When 15-year-old Austin Gill finally killed his first gobbler on April 10, it was a family success story that couldn’t have come at a time when the Gills needed one more.
“He was out of school that day because that afternoon, at 2:30, we were having a memorial service for my dad, Austin’s grandfather,” said his uncle Matt Gill of Vancleave. “Austin’s mom and dad decided to keep him out of school all day instead of going until noon.”
Factoring in the decision, he said, was that Austin’s two uncles were on a gobbling turkey they felt pretty confident they could kill on some family land bordering on the Pascagoula River Wildlife Management Area.
“First thing you need to know about us is that my two brothers and I are all big into hunting, we all live close by each other in Vancleave, and we’ve been working on getting Austin his first gobbler for over two years,” Matt Gill said. “I did the same with my kids, and they are all grown, and me and my brothers have all been hunting so long that we just enjoy being part of the hunt, no matter who kills the bird. That’s especially true when it comes to our kids.”
The second thing, Gill said, was that he was pretty sure that he could put his nephew in position to kill this particular gobbler.
“Our weather’s been pretty crazy down here in South Mississippi and the birds haven’t been acting right, and talking with all my turkey hunting friends and with a taxidermist I know who keeps up with it, seems that was about the only gobbler around who was gobbling,” Gill said. “I had hunted him on Wednesday and found him roosted in one area. I came close to getting him then, but hens got between him and me and I decided not to push it.
“I’ve hunted long enough to know the one thing you never want to do is bust a gobbler. Once you do that, your chances of ever killing that bird are about gone. So I backed out, and decided to regroup.”
Gill returned with his brother Rusty on Thursday, and they were so very close to killing the gobbler until a fisherman unknowingly busted the hunt.
“We have this high point on our property where we can go and listen and hear gobbling,” he said. “Our turkeys roost in three areas and that high point gives us a place to hear all three. On Thursday, the gobbler was still gobbling — listen, now, that gobbler was clockwork, in that every morning for three straight days, he gobbled at 6:20 a.m.
“Well Thursday, he had moved about 500 or 600 yards and was roosted over some flooded backwater. We got down in there, set up and we had it perfect. From where he was roosted and gobbling, the hens flew down behind us. We were right between him and his hens.”
The gobbler was gobbling, the hens were yelping and the two brothers were listening in glee, until another familiar sound entered the scene.
“We’re close to the river so hearing a boat is something we’re used to, but this one was getting closer and closer,” Gill said. “I guess he was running trotlines in the rising waters and he came right into and on top of the gobbler. He busted the hunt, and never knew it. Wasn’t his fault.”
So, the brothers left and made a decision.
“My other brother, Dale, Austin’s dad, he couldn’t hunt with us because he’s military and he needed to run to the base and get the flag for Dad’s services,” Matt Gill said. “My other brother and I told him that we had this bird and that we thought Austin could kill it Friday.”
The hunt was on, and the third day was the charm.
“We got to the high point to listen, and at 6:20 he gobbled and he had moved back to roost where I heard him first on Wednesday,” Gill said. “He might have moved about 200 yards, and I think he was roosted right where I had set up that first morning.
“We got down in there and had to stop before I wanted to. We were a couple hundred yards from where I thought we needed to get but something felt wrong so I told Rusty and Austin we needed to stop and get set up.”
The decision was spot on. As dawn brought more light to the Pascagoula River bottoms, it became abundantly clear that had the three hunters continued, the hunt would have ended quickly.
“There were hens about 100 yards down, right between where we stopped and where I wanted to stop,” Gill said. “Had we gone on, we would have busted them up and it would have ended.”
With the vocal tom still ripping off gobble after gobble, the hens pitched down and went into a bottom just beyond ridge. Then the Gills watched the gobbler pitch down to join them.
“Well, we thought so, but turns out he had just pitched down to a lower limb on another tree,” said Gill, who began to analyze the situation. “I knew we were in a bad place, and where we needed to be was on that ridge. I turned to Austin and told him he needed to get to it so he could see down in that bottom.
“I told him, ‘Austin, you’ve been with me when you saw me have to belly crawl into a position on a bird. You remember that?’ He said he did and he started off toward this huge gum tree that would block the view from any bird that could see over the ridge. As he crawled, I really hammered down on some calls to cover the noise he might make.”
The youngster made the move, got to the tree and the first thing he saw was the gobbler fly down to his harem and break into full strut.
“He said the gobbler walked down into this low area and when he did that Austin raised his gun into shooting position,” Gill said. “I knew then that the turkey was going to die. Austin’s been hunting a long time and he can shoot and once I saw that gun go up, I felt pretty good.”
When the bird reappeared from the low area he was standing right in an opening within Austin Gill’s range. The turkey died on the spot.
“I jumped up and ran over there but by the time I got there, Austin was up and had his foot on the gobbler’s head,” the proud uncle said. “He knew what to do.”
The gobbler was big for the swamp, 17½ pounds, and sported a 10¼-inch beard and 1-inch spurs that were hooked and sharp.
“A good 3-year-old bird, perfect for the boy’s first gobbler,” Matt Gill said.