BDN digital sports editor Pete Warner shows off the 20-pound tom he harvested while hunting last week in Newburgh. Credit: Pete Warner

It was impossible not to get excited at the sound of that first gobble.

Then again, it had happened twice before this spring — one gobble in response to yelps had yielded not only no turkey, but no further sounds.

I had stood on that exact spot in the woods of Newburgh earlier in the week and tried to move toward the gobble. Maybe I gave myself away.

This time, I left nothing to chance.

Rather than try to deploy the decoy that was tucked inside my backpack or reposition myself, I sat at the base of the nearest beech tree, facing in the direction of the gobble.

I had left my 20-gauge shotgun in the closet and instead grabbed the 12-gauge Mossberg 500. I had missed turkeys on two previous occasions using the 20 gauge and thought maybe I needed to change things up.

A sequence of seven yelps using a diaphragm mouth call elicited another gobble. This one was closer. It was coming.

My heart pounded with an adrenaline rush in anticipation of the turkey’s imminent arrival. Resisting the temptation to call again, I waited. Another gobble.

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A minute later, the tom emerged from the dark growth. It gobbled again, puffing up its chest and fanning out its tail feathers to impress what it hoped would be a receptive hen.

The tom was 50 yards away, and I was exposed. I sat motionless as it meandered one way, then back in the other direction with halting steps.

A couple of times, unprovoked, it let out an emphatic gobble as to say, “here I am!” Rather than risk it becoming disinterested, I squeaked out a few muted clucks.

Each time, it gobbled back, then returned to its deliberate walking. Slowly, it was coming closer.

The tom was gravitating to my right, where it would be harder to get my shoulders turned and pick an opening among the trees. After what seemed like a half-hour (it was more like 10 minutes), it came into range and disappeared behind two small trees.

I picked out the next shooting lane on its path and turned slightly in that direction. Then, it hesitated. Only a few feathers were visible.

I feared it had busted me, but 10 seconds later the tom took two more halting steps and exposed its blueish-white head and bright red neck.

My aim was true and the Mossberg did its job.

After two previous spring hunts that had ended with a shotgun blast and disappointment, I had harvested my first wild turkey.

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It wasn’t until I laid down the gun to inspect the 20-pound bird that I made the realization. I had finally successfully used my Uncle Johnny’s shotgun.

John Sacco had a barber shop on South Broadway in Lawrence, Massachusetts, for 50 years and was blessed with the perfect disposition for the job of talking sports, politics and life with his loyal customers. Of course, he entertained the rest of us, too.

Uncle Johnny was a family man, a fun-loving jokester and a die-hard Boston sports fan. He also was an avid fisherman who loved tossing flies at trout and pursuing stripers in the Merrimack River.

He also did some pheasant hunting back in the 1970s and ’80s, which had prompted him to purchase the Mossberg.

I started hunting in 2006, and it was about 10 years ago, his hunting days behind him, that John asked if I would like his Mossberg 500 shotgun. I was touched that he would think of me and gratefully accepted it.

Over the years, he periodically asked me if I had harvested any game with the gun. I hadn’t, but told him that I had toted it around on numerous occasions and was glad to have it.

It became my backup deer hunting gun whenever my older son, Will, came home to hunt with me. I also had taken it on some bird hunting excursions, but never discharged it until recently.

Sadly, uncle Johnny died in December 2018 from complications of renal failure. I never got to make the call telling him that I had successfully used the shotgun that he had so generously given to me.

Perhaps I had an angel on my shoulder the other day who helped coax that tom into my path. At least that’s what I would like to think.

BDN Digital Sports Editor Pete Warner can be reached at

Watch: A hunting pro demonstrates a turkey call

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Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...