I watched her scramble up the substantial slope before us and was almost overcome with guilt. It dawned on me that I was possibly doing this remarkable young lady a great disservice.
I have written about Makayla Scott before, and if you haven't read some of those articles, I am not sure where to start to explain the amazing phenomenon that is this talented teenager from White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
A quick rundown: As Scott shares in the bio on her fundraising page, she was adopted at age 9. However, this followed years of neglect, abuse and tragedy — including her birth mother's death from a drug overdose — and so she struggled to trust in others and believe in herself.
She may have had a less than fortunate start in life, but Scott quickly made up for it by finding her own niche under the guidance of her adoptive dad, Telford. After trying several different sports but not really clicking with any of them, she picked up a shotgun and never looked back.
She is now, at 16 years old, a known name in the world of shotgun sports — someone who has won several events, qualified for the Junior Olympics in trap shooting and last fall participated in shotgun guru David Miller's second Guinness World Records event for most clay targets shot by a five-person team in 12 hours. That's right: I witnessed Miller, Scott and three teammates shoot almost continuously for 12 hours.
So, yes, you could say Scott is a shotgun shooter.
With all of her experience with a scattergun, though, she had yet to venture into the turkey woods. Someone told her I was a turkey hunter (I bet it was Barbara Baird, who runs the Women's Outdoor News website), and now I was tasked with getting Scott a big, strutting gobbler. Now don't get me wrong: I had no problem taking her hunting. The amount of positive energy exuding from this dynamo of a young girl/superhero is enough to make you want to be around just to soak up some of the vibes in her wake.
But I did have another problem. I could not shake the feeling that exposing Scott to the sometimes dark side of turkey hunting, in particular getting up in the middle of the night to be in the neighborhood of a crazy bird that one day will gobble his fool head off and the next come down with lockjaw. There can also be long stretches of hunting every day with no sleep, which affects work, school, relationships and your mental health. Finally, there is the danger of being around older, experienced turkey hunters who can be some of the grouchiest individuals known to man.
Should I show this extraordinary kid the wonderful, crazy, terrible world of turkey hunting? My soul was in anguish.
I found no answers in the days leading up to the first hunt with Scott on West Virginia's youth turkey hunting days for this year, April 18-19. I started hunting on April 11. I ventured over to Paint Bank, Virginia, to hunt with Danny Walsh, who runs Potts Creek Outfitters there.
With all of the craziness of the coronavirus pandemic going on, the many hunters Walsh had booked as clients were all canceled. Walsh generously offered for me to hunt with him on the first day of the Virginia season, and I jumped at the chance. I love the woods around Paint Bank, and we had a gobbler sounding off on a beautiful morning, but the conversation was very short. This turkey evidently preferred the company of his many girlfriends more than us.
On April 17, turkey killing buddy Richie Miller and I went back to Virginia in what turned into a marathon sweep through Craig County. Hearing nothing at one location, we would jump back in the old Chevy and head to the next stop. We put in a lot of miles and saw several wandering groups of turkey hens, but we neither saw nor heard one gobbler. The best part of the morning was stopping at the Paint Bank General Store for hot coffee and pizza at noon.
The next day, I was at Scott's house well before dawn. We soon headed up the hill directly behind her house, a path that puts you on Monongahela National Forest land. It was raining as we entered the woods, and it dawned on me that I probably had at least four jackets in the truck.
Having nothing else to do, we wandered progressively higher up into the hills as part of my running patter trying to teach her about turkey hunting was to always get up high so that you may hear better. Scott took this and all other advice I offered as though I had told her the secrets of the universe or how to buy winning lottery tickets. She was happy to learn anything and everything about this new kind of hunting for her.
I explained I would hoot like a barred owl because gobblers were known to respond to that. Her response: "Really? That is so cool!" Once when we heard a hen on a steep slope above us, I explained that most often gobblers would rarely come to a call from below but would rather walk uphill toward your calling. All this and much more was taken as most appreciated.
It was a humbling experience. When not listening to me rattle on with some inane turkey tidbit, she would pick and examine some nondescript plant on the forest floor. Either that or she would get excited about some animal track or, even better, some kind of animal bone — she is really big on finding those. Besides turkey hunting, she was just happy to take in the day.
We paused on a high knoll, ever listening for an elusive gobble, which we never heard. (Good news: On another trip to the turkey woods Wednesday morning, Scott got her first bird.)
As for that first venture out, as we waited there we discussed the weather and how, though it had started out raining, it now looked like it would clear off and the sun would come out so it would be a good day.
The conversation lagged for a while as we listened, and then I heard her say wistfully, "Every day is a good day."
Every day is a good day? Sixteen years old?
I realized Makayla Scott had much more to teach me than I did her.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.