Two birds with one stone: a lesson in integrity
The turkey was in my sights. This was the moment I had been waiting for! The day was one of the biggest of my life. It also turned out to be a day in which I had to make an extremely tough decision. It was opening morning of the youth turkey season. I was 13.
To prepare for that morning, I had been to the gun range for weeks to practice my accuracy, and at home I was trying to perfect my turkey-calling skills.
We had driven out to a back field in Afton above the St. Croix River. We had to reach the blind and set up the decoys in the dark.
As soon as the first morning rays of sunlight appeared over the horizon, the forest behind us woke up. We could hear turkeys gobbling their morning calls in the trees. We even had two deer walk right in front of our blind.
I had just reached down to get a Jolly Rancher to suck on to keep my mind busy when my dad tapped my shoulder. I was immediately alert. I carefully raised my head, and to my surprise I saw four massive toms strutting across the field broadside to us, toward our decoys.
As soon as I saw them, adrenaline coursed through my veins. It was a sensation I had never experienced before. Quickly but carefully I settled my gun on the bipod and waited for my dad to tell me when they were in range.
Finally, he gave the word. I took aim at the far-left bird. I inhaled, and on the bottom of the exhale, I shot. To my surprise, one dropped. I was fired up.
But then the turkey to the right of the one I had shot flew up, fell down, and was ominously still – something was wrong. Somehow I had killed two turkeys with one shot. My feelings of elation quickly turned to dread. We only had one license because it was the youth hunt, but I had just killed two turkeys.
I had a difficult decision, and my dad talked me through the options. We could hide it in the woods and let it go to waste, we could sneak it home and risk getting caught, or we could call the DNR and turn ourselves in.
I decided we should be hunters with integrity, report ourselves, and face the consequences. We tried calling all of the DNR lines, but no one answered. Eventually my dad realized we would always be able to find someone at the TIP (Turn In Poachers) line. My dad asked me what I thought we should do, and I said to call and report that I had just accidentally killed an extra turkey and that we were calling to report ourselves.
The answering officer said that this was the first time anyone had called the line to report themselves and that we had made a good decision. She told us to take the bird home and wait for a conservation officer.
When we arrived home, I was so nervous I was almost shaking.
Finally the local conservation officer arrived. She congratulated me on getting my turkey, but then asked how I ended up with two. I explained what happened, and she said she would have to confiscate the bird. When I asked what would happen to the bird, she said the meat would go to an elderly man who used to hunt but couldn’t anymore because of his age and financial issues.
We asked her if we could clean it for him and then package the meat to make it easier for the elderly man. While we were cleaning the bird, I asked the officer what would happen to the rest of the bird.
She said that, sadly, she would have to throw it away. I told her my dad (who is a teacher) planned to use feathers from any birds on the medieval hats his students make for the Renaissance unit. When she heard that, she happily donated the feathers to my dad’s class.
Finally I began to feel cheerful again. Not only did I get my turkey, but also the meat from the second one was going to help an elderly man less fortunate than me, and the feathers were going toward a project for the 6th-graders in my dad’s class.
I learned from this experience that when faced with an ethical dilemma, I believe it is important to resolve it with integrity.
Now, when I think of that day or look at the turkey fan mount on my bedroom wall, I’m reminded to admit to my wrongs, knowing that even though there may be consequences, if I handle the situation with integrity, good things will come from it.
Ben Olson, 17, is a senior at Stillwater Area High School. He is the son of Derek and Kris Olson.