Keeping Pace with Stephen

Union, South Carolina is a quiet little town in the upstate that flows as peaceful and unhindered as its neighbor, the Tyger River. The people of Union do not let the worries of the world today conflict with the way they live their lives. The only worry most folks have is finding a parking space at the Friday night football games. In Union, there is time for everything, and everything has its own time. They believe this is God’s country and it was made to be shared with family and friends. The folks of Union have never met a stranger. Everyone has a pace all their own that dictates their life, except maybe Stephen. The steam rolling 42-year-old employee of the United States Forest Service is wide open compared to most folks in Union. His zest for life touches more than just his everyday routine; it is rooted deep in his love for the outdoors. Being a six-time S.C. state turkey calling champion and the current S.C. State Chapter President of the National Wild Turkey Federation are just a few of the ways Stephen’s intense love of the outdoors has manifested itself. 

Stephen was born in Anderson, S.C. Six months later, Raymond Cobb, Stephen father moved his family to Carisile after getting a job with a textile mill located there. Stephen lived in Carisile until he got married and moved to Union some 23 years later. It was these years of his youth that helped mold him into the man and the outdoorsman that he is today. Stephen credits a resident of Carisile, Bill, with helping a young Stephen in focusing his ever-growing energies towards the great outdoors and turkey hunting in particular.  

The moment that probably changed his life forever was when Bill gave Stephen his first turkey call. It was with that very same turkey call that he harvested his first gobbler. Stephen was just 15 years old and did not have a driver’s license. Stephen rode his bicycle to the woods that day. His intense desire for the outdoors was prevalent even then. Hearing Stephen’s words about Billy made me think of all the countless other outdoorsmen (myself included) who too had someone to open the door to the mysteries and the adventures of the great outdoors. This is a debt that some of us forget to repay. Stephen has not forgotten and attempts to do for his own son as well as others exactly as Bill did for him all those years ago. 

It was that first turkey call that sparked a lifelong obsession with the pursuit, the understanding, and cumulatively the conservation of this the wiliest of game animals, the wild turkey. It was a natural progression for Stephen to start competing in turkey calling contests. He won his first of over 80 competitions at the age of 13. To Stephen’s credits are six S.C. Turkey Calling championships. He claims the pinnacle so far of his success at turkey calling was done this year. He was in 1st place after the first day of the competition at the Grand National championships in Nashville, TN. An unfortunate slip on the second day dropped him to 5th place just a mere 8 points out of first. This is something that Stephen plans to remedy in the future. 

Stephen also has a job tailor made for one with interests like his. He works for the United States Forest Service at the Enoree Ranger District of the Sumter National Forest, which is a branch of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. As a ranger, Stephen helps in the management of the Enoree Ranger District. When talking about the U.S. Forest Service, the words, “Caring for the Land and Serving the people”, will always be foremost in the conversation. I cannot picture Stephen doing anything less. 

Stephen is not a one-dimensional person. His energies and passions spill over from his love of hunting into his home life. His lovely wife of 23 years, Elizabeth, and his 15-year-old son, Martin, will attest to that. I could tell from the short time I spent in their home that Stephen and Elizabeth were a well-matched couple. They seemed to be extensions of one another with each complimenting and supporting each other the best they can. With Stephen practicing his turkey calls for hours on end before a competition, one would have to be very understanding or at the very least deaf.  

Stephen and Martin have a relationship that is enviable in this day in time. From the time that he was able to go, Stephen had him in the woods every time he could. A bond created between a father and son while hunting lasts a lifetime. A child raised in an outdoors environment learns about self-worth and self-discipline at a young age. He or she is taught that they are responsible for their actions and the decisions that they make. Sportsmanship is probably the most important thing that is learned for it is woven throughout the learning experience. You can tell from just meeting Martin one time that he has learned his lessons well.  

Somehow, Stephen still has time to give back to the community. If he is not coaching little league, or he is serving up hash at a 4th of July celebration, I am sure you can find Stephen supporting his community in any number of other ways. He also manages to find time to play church league softball. The only thing that slows Stephen down is that there is only 24 hours in a day. 

Stephen’s accomplishments in competitive turkey calling have not gone unnoticed. He presently prostaffs for both Hunter’s Specialty and Realtree. For those of you who think that being on a prostaff for a major outdoors company would be the way to go, Stephen informs me it is not just about going on hunts and being on TV. You are a spokesperson for their business. Stephen must promote them wherever he goes. Sometimes it means giving up valuable hunting time just to go somewhere to represent them. Today’s outdoorsmen and women must be aware of the fact that hunting in the 21st century is not the same as it was when our father’s first learned of the outdoors from their fathers. Unfortunately, it has become a business. In order to keep from being washed away with the tide, today’s hunters must be intelligent as well as savvy in the ways of the business world. Stephen holds his own in this aspect. 

