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The 2004 spring gobbler season began with a few days of rain that dampened the efforts of many turkey hunters, myself included.

Locust resident Larry Long came to visit and to hunt with me for a couple days at the start of the season. Larry is an expert turkey hunter, having called many reluctant gobblers into range of his longbow.We planned to hunt all day April 12-13, but steady and sometimes heavy rain kept us inside for most of both days. We only managed a brief afternoon of hunting April 13.

After a similarly slow start during the spring season, several hunters have had some success. Browns Summit's Randy Mabe again arrowed a nice gobbler. David Dobbins of Sophia also tagged a nice tom, May 1. Richard Dyer of Eden took his first tom with a bow April 17 in Rockingham County. Dyer's bird is the largest bowkill I've heard of this season, sporting a 103/8-inch beard.

The most impressive bowkill I've heard of this season, though it wasn't the biggest, was by a very special individual. The story of this hunter's journey over the past four or five years is inspiring because of his courage and his determination to get things done his way.

Stokesdale's Rickey Angel has been dealing with a life-threatening illness since 1999. In simple terms, doctors discovered a form of cancer that causes massive bone deterioration. It was centered in Angel's back and required surgery to remove a tumor from his spinal column.

A year later, the disease (multiple myeloma) returned and had spread throughout Angel's body. Doctors wanted to operate and insert plastic rods to shore up the bone in his right arm, which had deteriorated to the point that it actually broke just below the shoulder joint. Angel declined to have the procedure. He felt there must be another way, so he left it to prayer.

Angel has since undergone chemotherapy and bone-marrow transplants and continues to take high-powered medications that have helped his body regenerate bone in his right arm and other places.

More than a year passed from the time doctors discovered the broken bone in Angel's right arm, in May 2000, until he was able to draw a bow again. He couldn't shoot a rifle because of the pain from the recoil, and he was cautioned that the shock could once again fracture his arm.

He says now that his right arm feels stronger than it ever has. A miracle? Maybe. Amazing? Definitely.

Angel arrowed a nice-sized whitetail buck during the 2003 fall deer season, and he was honored by the N.C. Bowhunters Association at its annual banquet in February 2004. Angel received the Golden Arrow Award, which is given to members who have undergone physical challenges and continued to hunt with traditional or conventional archery equipment without resorting to the use of a crossbow.

When this year's April spring turkey season rolled around, Angel was back in the woods. He had a chance to arrow the same gobbler on two days during the second week of the season.

The first time Angel saw this gobbler, he got off a shot, but the shaft of his arrow hit the door of the blind when he released it. The arrow deflected, hit a tree and shattered. Pieces of the broken arrow shaft struck the bird, but did no harm.

The bird initially appeared to be confused and walked toward the blind, then turned and walked away before Angel could nock another arrow.

He saw the same bird the very next day and says the tom was no more than 10 feet from his blind. But this bird never gave him another clear shot with his Matthews Legacy bow.

Angel all but gave up trying to tag a gobbler with his bow. He even went back to this area on one occasion with his shotgun, but said he didn't see anything.

Seven to 10 days later, on April 29, he set up his blind in a different area. It was about 6:15 a.m. when he arrived and heard two separate turkeys gobbling. They gobbled until about 9:30 a.m. and stopped. He heard a gunshot at about 10 and thought: Somebody just shot my turkey.

Then, at about 11, Angel called one time and the bird gobbled back.

"He only gobbled one time in response to my call and sounded like he was less than 100 yards away," Angel said.

About five minutes later, Angel saw the gobbler coming to his jake decoy from his left. The bird was about 20 yards away at this point, walking straight toward the decoy with his feathers "all fluffed up."

Angel waited until the bird walked behind a tree and he drew his bow. When the gobbler walked out from behind the tree, Angel let the arrow go. It was a solid broadside hit. The turkey ran about 30 yards and went down. Rickey's first bowkilled gobbler had a 101/4-inch beard and weighed about 17 pounds.

Rickey Angel had achieved another of his goals. He had taken a mature wild turkey with a bow and arrow. Not to slight those who hunt with firearms - turkeys aren't taken easily by any means - but some hunters just like to do it their way.

What Angel has accomplished in the past couple of years truly is amazing. He could easily have qualified for a handicap crossbow permit. He knows this, but says he just doesn't want to give up that easily.

Angel has won a few personal battles with a nice whitetail buck or two in recent years, and now, with this trophy tom turkey on the morning of April 29. The biggest battle he has won, though, is the one that threatened to end his hunting activity altogether ... and his life.

Angel talks very candidly about it and proudly credits his faith. Faith also helped him through another trying period about the same time he discovered he had cancer. He lost a daughter in an auto wreck on N.C. Highway 68 just a few miles from his home.

Rickey Angel is one of those special people who cross our paths occasionally and makes us realize how fortunate we really are.

Sir Winston Churchill gave a commencement speech in 1941 during World War II, which was a time of trial for the free world. The highlight of that speech was the words: "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never."

On March 4, 1993, former N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who was dying of cancer, echoed those words when he accepted an ESPY award, saying: "Don't give up, don't ever give up."

Rickey Angel epitomizes the very heart, soul and meaning of those men's words. All of us could learn a valuable lesson from him.

\ Ramon Bell is a free-lance outdoors writer, photographer and native Guilford County outdoorsman. He lives in Stokesdale. Contact him at or 643-4455.

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