NOTHING IN LIFE IS SIMPLE OR IS EVERYTHING IN LIFE SIMPLE? WE OFTEN MAKE A MESS OF THINGS AND COMPLICATE OUR DAILY LIVES. BUT THE TRUTH IS, IF WE REMEMBER THE THINGS THAT MADE US HAPPY TO BEGIN WITH AND BUILD A LIFE AROUND THAT, WE’RE MORE LIKELY TO LIVE BETTER BECAUSE OF IT.
Turkey hunter, Austin Stapleton, took us along on his final turkey hunt of the season on his family's land; a place steeped in tradition and memories. And while we learned you might not always get the bird, it’s really about what you experience along the way. Life is sort of like the hunt: you might not get what you want, but if you can have some good company, a cold beer, and get outside, then you won’t miss out on a thing.
WHERE IS HOME? TELL US ABOUT IT.
I was born and raised in East Tennessee right outside of Knoxville. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the country: rivers, lakes, mountains. You get to experience a good true four seasons there. I have a big family that all loves to take advantage of where we grew up. We were always in the water or hiking around the smokey mountains somewhere.
WHAT DOES HOME MEAN TO YOU?
No matter where I end up, a part of me will always call Farragut, Tennessee home. But I think it’s more of a feeling than an actual spot on a map.
I currently live down in Austin, TX and have for the past few years. I love it here: the people, the food, the city. It’s a fun place to live for me right now and will always be a place where I can come back to and feel “at home."
I’ve been fortunate to spend a lot of time in a lot of different places around the country. Several of those places have become home for me. Each time I revisit them, I get the same feeling. Whether it’s sitting on the porch with an old friend or walking next to a familiar trout stream, the feeling of being at home is there. There is a quote that I often think of:
“You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” - Miriam Adeney
WALK US THROUGH THIS DAY OF TURKEY HUNTING.
Waking up around 4:30 am to an unexpected cold front made it a slow start. We had roosted a few birds the night before, so we made our way to that area in the dark. The farm is on the side of a mountain. The terrain is super steep in most places with fields and a river running at the base of it. We set up where the field met the tree line in hopes to call in one of the birds from the night before. By the time the sun had come up, we still hadn’t heard a gobble. After hiking around the mountain and calling every now and then, we were able to strike up a bird on the ridge line around 10 o’clock.
Moments like that are part of the reason why I love turkey hunting. It can be so slow for a whole morning and then out of nowhere the stars align and you are right back in the hunt. Both parts are equally important to the hunt as a whole.
We set up as quickly as we could. When he first responded he was around 100 yards away. Within minutes he had closed the distance to around 50. It’s a chess game. I would call a little, and he would cut me off with a gobble. From 50 he soon came within 20 and it sounded as if he was standing right next to us. We had set up in the woods right above a creek bank and a field hoping to stay as hidden as possible in a little bunch of oak sapling. My gun shouldered the bird within 10 yards. He was in the only place that I couldn’t see him... right in the dried-up creek bottom. All the time preparing the gear, all the driving, the planning, the scouting, all led to this moment. He was there, in range, all that had to happen was for me to be able to get a shot off when he showed himself. He gobbled again and it felt like the trees around us shook.
Then what every Turkey hunter dreads to hear more than anything, he started to putt. Turkeys will putt as a warning sign. Usually this happens when they see you or just get spooked for no reason other than being a stubborn turkey. I’m not sure what spooked him but just as fast as he came in, he was gone. In the moment it felt like I had failed. In some ways as a hunter, I did. It’s easy to say this now, after the hunt, but it’s hunts like that one that make you sit back and remember what it’s all about. It’s about the killing and the meat but so much of it is also just about the time surrounding that. The slow mornings where nothing is going “right.” The hiking around endlessly trying to find a bird, the scouting, the planning, the nights at camp, the travel to and from. All these things are equally as important to the hunt and equally important to the life one gets out of a hunt.
We sat there for a few moments to let it all sink in. Even though I didn’t kill the bird, we still got to witness one of the coolest things that the springtime brings. We soon headed out back to camp to cook up some morels that we found while hiking around. The rest of the day was spent hanging out, cooking up camp food, and swapping stories from the morning’s hunts.
WHAT WILL STICK WITH YOU FROM THIS EXPERIENCE?
Hunting on the farm where my Mamaw was born and raised on, and where my great Papaw hunted, was one of the coolest feelings I have ever had in the turkey woods. Getting to do that with some of my closest buddies and family made it even better. Nights sitting around the fire cutting up, eating good food on top of the mountains of Virginia will definitely stick with me forever.
WHERE IN YOUR LIFE DID YOU PICK UP TURKEY HUNTING?
I started turkey hunting when I was around 15. I didn’t really come from a hunting family. We were always into fishing and the outdoors but never really hunting. Once I started to show some interest in it, my friend’s dad and my brother's friend started taking me. At that time, it was just another opportunity to get outside and learn something new. Quickly it grew to something much larger.
WHAT DOES ‘COUNTRY’ MEAN TO YOU AND HOW IS THIS TRANSLATED THROUGH YOUR EXPERIENCES?
Country to me is stereotypical. Backroads surrounded by corn fields, hunting camps, bonfires the size of pickup trucks, catching catfish in a farm pond, drinking good cheap cold beer sitting on a tailgate. Living in a city has changed me a little. I still love to do those things more than anything, but I definitely don’t get to as often. When I do, I definitely am grounded by it.
WHAT’S A LESSON YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY ANTICIPATE UNTIL YOU’RE IN IT?
Most all of turkey hunting could probably fit under this. They are such an interesting bird. They rarely do what you want them to and when they finally do, at the very last moment they can just freeze or turn around. That’s where knowing how and when to call becomes really important. A lesson I have learned the hard way many times.
ANY GOOD CAMPFIRE STORIES, SUPERSTITIONS, OR RITUALS?
I’ve carried around an old buckeye for good luck on my hunts for a long time now. My papaw gave it to me probably 10 or so years ago. Sometimes it works. Most of the time it doesn’t.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO KEEP PUSHING?
Life is too short not to. I love learning new ways to do things whether it's hunting or fishing or just life in general. The more you travel and the more people you meet, the more you learn about life and yourself.
My friend Ben who first got me into turkey hunting and really hunting in general, lived life to the fullest more than anyone I’ve ever known. He taught me to always keep pushing and to never stop chasing dreams. I owe it to myself and to him and others who have helped me achieve my goals to do so.
TOP THREE SONGS FOR THE ROAD:
Paradise – John Prine
Coyotes – Don Edwards
Forever After All – Luke Combs
WHERE ARE YOU HEADED NEXT / WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
With turkey season wrapped up, most of my calendar revolves around fishing and hanging with my pup. I’ll be in Charleston, SC, for a good bit and down in Florida as much as I can.
GIVE US YOUR BEST ADVICE:
Listen before you think. Seek to get out of your comfort zone. That’s where you will find yourself. Treat others like you would want to be treated. Never settle. Do good. Take shi* from no one.