December 1, 2017 - Rio Grande turkey populations are booming in the Texas Hill Country but there are three less long beards tooling around the woods in Mason County these days, courtesy of Andrew Tutt of Longview.
Competitive genes and a distinct love for the outdoors run deep in Tutt's family tree. He's an ace on the baseball diamond, a speedster on the football field and has been bouncing around from bass boats and deer stands since he was old enough to walk.
Tutt claims he enjoys fishing of any kind, but this week he's leaning towards hunting as his favorite hook and bullet hobby.
"I like to do both, but I think I like hunting a little better," he said. "That's probably because I've been hunting a little longer than I've been fishing. I guess it's the anticipation that I like so much. You just never know what you might see or what might happen out there."
Those are tall words for a 12-year-old, but pretty much par for the course when carrying on a conversation with the Judson Middle School sixth grader. That's the word from Tutt's uncle, Jim Tutt, also of Longview.
"He's really mature for his age," said Tutt, a veteran pro angler on the FLW Tour. "It's almost like talking to a grown man when you are having a conversation with him. He's eaten up with hunting and fishing. He knows a lot for his age. He takes it pretty serious."
Tutt's passion for hunting got turned up a notch or two during a recent trip to the family lease near Mason on the weekend before Thanksgiving. He was accompanied on the venture by his father, Tom, his grandfather, Sid, and his uncle Jim.
Kicking Up Dust
The Tutts always make the most of their trips to the lease they've shared for years. They try to make three hunts per day, one in the morning, one at midday after lunch and another in late afternoon.
After an uneventful hunt on Sunday morning, the youngster and his dad returned to camp for lunch then headed back out around noon. While en route to their box blind they spotted a group of turkeys in a field, about 50-60 yards away.
With Thanksgiving coming up, Andrew decided to try to contribute something to the dinner table. He picked out a plump gobbler, took aim with his 25.06 Remington and touched the trigger.
The youth hunter saw a cloud of dust in the wake of the free-hand shot, but there was no turkey. Not even a feather.
"I rushed my shot," Tutt said. "I didn't have a rest and shot low. I was pretty mad about it. I've only missed one other time in my life when I missed a hog a couple of years ago."
The hunters returned to camp about two hours later to regroup and swap stories. Andrew was still frustrated about blowing the shot on the gobbler and headed back to his stand in short order in hopes of getting some sort of redemption.
The afternoon trek to the box blind is particularly memorable because it marked the first time for the youth to hunt solo.
"I've always hunted with my dad, uncle or grandfather, but I wanted to go by myself this time," Tutt said. "We took the golf cart and I dropped them off at their stands then I headed to mine. I was pretty nervous for some reason until I made to the blind, but I don't really know why. I'm still trying to figure that one out."
The original plan was for the youngster to pick up his dad and uncle at dark, but things didn't quite work out that way.
Not long into the hunt the brush came alive with critters. A young buck showed up at Tutt's corn feeder within 10 minutes. Moments later, he spotted another group of turkeys slipping along a fence line about 200 yards away. Three of the birds - all mature gobblers - peeled off from the group and headed down a narrow trail on a beeline for his stand.
Naturally, the young hunter started feeling a little antsy.
"The turkeys just kept coming and stopped under an oak tree about 50 yards from me," he said. "I wasn't quite sure what I should do. I didn't know if I should go ahead and shoot or wait until they came a little closer."
Three Toms in the Bag
That's when instincts took over. Tutt blasted the lead bird and dropped it. The other birds spooked and attempted to leave, but Tutt wasn't having any of it. Within a matter of seconds the number of available turkey tags on his youth hunting license dwindled from four to one.
Tutt's uncle, who was in a stand nearby, says he didn't have a clue what all the commotion was about. But his gut feeling said it wasn't good.
"All I heard was…. Boom…. Boom…. Boom!" Tutt said. "There is a fence line not far from where Andrew was hunting and my first thought, it was somebody was shooting a pistol on the property next to us and screwing up his hunt. I couldn't believe it when I found out it was him doing all the shooting and that he'd killed three gobblers. They were big birds, two - 20 pounders with six inch beards and 1 1/4 spurs."
Not surprisingly, wild game and fish are staples the menu around the Tutt household. The young hunter claims the meat from the three wild turkeys won't go to waste.
"We're getting together at my grandmother's house for a late Thanksgiving dinner and we'll cook them up then," he said. "We've got a big family, so I doubt there will be very much left when everybody gets done."
Hunting solo for the first time is an experience that most youngsters will never forget. Andrew Tutt will vouch for that.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.