by Cameron Weddington (@thegobfather49 on Instagram)
So you want to be a turkey hunter? This is an important decision in your life. If you do succumb to what should be considered a mental disease, your entire lifestyle will be changed by this decision. The main question is how infected will you become?
The first gobbler that came to me did so at a very young age. After wading a slough and having some playful otters swim amongst our group, we were able to set up on the ghost who haunted this swamp. We had heard this bird earlier in the morning and were just now getting into his ‘lek.’ The man who had brought me into this swamp was a man of few words, but he instructed me to sit at the base of a great oak tree. He then disappeared behind me and proceeded to sing the serenade of a hen wild turkey. After this swamp ghost had shouted back his lusty replies, I found myself looking down the barrel of my youth model 20 gauge at a skulking black figure moving ever so slowly through the cypress thicket. Why was I shaking so bad? A cold feeling coursed through my entire body, yet it was well above 75 degrees outside. My breathing was deep and quick and keeping my sight covering this bird’s neck seemed to be nearly impossible. He is now in shotgun range and has decided that he wants to survey the situation. Slowly, the round black figure slicks back and becomes a periscope above the forest undergrowth. It was time. I slowly pulled the trigger and in an instant the bird was on the ground. In my extreme panic state, I sat the gun down and prepared to run to my prize. I hear a low but direct voice utter “better shoot him again.” In an instant, I witness the king of the swamp regain his balance and sail away from my life forever. The only remnant I was able to obtain was a single feather from his crowning fan. Regardless of the outcome, something inside of me changed forever from this encounter.
The first step to becoming a turkey hunter is to GO! You must get out there. You have two options for starting: find a mentor to take you or let the turkeys teach you. I was blessed to have a turkey hunting mentor in my life. He helped me gain insight into the wild turkey’s daily life that would have taken years to acquire on my own. If you decide to seek a mentor, look for someone who speaks of the wild turkey as if it is a creature that this person holds the highest respect and love for. Your mentor should also be of the secretive sort. These are the true turkey hunters. Steer clear of choosing the guy who touts the hundreds of birds he has called and killed loudly for all to hear. These are the new age “killers” whose goal is putting as many dead birds on social media as possible. They measure their success and the success of others by the number of turkeys killed. You do not want this type of mentor. If you cannot find a proper mentor, you have an unbelievable amount of research and informative videos online that can be your starting point. These can be useful, but the ultimate teacher is the turkeys themselves. You need to be out there among them as much as possible. Treat every encounter with turkeys as a learning experience and eventually you will begin bringing a few home with you.
I believe everyone who wants to begin turkey hunting needs to read the book “The Old Pro Turkey Hunter” by Gene Nunnery. This book outlines wild turkey hunting as it was meant to be. My personal turkey hunting guidelines come from this quote, “We greatly fear the ease of killing a wild turkey today is going to bring hordes of people to the sport. Who is going to teach these people to appreciate the wild turkey and his challenge to the hunter? Who is going to teach this young novice hunter the unique and rewarding experience of properly hunting the wild turkey? The turkey must be called to the site without the aid of bait or any type of decoy. This is truly the classical one-on-one hunting of the wild turkey.”
So we have established that you want to become a turkey hunter and have established the rules. Here are some ideas and tips that may help you this spring on your endeavor. Turkeys need trees for roosting, open areas (fields, clear-cuts, ridge tops) for strutting, water, and food (acorns, clovers, bugs, etc.) Find an area that has all of these requirements and you will find turkeys. Walk the creek banks or dirt roads and look for tracks. Once you have found tracks, go listen in this area a few weeks before season and see if you hear any gobblers sounding off on the limb. Hopefully before turkey season opens up you will have located a few different suitors. Study their behavior. Where does he go after he flies down? Does he have a favorite roosting area? What is he eating? Where is he getting water?
Next, you need to practice your calling. I suggest starting with a friction style call such as a pot and peg or box call. These are easiest to learn. Also buy a few diaphragm calls and every time you are driving by yourself pop them in and practice. I would highly suggest downloading The Turkey Tech App. You can use this tool to hear real hens calling as well as have World Champion caller, Scott Ellis, give you tips on calling. Once you have learned the basic calls – yelps, clucks, cuts, and purrs – you are ready to hunt.
Equip yourself for the hunt. You will want several different calls/types of calls. Sometimes only one sound will tickle his fancy that day. Wear full camo head to toe. Camo that replicates the trunk of a tree is best. Here is a link to some high-quality turkey camo. Gloves over your hands and a gaiter or mask over your face are necessary. Use a turkey vest to transport your calls, water, snacks, and toilet paper. Many of these vests also come with a comfortable seat that you will be grateful for. Bug spray and a ThermaCell would be a good investment as well. Pattern your shotgun before the hunt with several different shells through your turkey choke and gun. You want to be lethal out to at least 40-50 yards. There is really no reason to shoot one much further. A good pair of binoculars is essential to level the playing field on eyesight. Wear dark socks and a good pair of boots and head out the door.
Get out in the woods and go to where you can hear a bird gobble. Get there earlier than you think necessary. Take the time to enjoy the beautiful sounds of nature coming awake around you. Hopefully your turkey gobbles on the roost. Once he gobbles, maneuver slowly into a position that you estimate to be within 150 yards of his tree with no natural deterrents between you and him (creeks, fences, etc.). The skill of judging a gobbler’s distance will come with experience. Wait for him to fly down. Your goal at this point is to convince this gobbler to do the unnatural and come to you. Naturally, the hen is supposed to approach the gobbler. A 3-5 yelp series is the true mating call of the hen turkey. Yelp to him and if he responds, cut back at him excitedly. In human terms - you just asked him on a date, and he accepted whole heartedly, and you then got really excited about his acceptance. Then begin acting like a hen who is feeding and enjoying where she is. Scratch in the leaves around you and purr. Throw in some soft yelps and maybe even a few cuts. Hopefully your gobbler will take this as an indication that you like where you are, and he will decide to come looking for you. Then, if you have properly set up – your back against a tree wider than your outline, knees in front of you, and gun rested on knees facing the direction of each gobble – you stand a very good chance of getting a shot at your quarry. If the first set does not work, make a move to get in front of where he is headed and try again. If he continues to win day after day, keep trying and eventually he will be in the right mood.
That’s it. That is the basics of turkey hunting. Locate the birds by scouting, learn to sound like them, and then implement a realistic replication of a wild turkey hen. You will miss turkeys and you will screw up often, but eventually you will learn enough to start swinging things in your favor. Never let the urge to kill turkeys make you change the rules to give you an unfair advantage. The wild turkey is the grandest of all game birds in my estimation and pursuing him is truly an infectious pursuit. The greatest and worst moment of turkey hunting is the same moment: when you pull the trigger and end his life. You have at this time achieved the goal and won the game (hopefully by the rules) but simultaneously you have ended the pursuit. Honor your bird and enjoy the delicious meals that he provides. Your next task is to find another one who is ready to play the game.