Family reunites for memorable hunt

Keith Shoemake's 8-year-old feet kicked into warp speed, scattering backroad sand when a familiar voice answered the cell phone call. Keith had just been in his first turkey hunt and shouted, "Mom, oh, mom, I have something to tell you, MOM!"

The proud father and grandfather watched in silence. Their part of the tale began decades ago.

Mike Shoemake, of suburban Chicago, had invited his father, Jim, of Tacoma, Wash., to the Flint Hills to rekindle a family love of the outdoors that began when Mike was the boy.

During Mike's boyhood, the family spent hundreds of days together, stalking in the squirrel woods of Kansas and Missouri, or following family bird dogs across prairies.

Careers - Jim's as a school administrator, and his children's - eventually sent the Shoemakes in more directions than a well-scattered covey of quail.

Sometimes there was four inches of growth or four more missing teeth when the grandfather saw his grandson.

But last spring the eldest Shoemakes made their first turkey hunt in Kansas. They decided to make it an annual event, and to include the next generation.

The Flint Hills provides a place for the trio to unwind and enjoy three days of quality time without the distractions of home.

"It's only 1 percent of the year, but it's the best 1 percent of the year," Mike Shoemake said.

He could probably return every year and never top what happened within the first hour of an April hunt.

The two adults sat in comfortable deck chairs, the boy upon his father's lap. The pop-up blind above and around them helped muffle noise so they could talk and masked the squiggling of a third-grade boy.

Mike Shoemake sparingly used a simple push-button call for his first attempt at calling turkeys. A hen decoy rested near the edge of an alcove of cut soybeans surrounded on three sides by woods.

About 40 minutes after his first soft yelps, two big toms walked from the woods, then broke into a sprint when they spied the fake hen.

The dominant bird put on a show, first strutting around the decoy then trying to breed the foam bird.

The minute or more of misplaced passion allowed the father to prepare the young first-time hunter, who was shaking from excitement.

Grandson and grandfather eventually shot their first turkeys about three seconds apart.

Eyes moistened from emotion. High-fives and hugs went around. Mike Shoemake thanked his dad for getting him involved in the outdoors those many years ago.

The elder hunter said he was grateful to be along.

"You have no idea what this means to me to be here for this," Jim Shoemake said as he watched his son and grandson share the duties of carrying a bird that looked as big as the boy. "Just getting to be here, with them, alone, was worth the trip, but this. ..."