Bourjaily: How a Team U.S.A Skeet Shooter Helped Me Cure My Turkey Fever

philsturkey

Since I owned up to missing a turkey on opening day, it's only fair that I get to post this picture of my 2010 Iowa turkey. Besides, there is a lesson to be learned from this bird.
A few years ago I got to spend a couple of days shooting with U.S.A. Shooting's Haley Dunn, a fellow Iowan, a hunter, and one of our best international skeet shooters. Competitors at Dunn's level are all about the mental side of their sport. She told me how she dealt with the pressure of international competition.

"I keep my thinking performance oriented, not outcome oriented," she said. "I focus on the moves I have to make to break a target, not on winning the match." I asked her if that approach applied to hunting as well.

She said: "Absolutely. If you see a big buck under your stand and you start imagining how the antlers are going to look on your wall, you're thinking about the outcome. You'll miss. You have to keep your mind in the present, on what you have to do to make the shot. After the deer is down you can think about the antlers all you want."

Dunn's advice is some of the best and most succinct remedy for buck or gobbler fever I've heard. When this turkey turned sideways about 100 yards out I could see his beard was huge.* I have lucked into some big turkeys over the years, but usually I don't know it until I pick up the bird. This was different. I could see it was a trophy. My heart sped up. My mind left the present and raced into the future. I thought about what I would tell my friends. I thought about getting the bird weighed and measured at the local sporting goods store. From bitter past experience I can tell you I was headed straight for a miss.
Remembering Dunn's advice, I corralled my mind back into the present. "That is a trophy tom," I told myself. "It will be exciting to have killed it, but to make that happen I need to put the bead on his neck and keep my head down on the stock all the way though the shot."

And I did. Thanks Haley.

*11 ½ inches and really thick from top to bottom.