Habitat & Conservation  |  11/22/2021

Surrounded by gobbles: a western wildlife experience


By Erin Abernethy, Access Program Participant

“How close is he?” Matt asked.

“100 yards, at the edge of the hayfield,” I whispered.

The day before, in this same spot, two jakes had flown down right in front of me, spotted Frankie (my decoy), and charged in. I had shot one of the birds, and was hoping that this morning the other jake would do the same thing for my friend Matt. But the bird did not cooperate. He did roost in the same tree, but he stayed in that tree gobbling for a whole hour past when he and his buddy had flown down yesterday. He was suspicious. While we heard gobbling in every direction at dawn, we couldn’t chase the other gobblers as they were off the small property on which we had permission to hunt.

And there was this. Matt hunts from a wheelchair. We had to stay put and call this gobbly, tree-dwelling rascal in!

After two hours of gobbling up in his tree, silence. Five minutes later I spotted him out in the hayfield at 100 yards. His head was just poking up over the tall grass, and he was staring in our direction. The bird eventually made his way in, and Matt made the shot.

But what really matters is this. Turkey hunting is HARD, and it’s especially hard for people with disabilities. Matt uses a wheelchair fulltime due to his spinal cord injury. He got to hunt due in large part to a collaboration between Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Pheasants Forever and landowners. Oregon’s Hunt by Reservation program is a collaboration providing the public with accessible hunts on private property in the Willamette Valley.

Before daylight, we were able to park by the landowner’s barn and walk/wheel 150 yards down a level, hard-packed farm path to our hunting spot. It was not a large property, but it was large enough!

Additionally, the landowner knew how the birds moved, communicated that that to us, and helped us have a great hunt on a beautiful May morning.

These types of collaborations have the potential to provide many memorable and equitable hunting opportunities for hunters with disabilities, as well as able-bodied hunters with limited access to public or private land. Oregon’s great new program shows what can be accomplished when we work together.

Our heartfelt thanks go out to all the partners who made that morning one we will never forget. Thank you!

This story originally appeared in the 2021 Fall Issue of the Pheasants Forever Journal. If you enjoyed it and would like to be the first to read more great upland content like this, become a Pheasants Forever member today!