On The Ridge with Joe Judd: More successful tales from the hunt



Published: 05-08-2024 4:06 PM

With this year’s wild turkey hunting season nearing the end of a second full week, stories have been coming in from all over the state from friends and colleagues who’ve had a great start to the 2024 season. And with two full weeks-plus remaining, I believe the best is yet to come!

What a season it’s been thus far in Franklin County. Young hunters have been successful for the first time, many other new and old hunters alike have had their own success. They’re sharing moments they will cherish for a lifetime while relishing every second they’re in the beauty of springtime woods, and matching wits with any gobblers who accept their invitation to dance — even though this year I’ve come across a few I’d just as soon never dance with again (or maybe I would). The point is, every time you go it’s a moment to be cherished whether it’s win, lose, or draw. That’s really when the joy of turkey hunting has taken you to a place that only those that chase the “great springtime bird” into those high places will ever truly understand.

Having said that, the greatest moments in a turkey hunter’s life is not the next tough hunt they get the upper hand in, or the next big gobbler they harvest. The greatest moments are the memories made while turkey hunting with family and friends, or when you manage to spend time with a young person who later on in life also carries on the tradition of wild turkey hunting to the next generation of hunters, while sharing the lessons they were taught when they were young.

So far this year, the best story that’s come my way involves a father and son who was reunited for a turkey season to be remembered forever. Joe Warger from Conway, who was just a boy himself when he started tagging along with guys like me back in the early 1990’s, and his son Casey, who is home on leave from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State, teamed up on a dandy gobbler during the first full week. Casey and I first met back when he was 7 or 8 years old, when his dad used to come over to my home in Shelburne as we gathered together as a group of turkey hunting devotees doing NWTF volunteer work. Casey was such a little guy back then, quiet but always polite, and he absorbed everything he experienced around him. Today, Casey’s not so little anymore, as he proudly serves in the Army as a helicopter mechanic, while coming home whenever he can to be with Joe and his mother Terry, especially during turkey season.

This is the first time that Joe and Casey have been able to hunt together in nine years, and believe me when I tell you, they’ve made the most of it! Casey has tagged out in Maine, while harvesting a beautiful spring gobbler in Mass. That bird came in tipping the scales at an even 20 pounds with a 10-inch beard and good spurs. Joe, a seasoned hunter himself, couldn’t have been happier, and from the picture he sent, I’d say he was also pretty proud. But in reality, Casey is on his way to becoming an accomplished turkey hunter, and with a mentor like his dad, and a supportive mother like Terry Warger, honestly, how could he miss? It’s so easy to see that Casey has picked up the same skill sets as his dad, as they told me the story of working this old long-beard in Massachusetts, with the help of a loud mouth hen in the distance, eventually bringing him across 200 yards of cornfield and into range. And that perfect spring morning ended with Joe and Casey experiencing another memorable hunt, together. It has elevated their love for turkey hunting to a new level, all while wearing a hat that I gave to Casey over 20 years ago, which pleased me greatly when he relayed this to me. And the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s the stories like these, and the memories they spawn, that have meant the most to me, especially at this stage of my life as a turkey hunter; memories of watching young people, older people, and even small kids, smile that smile of pure joy the first time they hear a wild turkey gobbling. It’s great to watch their eyes dance as the “Old Monarch” responds to you, moving slowly toward you, and suddenly he’s there, right in front of you, still coming, and laser focused. At that moment, the people with you know they’re part of something special, something larger than just hunting, and they want it to last forever. Deep down inside, so do you!

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, 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. He can be reached at jjontheridge@comcast.net