A GRAND DAY

Hunting With His Grandfather, Seth Gottardi Harvested His First Turkey And Created A Lifelong Memory

story by Trey Iles, LDWF Public Information

Hunting is often about family. And it’s often about dogs. Many times, it’s about both.

Lifelong memories are forged in the woods, fields and duck blinds while hunting with kids, grandkids and man’s best friend. Most are good. But some are bittersweet.

Rick Gottardi can attest to this. One day while hunting with his grandson, Seth, Rick saw his best buddy harvest his first turkey and, hours later, his faithful friend take his last breath.

Seth, who was 15 at the time, was hunting with Rick in Washington Parish when he shot his first turkey, an impressive 20-pounder with a 9-inch beard. Moochie, Rick’s 14-year old rat terrier, was along on the trip, as he was like on every other hunt. The three had a picture made together to commemorate the occasion.

Rick was as proud as a grandfather could be. He had a smile on his face the entire day. But a phone call from his wife later that day brought troubling news.

“She told me I needed to come home because Moochie was having a hard time,’’ Rick said. “We had to put him down that evening. I’ve got other dogs, all but one the offspring of him. But there was never one like him. Still think of him all the time.’’

That day still resonates with Rick. And last August, he got to relive the memories from that day with his family as Seth was recognized as the 2016 Male Youth Hunter of the Year at the Louisiana Outdoors Writers Association’s (LOWA) annual awards banquet in Natchitoches.

Seth submitted the winning story of his first turkey harvest to the Youth Hunter of the Year program, a joint effort of LOWA, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Louisiana Wildlife Federation.

“I have been my Paw Paw’s hunting buddy since I was 7 years old,’’ said Seth, now 17 and a junior at Northshore High in Slidell. “He bought me a lifetime hunting and fishing license when I was a baby and attended my safety training with me when I was 11. And I harvested my first deer with him when I was 12.

“I absolutely love to hunt and am thankful that I am in a family that gives me this opportunity. I love to listen to all the stories Paw Paw has about all the times he’s hunted.’’

Many of those stories involve Seth. But this one almost didn’t happen.

The duo had journeyed to their hunting camp in Washington Parish on a Saturday during the youth turkey hunt weekend after Seth, a pitcher for the Northshore High baseball team, was finished with his diamond duties.

They went out to Rick’s favorite turkey hunting area to see if they could maybe bag a bird in the afternoon but mainly to scout and enjoy the time together. Afterwards, they headed back to the camp and Seth, as many teenagers are wont to do, stayed up late watching television. It was tough getting Seth out of bed the following morning, Rick said.

“The next morning it broke clear,’’ Rick said. “There was no wind that morning. We had blue bird skies. I got up early. I was ready to go.’’

Seth, however, wasn’t. After several attempts at rousing Seth, Rick said he almost went back to bed. Finally, Seth got up but they were running behind.

“We got to the spot at about 6:45 (a.m.) and there were already a bunch of turkeys gobbling,’’ Seth said. “Paw Paw asked me which one I wanted to hunt. I pointed and we headed in that direction. We set up close to a fence line where an open gate led into a field. I set up in some short trees with my decoy about 20 yards from me. Paw Paw sat about five yards behind me and started calling.’’

They didn’t have to wait long. About 10 minutes after getting set up, a hen flew down by Seth’s decoy. “I thought, ‘Oh boy, this is either going to be either really good or really bad,’‘’ Rick said. The hen began to call the tom and he started on his way toward her. The bird popped out about 20 yards from Seth.

“My heart was pounding so hard and my arms were heavy from holding my shotgun,’’ Seth said. “I was perfectly still as the bird focused on the hen and the decoy. I leveled the bead on its head and Paw Paw whispered, ‘Let him have it.’ I pulled the trigger and got him.’’

It was a thrilling moment for both Seth and Rick. “I had just harvested my first wild turkey,’’ Seth said. “Paw Paw and I high fived.’’

Rick said he wasn’t surprised Seth’s aim was true. Seth, Rick said, has great aim.

“At our camp, they nicknamed him Stealth,’’ Rick said. “For two years in a row, he killed the most deer of any member. For two years in a row, he killed three each year.

“There was no need for a second shot (on the turkey). He made a good shot the first shot.’’

Seth and Rick knelt and prayed afterward, a tradition Rick began when he was learning to hunt in his native Pennsylvania. Rick harvested his first deer when he was 13, hunting with a bow.

Rick said he considers himself blessed to have been able to pass along his love of hunting to his grandsons. He said Seth showed interest in hunting when he was young but he waited until Seth was about 7 before he took him to the camp.

“When he was 7, I let him come and sit with me (while deer hunting),’’ Rick said. “He showed interest and we pursued it. Pretty much from the beginning of October until the end of deer season and all through turkey season he’d come with me as long as it didn’t interfere with his baseball.’’

In addition to a laser-like aim, Seth has a pretty good fastball. “Really hard for me to say which I love the most,’’ Seth said. “I love baseball and I love to hunt.’’

One of their favorite stories is the day they both harvested a buck. Of course, Moochie was there, too.

They found Seth’s deer first thanks to his accuracy, Rick said.

“His was easy,’’ Rick said. “He shoots a 444 and he lays them down in their tracks. They don’t run far when Seth shoots. I hit one and it ran. It got dark. We found Seth’s then went to look for mine but it was dark already and we didn’t find it.’’

Fortunately, it was pretty cold that night. The next morning Rick, Seth and Moochie set out to find Rick’s deer. Rick suggested they go back and forth in half circles to look for the buck.

“I had barely gotten the words out of my mouth and Seth looks at me and says, ‘Why?’’’ Rick said. “I looked over and there was Moochie standing on top of my deer.’’

Seth said he’s learned so much from Rick through the years about hunting. Rick said it’s more than just hunting.

“Honestly, he’s probably one of my best friends,’’ Rick said. “He’ll go anywhere with me and do anything with me. As long as I need help, he’s there for me.’’

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