Triple turkey triumph

Bill Graves, Special to The County
1 month ago

It seems to be a common theme throughout history that one generation wonders and worries if the next will carry on age-old treasured traditions. This is especially true of outdoor sportsmen and Maine’s hunting and fishing heritage. The story that follows gives me great hope.

Carson Cushman, a new graduate of Central Aroostook High School in Mars Hill, is a dyed-in-the-wool cast and blast enthusiast. With his two younger brothers, Ethan and Connor, and dad, Garrett, the Cushman clan have immersed themselves in all aspects of Aroostook woods and waters for years. Starting with partridge and rabbits at age 10, then duck and goose gunning, Carson’s goal soon turned to big game. At the end of last year he had bagged three deer, two bear, three turkey and dozens of upland birds, waterfowl and small game animals.

During the winter, Carson made up his mind that between school studies, a part-time job and sports, he was going to learn the difficult diaphragm-style, wild turkey mouth call. Day after day, driving to school, work or whenever a spare minute could be found, Carson self-taught himself to imitate dozens of tom and hen turkey sounds. Only time would tell how realistic the calls might be, but no electronic call would do.

When snow still lay along most field edges, Carson and a couple of friends were out scouting in early April, just after dawn most days before school as well as early and late on weekends. The young hunters located several flocks of turkey and pinpointed the birds’ feeding schedule and travel trails to favorite fields. 

Gobbler numbers are growing throughout the Crown of Maine, but nowhere near the population down south, so it’s imperative to have multiple hunting spots in case other sportsmen are watching the same fields and flocks you’re planning to hunt.

In the true spirit of sportsmanship and family first, Carson put his own desire for a longbeard on the back burner and took his youngest brother Conner out for an early morning youth day hunt. It was a short and successful outing, as not long after daybreak a bird in the bush became a bird in the hand. If a youngster’s first turkey isn’t memorable enough, Connor’s bird turned out to be a 16-pound bearded hen, and the beard was eight inches long.

Two days later brought open season for all gobbler gunners and Carson was up and out of the house at 3 a.m. to meet up with a couple of classmates for a joint outing. By 4 a.m., Carson, Kassidy Blackstone and Wyatt Allen had their decoys set up and were hunkered down in a hedge row between two fields. The trio heard birds fly down from roost trees and some even responded to calling, but none showed themselves or checked out the decoys.

At 6 a.m. they decided to pack up and head to a new site. The young hunters were amazed and relieved when only 15 minutes later they spotted six toms and two hens. With the flock 500 yards away on the other side of a knoll, Carson pulled their truck out of sight up the farm road and the three excited classmates came up with a plan to get within shotgun range.

Garrett Cushman poses with his first turkey taken opening week. His son Carson did the scouting and calling for his Dad as well as for his younger brother who was successful on youth day. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Carson had a Scoot and Shoot decoy as part of his gear. This is a larger-than-life silhouette of a fluffed-up and fanned-out tom turkey on a stick. Everyone loaded their scatterguns and donned camouflage garb, then snuck to the hidden side of the knoll. Holding the decoy up from the center position, the hunters began belly crawling across the field. 

At 70 yards, the trio stopped as the turkeys took notice of the decoy, but for 12 minutes it was a stalemate. Suddenly one of the hens started forward to check out the fake gobbler decoy, and within seconds the entire flock was on the move.

The lead hen kept approaching and the shooters were afraid they were going to be spotted, but finally she moved aside, offering a clear shot at the toms. Carson’s countdown had everyone fire on the count of one, and when the smoke and feathers cleared, three turkeys were down and out. 

Kassidy bagged her 16-pound bird with an 8-1/2-inch beard and 5/8 spur using a 12 gauge; it was her premiere wild turkey. 

Carson was shooting an over-under 20 gauge to drop his 16-pound gobbler with an 8-1/2-inch beard and 5/8 spurs. 

Wyatt gave the birds a true sporting chance using a single-shot .410 turkey gun to anchor a 20-pound turkey with an 8-1/2-inch beard and 1-inch spurs. 

Connor Cushman poses with his first wild turkey, a unique bearded hen. His older brother Carson took him out on youth day and called the bird into shotgun range. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

I’ve never heard of a triple on tom turkeys in all my years, and these three friends accomplished the memorable feat, took photos and still made it to school for classes. Ethan, Carson’s middle brother, went on his own hunt that same morning and outsmarted a 20-pound tom with a 9-inch beard. Later that week, Carson went with his dad Garrett and called in his first turkey, a hefty 17-pounder.

Aside from their phenomenal triple, Carson, his family and friends are prime examples of the next generation of true sportsmen and women.