliar with the surrounding terrain — put together a plan of attack using modern technology.
“I pulled out my phone and looked at Google Maps in order to get a better idea of what we were looking at terrain-wise. I estimated where I thought the bird was, and saw that there was no chance we could get him to come across the thinned pines that were between us,” he said. “The understory would be too thick. I figured that once we got to a corner that hit an open hardwood drain right by there, the trees would be open enough in the pines for him to enter the property we were on.”
With the plan in place, they set out walking and covered nearly half a mile before finally setting up. When Dusty called, the bird followed suit with a gobble.
But it was painfully slow, and the experienced turkey hunter knew patience would be key if Dylan would fill a tag.
“He wasn’t gobbling very much and moved slowly toward us,” McGehee said. “Once we were set up, he answered my first call and then gobbled four more times while he was advancing, which took at least 20 minutes.”
Dusty used a trick he’s mastered over the years to bring the turkey in: Each time he called, he would cup his hands away from the bird to appear further away. He also toned the volume down as the bird approached.
“My last call was barely audible and sounded more like a content feeding hen moving away, as opposed to my first calls, which were louder and mimicking a lonely hen," McGehee said.
When the turkey hadn’t gobbled in almost 10 minutes Dylan was beginning to have his doubts, but those negative thoughts evaporated when the bird nearly blew their hats off with a gobble at just over 30 yards away.
With the gobbler almost close enough to breathe on them, Dusty quickly put his gun down and told Dylan to get ready. Two sets of eyes scanned the woods for traces of a bobbing head, and finally Dusty spotted the bird coming right down Dylan’s gun barrel at only 25 yards.
“I finally just told him, ‘Man, you gotta shoot this thing,’ and as soon as I said that, he pulled the trigger,” McGehee said with a chuckle.
So at about 9:30 a.m., using Dusty’s 20-gauge, Dylan killed his first turkey in 10 years, and only his second turkey ever.
Hugs and high-fives followed, and after they finally stopped shaking, they made their way to the downed turkey, which sported a 10 ¼-inch beard, 1-inch spurs and weighed-in at just more than 19 pounds.
“It’s amazing what he’s overcome this year. Dylan loves to hunt and being there with him for this experience was amazing,” McGehee said. “He even made sure to have his cancer port put in on his left side so that he could still shoot a gun.”