The Not So Beaten Path

By Joey Purpura

The 4:00 a.m. wake ups, the crunch of cold, frozen dirt beneath the sole of rubber boots, the glistening of a crescent moon under a starlit pond, the subtle cry of a whip-poor-will, the rustling of leaves piercing through the silence of a morning spent in the deer woods: these are all things we as outdoorsmen experience while taking part in our greatest passion.  For me, however, hunting is a lot more.  It means a lot more.

At a young age, I developed an insatiable desire to become a hunter.  There was something magical about this hobby that drew me into its grasp and would not let go.  Coming from a family who had a great sense of respect for the outdoors and would often spend weekends fishing and hiking, I found myself yearning for an additional outlet to experience more of nature.   Luckily for me, I had two parents who supported that desire.  Although they had no hunting background either, they were willing to help me in any way that they could.  Without any knowledge of hunting, I began reading books, magazines, and watching any program on television that could teach me something.

As my 8th grade year drew to a close, Papa (my dad) informed me that a co-worker of his had offered to take me turkey hunting.  The days leading up to this first hunt felt like decades, but the day finally came and excitement had completely taken over.  As the sun began to rise over a Kansas crop field, the turkeys began to gobble.  More picturesque than anything I had ever seen, a Rio Grande tom worked his way across the field to our decoy setup.  With adrenaline racing through my body, I took a deep breath and slowly squeezed the trigger of the shotgun Papa bought me.  From that moment on, with a turkey flopping on the ground, I knew there would never be a feeling that would compare to the emotions I was experiencing at that point in time.  I had just done something I never thought would happen.  Only months before, I had been sitting in a chair on a Saturday morning watching ESPN hunting shows and now was standing over my first turkey.  To make this accomplishment even sweeter, Papa was right there with me witnessing the entire hunt unfold.

Joey Purpura (left) was elated as he helped guide his dad, “Papa”, to his first ever turkey on the last day of turkey season in May of 2006.

Little did I know at the time, this would spark an interest in turkey hunting for Papa as well.  So as the month of May came to an end, Papa and I made our way to a public hunting area in hopes of bagging his first bird.  After an unsuccessful morning hunt, we decided to give it one last go in the afternoon. It was the last day of the Kansas season, and sunset was fast approaching.  With a slate call in hand and a diaphragm call in my mouth, I went for the Hail Mary strategy.  Trying to emulate a group of fighting jakes, I began cutting and purring frantically.  Within minutes, five jakes were storming down the field edge right toward us.  Stopping a mere 4 yards from our camouflaged bodies, I watched the biggest Jake fall in the confusion of gun smoke and ringing ears.  We had done it.  Pride, accomplishment, and joy filled the air as we hugged and celebrated.  One spring, two turkeys, a father and son, and memories that will last a lifetime: my dream to hunt had come into fruition.

I did not understand it at the time, but this passion I had developed for hunting had carried over to Papa, and because of this we had a new tradition in the family.  Where most fathers pass their love of hunting onto their sons or daughters, I had done the opposite.  It would have been very easy for Papa not to embrace my newfound hobby, but because he did, it gave me the opportunity to give back to him and teach him something that I had learned.

Since then, Papa and I have been on many hunts together, and he’s supported me all along the way.  When I developed an interest in filming my hunts, he purchased a video camera for me to use.  I then found myself in contact with some of the guys from Heartland Bowhunter Television and began filming for their show.  Although I am in college and have filming obligations most every weekend, Papa and I make sure we get a hunt or two in together each season.   These are always my favorite hunts of the year.

Working for Heartland Bowhunter has been one of my greatest accomplishments in hunting.  To be able to capture a hunt on video for other people to view and get enjoyment out of is a great feeling.  Oftentimes I spend the majority of the season filming, and may not even get to hunt myself.  This has taught me an extreme sense of patience, and brings me to my next greatest accomplishment: teaching my brother to hunt.

Joey Purpura with two toms taken near Dwight, KS on April 14, 2013.

Billy is my younger brother, a junior at Rockhurst High School.  Because we have a 6-year age difference, I used to get annoyed with him growing up.  Within the last couple years, however, Billy has begun to express interest in the outdoors, both hunting and fishing.  When I was in high school, I never wanted to spend my time teaching Billy or including him in my hunting adventures because I just wanted to ensure that I would have a successful hunt, and I looked at him as a hindrance to that.  After learning more about patience, and realizing what hunting is really about, I saw that teaching him could be one of the most rewarding things I would ever do.

The times I spent with Billy in the woods last winter for the end of the Kansas deer season were very special.  We had unsuccessful hunts, close calls, but most importantly I watched him learn, and saw a progression in his view of the outdoors.  On our 4th hunt, at about 4:00 p.m., 8 does and fawns worked their way in front of the cedar ground blind we had constructed.  Standing at 60 yards, Billy picked the doe he wanted, took aim, and fired.  Immediately I saw the doe drop her front shoulder and run into the woods; she crashed just inside the field edge.  To this day, I’m not sure who was more excited, Billy or me.  It was one of the proudest moments of my life and one that I’ll never forget.

Joey Purpura (left) with his younger brother Billy after Billy took his first deer on January 11, 2013 in Paola, KS.

Just a few months later, when I returned home from Kansas State, Billy and I headed out to a spot where I had scouted for turkeys.  Our morning hunt was unsuccessful, but after driving along the road and seeing a group of birds that would be accessible to us through a dry creek bed, we decided to put a stalk on.  One step after another, choosing every spot with the utmost care, we made our way 200 yards until we were within range of the turkeys.  Crawling up the creek bank, Billy rose up next to a tree, picked a bird, and fired.  I jumped up to see his bird lying in the field, and again I was filled with pride.  Being able to share those first two hunts with my brother are two memories that I appreciate more than any successful hunt I’ve had myself.  I realize now why there is such an emphasis on passing the tradition of hunting on.

For families everywhere, tradition makes up a big part of their lives.  These traditions include people, places, activities, but most of all, feelings.  I have been lucky and blessed to have been gifted a passion for hunting.  It is one of the few things in my life that keeps me up late at night, consumes my thoughts throughout the day, and drives me to be successful in my other endeavors.  Having that passion means nothing, though, unless it is shared with other people.  I’ve been fortunate enough to share it with two people that I love.  By sharing my love of hunting with Papa and Billy, we have developed new traditions in our family.  The memories I’ve made with my dad and brother are special, and the best thing about them is that I know there are more to come.  Share your passion with others; it doesn’t matter if they’re older, younger, family, friends, or strangers.  A genuine excitement and willingness to teach and share will motivate anyone to give your passion a chance.  It can prove to be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do, and it just might take you down an unbeaten path.

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