The upstate of South Carolina is a treasure-trove of outdoors adventures. From his home in Union, Stephen is but minutes away from a trophy buck, or a boss gobbler. In those same few minutes, he and his family can be at a little league baseball game, or tailgating before a Union High School Yellow Jackets football game, or a hash cook’n for some worthy charity event in the Union area. Stephen lives his life listening to the same song that his friends and neighbors listen to except he tends to play it a beat or two faster, and those who know him do not mind. You see, in Union, South Carolina, everyone has their own pace and that suits Stephen just fine. 

Report from the 2019 Turkey Season

Opening week of turkey season earlier this year was a disaster to say the least. I was bound and determined to get a turkey before the season was out; so much so, that I decided to enlist the help of a local legend, Buster the turkey slayer. Now as one might imagine having a nickname that ends in turkey slayer gives folks the idea this individual was somewhat of a good turkey hunter. I would later find out just how good! You see, even though we were old friends, I had never hunted with Buster before.
I enlisted his help purely on his reputation. Family and friends alike all claimed the man acted like a turkey at times so it was no wonder he could find them in the woods with little trouble. This was comforting to me seeing how my largest problem to date was locating them at all.

It may help you to envision my friend Buster if I tell you a little about him first, Buster is a good size man not to tall but somewhat round if you know what I mean. He spends all his time in the woods so he has that lumberjack look. Now ‘ole Buster promised me right off we would see some turkeys before the morning was over and that was something I needed to hear as frustrated as I was with my luck so far. It also helped me stay calm as I was trying to follow him through the woods. Following ‘ole Buster was a little like following behind a bull elephant in a tyrant. I kept asking myself how in the world is he not scaring everything within 2 miles from us the way he’s plowing through the underbrush and pine tops but, we just kept pressing on deeper and deeper into the forest. 

Just when I began to think all the stories I had heard about this man were fairy tales he stopped dead still in his tracks and began to shake all over. Scared, and stunned, I rushed over to ask Buster if he was ok. Just as I got up to him, he began to gobble louder and harder than any turkey I had ever heard in my entire life. Never before had I heard anything like it coming from human vocal chords. Certainly, we were not created to make a noise like that I’m sure, but there he was, Buster the turkey slayer, (a legend among turkey hunters) was standing there in the middle of that stand of pines shaking and gobbling like a turkey. Take a minute and let that sink in. Can you imagine what this must have looked like?  This full-grown man standing in the middle of the woods, shaking all over, and gobbling like a turkey, at the top of his lungs. Then, just as quickly as he began to shake and gobble, he fell quiet. As you may imagine, I began to feel like a complete fool; here I was with this nut standing in the woods watching him pretend he can call turkeys with his own voice. Then it happened, a Tom some 60 to 80 yards off began to respond to Busters antics. The next thing I knew Buster began to swing his hips back and forth moving in the direction of the Tom shaking his head slobbering and gobbling as if he had found a new friend. Soon the two turkeys, Um, I mean, Buster and his new gobbling buddy were carrying on a conversation only they could decipher. I stood there in complete amazement trying to take in all I was seeing and hearing, but I have to admit, it was hard not to roll on the ground laughing at all I was witnessing.

Not only had Buster fulfilled his promise of finding a Tom by morning, but now was in deep communication with this bird and daylight was beginning to break. A few moments later as we were closing in, Buster was motioning for me to sit down next to a big pine. Now, Buster had changed his calling tactics from gobbles and cuts to purring noises that could rival any wild hen turkey in the woods. I firmly believe ‘Ole Buster had this Tom completely believing another Tom was in his territory with a love-sick hen and we all know that Tom just couldn’t allow that kind of thing to be happening in his woods. After a few minutes of this I asked him if he ever used a turkey call. He gave me this weird look and said, “whatever for, none of them things can call turkey good as I can.” Moments later we could hear the crackling noise of the Tom as he made his way toward us. I couldn’t help but think I had witnessed a miracle of sort. ‘Ole Buster completely fooled that Tom without ever using an artificial turkey call of any kind. Every call he made were calls he learned to do himself over the years without ever using a single hand or mouth turkey call. It was then that he came into view, his head was redder than a Coke can and in full strut, looking for either his new date or some other Tom to kick some butt. I placed the bead on his red head, squeezed the trigger, feathers flew, and ‘ole Buster jumped up, and before I knew it he had my Tom and was walking back to me with a huge smile saying “now, that isn’t so hard is it’ I smiled back and replied, “No, Buster, not when you’re hunting with the turkey slayer.”