On The Ridge: Finding the Light

  • Hunter Camara, left, and columnist Joe Judd show off a turkey bagged during a hunt last month. COURTESY/JOE JUDD

  • Ernie Calandrelli, left, and columnist Joe Judd during a turkey hunting trip last month. COURTESY/JOE JUDD

Published: 5/12/2021 7:30:47 PM

My best turkey hunt thus far was in Rhode Island during the Matt Light Foundation Youth Day Hunt.

What an excellent time it was at Addieville East Farm, reuniting with good friend, early mentor and one of the best turkey hunters in the country, Ernie Calandrelli from Quaker Boy Game Calls. It was great to see Matt Light again, while hunting with two young men who would soon become new friends.

Matt, former NFL star and New England Patriots Super Bowl champion, started the The Light Foundation in 2001 with his wife, Susie. Their goal was to help young people develop skills and values that would assist them throughout their lives. Since its inception, the foundation has helped numerous young people go on to become successful adults through hard work and achievement while building self-esteem. The pleasure of spending a few days in Rhode Island with this great group was all mine.

I first met Matt Light at a Bass Pro Shops turkey hunting events weekend in Foxborough. At the time, I had no idea he was fishing buddies with Ernie Calandrelli, nor that Ernie had told Matt I would be there, asking him to pop in to say hello. Sure enough, he showed up, and we immediately hit it off spending the better part of an hour talking turkey and fiddling around with turkey calls. I gave him one of my “slate strikers” that he was admiring, which he genuinely seemed to appreciate. From that point on, we stayed in touch through the Light Foundation. We would have re-connected last spring had it not been for the pandemic. So when the call came in January, asking if I could help in Rhode Island this year, I quickly said yes.

I arrived a day early, around mid-morning, and was greeted by Matt and Ernie. I was later introduced to my partner for the weekend, Eli Pease from Williamsburg, a young hunter with some good knowledge. Later we were introduced to the young man we were guiding, Hunter Camara, a young lad with lots of enthusiasm, a little experience and a passion for turkey hunting.

We ended the afternoon with some barbecue, a pep talk from Matt, then headed out to our hunting area to maybe roost a turkey. But despite our best efforts, we could not get a response from a single bird. Not even a peep! As we headed back to camp for some sleep, our spirits were still high even though we knew morning would arrive early. And just like that, with the speed of thought, it was 4 a.m. and we were moving through the darkness again.

Shortly before first light we began owl hooting, attempting to locate a waking gobbler. But as the sun continued to rise, we had yet to hear anything. Soft, periodic calling produced silence. Even when we raised the volume, we heard nothing. Matt assured us there were turkeys here, so we needed to stay confident.

Around 7:30 a.m., Hunter needed a walk. Now, normally I would discourage this, but with not even a distant gobble heard between us, I reluctantly caved. As luck would have it, shortly after they left, I heard a low pitched “gobbler yelp” not more than 40 yards out. I immediately recognized this and answered back.

A short time later the bird was walking past the blind, right in front me, as I sat like a stone not even blinking. Movement to my right was Hunter and Eli returning, and I quickly got Eli’s attention who knew exactly what to do. They both dropped to the ground as the bird moved slowly away, eventually maneuvering back up and into the blind. Hunter’s excitement was visible as Eli and I discussed strategy. I was certain we could call that bird back, and Eli agreed.

Our plan was simple. I would move outside the blind and call sparingly. Eli would stay with Hunter to keep him calm and ready, and as I slowly eased my way out of the blind, the three of us smiled together, and bumped fists for good luck.

Nestling into a wide maple tree, I decided to wait before calling, just to let things settled down. But when the box-call finally spoke, the bird jumped all over it. Five minutes later, the box-call sang out again, and he gobbled just as hard. But he was moving around us now, sneaking in from behind. Soft purrs and clucks kept him calm, and soon we could see him coming, looking up, puffing his back, feeding but still coming. At 40 yards, I knew my part in this was over. Eli and Hunter would take it from here. They waited for the bird to get a little closer, and Eli waited for an opportunity to cluck hard and bring the gobbler’s head up.

And as the bird continued toward them, I closed my eyes, leaned into this maple tree, and started my own wait; hoping for a young boy’s dream to come true, hunting this outstanding gobbler on an April morning, in this magnificent New England of ours.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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