Breaking the curse

Hard-earned success ends years of frustration for turkey hunters

John Volpe (center) ended his turkey hunting “curse” May 6 when he bagged a mature eastern wild turkey with a 12-inch beard while hunting in northeastern Kansas with his father, Joe Volpe (left) and guide Scott Pipe.
John Volpe (center) ended his turkey hunting “curse” May 6 when he bagged a mature eastern wild turkey with a 12-inch beard while hunting in northeastern Kansas with his father, Joe Volpe (left) and guide Scott Pipe.

John Volpe, 12, of Little Rock, wants to be president. Or an attorney. Or maybe play in the NBA .

He's an accomplished angler and duck hunter, and he's a crack dove shooter.

As of May 6, he's also a turkey hunter who earned his wings in northeast Kansas after years of seemingly insurmountable bad luck.

Volpe has hunted wild turkeys with his father, Joe, for four seasons. The elder Volpe, who serves as the U.S. Magistrate for the eastern district of Arkansas, said he and his son are enthusiastic but star-crossed turkey hunters. Joe Volpe has killed one immature gobbler, but they have had enough close calls, missed shots and blown enough chances to write a small book.

"We seem to always have the worst luck," Joe Volpe said. "I can tell you some really crazy hard luck stories we have had over the past few years."

Like the time Joe participated in a controlled turkey hunt at Camp Robinson Wildlife Management Area. He called a gobbler to within 10 feet, but the bird came in at an angle that left Joe hogtied.

Later, a vehicle with a bad muffler passed nearby and spooked away a bird that was almost in range.

Those happened while Joe hunted alone, but even stranger things happened when he and John were together. A couple of seasons ago, for example, the Volpes were about to drop the hammer on two longbeards when a coyote crashed the party.

Another time, they were about to shoot two gobblers when both of their guns failed to discharge.

They got more of the same last week in Kansas.

"After a really hard first day's hunt this past weekend, I thought we were destined for another 'drive home of shame,' " Joe said.

Scott Pipe and Bengi Jarman of Bullets and Bowstrings Outfitters guided the Volpes. They sensed their dejection and resignation. A change of chemistry might shift the balance, so the guides insisted they hunt separately on their second day.

John resisted. He's very close to his dad and wanted to hunt with him, but Pipe persuaded him.

"They told us, 'We're going to split you up,' " John said. "I didn't want to do that, but they knew we would probably get a better chance at a turkey if we split up."

The change paid immediate dividends for Joe, who bagged two longbeards with two shots at 6:50 a.m.

About 90 minutes later, two gobblers and a jake approached John's setup.

"They were really big, and I was really nervous," John said. "I didn't want to miss it for my dad."

He folded the gobbler with one shot from his Remington Model 870 20-gauge with a 1 1/4-ounce duplex load of Nos. 5, 6 and 7 Hevi-Shot.

Years of pent-up frustration and futility boiled over, like popping the top of a shaken can of soda. John sobbed when he called his dad to report the good news.

"I got one Dad. I got a big jake," John said in a voicemail.

In the background, Pipe said, "No, it's a longbeard!"

As in 12 inches, with 11/8-inch spurs. The range was 10 yards.

Pipe, a burly New York transplant to Kansas, was equally overcome.

"He said that John was shaking and that he was afraid he was going to jerk the trigger," Joe said, "and then he said he noticed he was shaking almost as bad as John was."

John said he was in shock. After all the disappointment, the warm rays of success finally beamed upon his shoulders.

"It feels great," John said. "The curse has been broken!"

"If he never gets another one, that will be OK," Joe said. "That might even be true, but he's got gobbler fever. It's incurable, and a turkey hunter spends the rest of his days chasing that thrill."

"I really like turkey hunting," John said. "It's really fun, but it's also really challenging, but the challenging part makes it really fun."

Sports on 05/15/2016

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