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On the Ridge: Remembering Chris

  • Joe Judd, seen last year with one of his kills, was excited as ever about the start of turkey hunting season late last month, but he did so with a heavy heart after the loss of friend Chris Puntin. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Published: 5/8/2019 8:50:17 PM

No matter where you are, the Opening Day of a turkey hunting season is special.

It’s no different for me than it is for anyone else who loves the sport of turkey hunting. It’s all very special.

The April 29 opening day of turkey hunting season found me moving silently through the 4 a.m. darkness, “racing to stay ahead of the sun,” just as I’d done so many times before. I was with others, working to make their Opening Day as special as I could. As we nestled into the softness of a damp, cloudy morning, our excitement was apparent. As we sat waiting for the first rays of morning to appear, my thoughts began to drift away from that moment. To another Opening Day that I’m certain started out in the same special way as ours did, yet had an unimaginable and tragic ending that could never have been predicted when it first began, the same way ours did, on their Opening Day.

That morning was April 27, 2019, the Youth Day Turkey Hunt, which was the real beginning of the season. The Massachusetts Youth Turkey Hunt program is for young people, ages 12 to 17, who have graduated from a Basic Hunter Training course which includes an all-day turkey hunting seminar, and a mentor (properly licensed and over the age of 18) to spend the first day with the new turkey hunter and their parent.

The mentor could also just be a parent if they’re properly licensed and hold a turkey hunting permit. It’s designed to provide young hunters with specialized turkey hunting training and instruction, as well as reinforce what they learned in Basic Hunter Education. Young hunters can practice all aspects of a safe turkey hunt, including calling, how to properly set-up, identifying your target and what’s beyond it, turkey biology and turkey hunting regulations prior to ever setting foot in the woods.

These programs also increase confidence and reinforce the principles of hunting safely, while promoting interest in the outdoors and wildlife conservation. Most importantly, it all takes place under the supervision of an experienced mentor. However, accidents happen to even the most experienced of us. Chris Puntin, 44 years old and a lifelong hunter, was one of those mentors, and he was participating in this year’s youth turkey hunt with two other adults and a juvenile near Great Barrington. Sometime during this hunt, Chris was shot, which resulted in the loss of his life. Details are incomplete as the incident is still under investigation. The only word from local police was that, “it appeared to have been an accident.”

I believe this, as Chris was as good a hunter and mentor as I ever knew. However, this is a stark reminder to all of us that hunting accidents can happen to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Precautions and safety measures must never be taken for granted … ever. If an accident can happen involving a guy like Chris, then it can happen to anyone. With all that said, it’s important to know that Chris was my friend.

I first got to know Chris as a fellow board member on the State Board of Directors of the National Wild Turkey Federation. He was a man of great honesty and integrity, which was evident at his wake where I, along with fellow NWTF board members, waited in line for over three hours to pay our final respects. He was a guy you could always count on, and someone you would truly listen to when he spoke. He was a tradesman, and a partner in a construction company. He had great skills with his hands and was always eager to help in any way he could. He had a great love for “farm-life” and it was never unusual to find him running tractors, collecting eggs, or throwing hay to cows.

He had a great smile, a quick sense of humor and complete selflessness. Especially when it came to the outdoors and hunting, and to the National Wild Turkey Federation where he served as president of his local chapter along with his elected duties as a board member for the state. His dedication and commitment to young people was endless. A great athlete in school carried over to coaching young people, which eventually spawned into learning the ropes as a hunting mentor. To know Chris, even just a little, was to know all of this and more, about a fine man and a great hunter … who is now gone.

Suddenly, with the speed of thought, a distant gobble brought me back to the moment, to what was quickly becoming dawn. I looked up, for the first time it seemed since we sat down, as a second gobble got my complete attention of what was about to become the beginning of our Opening Day. I looked over to see the smiles on the faces of my companions as I slowly moved the mouth call from one side to the other ... just to moisten it! It was light now, it was time. The dance was starting again. We’re here … in this wonderful place … at this perfect moment … in my beloved Shelburne. And one last thought of my friend … wishing that things would have somehow, been different.

Goodbye Chris, God bless you buddy.

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and outdoorsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, consultant and active member of the New England Outdoor Writers Assoc. Joe is also a member of the Quaker Boy Game Calls, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Pro-Staff. 

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