First turkey? Make it a home run for Caleb LaGrange
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Between baseball and turkey hunting, Caleb LaGrange took cross-training to another dimension.
After batting practice March 31, LaGrange — a sophomore first baseman/designated hitter on the varsity baseball team at Reed-Custer High School in Braidwood — bagged his first turkey.
On opening morning of the first season of the statewide youth turkey hunts, LaGrange, expecting baseball to be canceled, went hunting early with Chris Elliott, a family friend and guide for Porter’s Hunt Club.
‘‘The birds were going nuts,’’ Elliott said. ‘‘Heard seven or eight gobbling coming off roosts. It is unheard of for this time of the year.’’
They were in southwestern Will County, minutes from school. The game was canceled, but it was replaced with batting practice until 9 a.m. So they adjusted and left the field at 7:25 a.m.
‘‘Ten minutes after we left, there were two nice toms five feet from the blind,’’ Elliott said. ‘‘As soon as [LaGrange] was done, we raced back to the woods.’’
Good timing. They hunted about an hour with nothing doing. Then some soft yelps and clucks from Elliott’s calling brought a big tom.
‘‘All of a sudden, a big tom is coming across at field at the jake decoy,’’ Elliott said.
‘‘It came out of nowhere, running across the field,’’ LaGrange said. ‘‘When Chris hit the call, it kind of stopped.’’
LaGrange made the most of the short stop, dropping the tom with No. 5 shot from his Winchester SX3 12-gauge shotgun. The big old tom had 1-inch spurs and a 10.5-inch beard and weighed 27 pounds.
LaGrange, who plans on going into the Navy and becoming a welder, said he puts turkey hunting in his top three — ‘‘behind deer and waterfowl.’’
‘‘Best part about it for me was seeing him take his first bird and seeing it all come together,’’ Elliott said. ‘‘I would put it as one of my five all-time hunts.’’
The first regular turkey season in the north zone opens next Monday; the first season in the south zone opened Monday.
Wild-turkey project manager Luke Garver emailed: ‘‘There were significant impacts from last year’s rains on turkey production. That theory is supported by last summer’s brood survey, which we use as an index to reproductive success. The index this year was the lowest on record and marked the third consecutive year for decline. Turkey hunters can expect to see fewer jakes [young toms] on the landscape and, as a result of relatively poor production last year, few 2-year-olds, as well.’’
Harvest during the two youth weekends dropped nearly a quarter from youth seasons in 2017 (from 1,531 to 1,156). I suspect weather on both weekends had as much to do with that as turkey production.
That makes what LaGrange did even more impressive. He harvested one of five turkeys bagged in Will County during the youth seasons.
‘‘Sports and hunting are his life,’’ Elliott said.
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