By John Simeone
“From the time of the Pilgrims, to the days of the Good Ole Boys, the turkey shoot is America’s oldest shooting sport.”
It was November 1966 in the little town of Magazine Arkansas, where I grew up. The high school was trying to raise money for an Agriculture building, so one of the local farmers, Jack Ecles donated about 600 live turkeys to the program, for the biggest turkey shoot in the world.
Now in those days we took our guns to school, didn’t really think much of it. After school let out most of the high school kids and the teachers headed out for the field to hunt what ever happened to be in season. I must say it would be better if things were like that again.
On the day of the turkey shoot every one in Logan County was there, about a thousand maybe more. They were there to support the School and of course to get a turkey for Thanksgiving. I think I was 12 or 13 years old then.
Now Daddy, Frank Simeone was a sharpshooter with the Marlin 25, 22 long rifle, and of course quite a comedian as well. He had a ten dollar bill and was out for turkeys to fill up that big deep freezer of ours. It was a dollar a shot, and we were shooting at live turkeys with just their heads sticking up over the burm.
Political correctness and bunny huggers did not exist in those days. Wasn’t much difference in a rifle bullet or a chopping axe anyway? Daddy and I both missed one time and came away with 4 turkeys each. Others did not fair so well.
The fellow with the Savage 99 in .250 seemed to be very deadly, however Jim Rasnik and his Remington 742 in 30-06 did not cut turkey until he blew about twenty bucks. You shot till you ran out of money, while the high school boys were busy dressing out all the turkeys. The shoot lasted all weekend from sun rise till sundown, and even the preacher showed up on Sunday with the whole congregation after church.
Well it was my job to devise an old time turkey shoot as close to the ones we used to have in those days for the Army at Fort Polk Louisiana. Of course they weren’t going to let us shoot at live turkeys, but actually frozen turkeys and canned hams are better anyway for prizes. You just take your winning ticket to the store and pick it up.
We needed a moving turkey target of course. No problem, Political signs, you know the kind that the politicians use to put in your yard around election time. They hold up real good under fire, and can be used many times. Of course the local politicians, win or lose always donate plenty to cause, and most of them show up at the Turkey Shoot.
The target itself is a life sized turkey head target. On the head is a tiny X and this is all you need. You just make a bunch of them on a copy machine. It works for any kind of weapon, shotgun, rifle or hand gun.
Five shooters line up and shoot one shot at the respective numbered target. The person whose bullet or shotgun pellet comes closest to the X or hits it wins the round. It’s that easy. The most popular is the Shotgun Lucky X, shot at about 25 yards. If each shooter brings about 20 bucks, and shoots several times at $3.00 a round, you normally come away with a turkey and a good story to tell. Other wise we don’t put a restriction on sights, or chokes because over the years we found tight turkey chokes get beat by improved cylinder chokes all the time. We shoot off hand mostly, but there are some that can’t hold up the gun, so we use shooting sticks or the bench. The judge makes it all fair and there have never been any complaints. So we say from the start, “These are the rules, there ain’t none.” Well that’s how you do it. It’s great for rural get togethers and you can make a little money for a local cause.
That brings us up to The Grand Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot at Fort Polk Louisiana. Now when the Army gets involved with guns you know it has to be big. If you make Uncle John the host you know its going to be fun.
Over the years we have seen the same faces and many new ones. James Callaway, the Chief Range Master and his wife Mary. Bobby Hill of Leesville and his whole family, with third generation grandson David making his second year. Caleb Dickerson my new Rent- a- Kid his dad, Capt Harvey Dickerson, Aunt Sandy and about every sharpshooter stationed in the United States Army were there to try for a Turkey.
Along with the Traditional Lucky X match this year we got to try out our Combat Pistol Team on the new steel targets. Now these guys were pretty cool, Sponsored by our local outdoor sponsor, Star Gun and Archery of Leesville. Lots of gun fire and ringing steel, we like to make lots of noise around here.
This is one of those family events that once you get into it, it is addictive. We had a lot of Army wives that seemed a little timid at first, until Aunt Sandy, complete with her lucky Coon Skin Cap, got all the ladies, motivated. That was all it took, suddenly everybody Men, Women and Children were banging away at the turkey target with a huge array of shotguns.
I took 4 turkey guns all specially choked for actual turkey hunting, and of course at this shoot everybody can use my guns or anybody else’s for the that matter, making this a huge family event. Jim Callaway finally looked up and said this was the largest turkey shoot ever held here and we have been doing it for 20 years.
Lessons Learned: We take our time for Safety and Special Points of Interest. “The Educated Thumb” class showed the difference between hunting with a shotgun and combat shooting, while all action stopped when a new shooter got to fire a gun for the first time. This is something we have turned into a special event in itself, as the firing of a gun is now a true Right of Passage into the family of Shootist at Fort Polk Louisiana; of course we have the best shooting instructors right there to help, so we make new shooters instant celebrities. There were no Anti-Hunters or Anti-Gun people there that we knew about. If there was they probably won a turkey too, and were instantly converted. We know how to use positive peer pressure, to get people over the fear of guns.
When the gun smoke cleared I found that every family came away with a least one earned turkey for Thanksgiving. Turkeys just taste better if you win them in a turkey shoot…Pass it on.