Approaching 150 and Twenty Years of Turkey Hunting: Part 2
During my second year of college, my high school’s basketball team was playing in the state playoffs so I dropped in to watch the game and support the Wildcats. The playoffs are always just prior to turkey season here in Mississippi. During the game the subject of hunting turkeys was brought up somewhere in the middle of lay-ups and three point shots. The guy I was sitting by was a sports writer and friend of mine, but I never knew that he was a big turkey hunter. He was several years ahead of me in school so we really didn’t spend that much time together. After celebrating our beloved Wildcats’ win, we exchanged phone numbers and future hunting plans for the up coming season.
A Red Pontiac Grand Am
Sometime toward the end of March our schedules synced for the first time. I will never forget meeting him and climbing into his red Pontiac Grand Am. I thought to myself, this guy does not have a clue about turkey hunting. He drives a red sports car, what turkey hunter drives a red sports car? On top of that he didn’t even have a full set of camo, just some green coveralls and a Realtree shirt. Well we pulled up to the gate and then walked up this dim access road up to the top of a hill where we stopped to listen from in hopes of hearing our first gobble. With a good 15 minutes before typical gobbling time, Rocky began to tell me the lay out of the property and about turkeys that he and his family had killed here. After hearing this I began to feel a little more comfortable with my new hunting partner and started to think that maybe he does know something about turkey hunting.
As the sounds of Spring started filling the air it was not long before a gobbler thundered off in the distance. The turkey was a good half mile away, but we stayed put in hopes of hearing another gobbler closer to us. The bird kept gobbling and gobbling, and after hearing nothing close we headed toward him. Just short of running we made our way down the big hill, through a field, and up another big hill. We stopped to catch our breath and to listen one more time to find out exactly where he was. To our surprise two turkeys gobbled just 100 yards or so in front of us in a beautiful old growth stand of timber. I went to the right and Rocky went to the left. We ended up being about 20 yards apart, which covered both sides of the big ridge we were on. The turkeys answered every one of our calls, which were only soft yelps and clucks. I took my turkey wing and simulated a hen flying off the roost. Ten seconds later I heard at least one of the turkeys fly down just 60 yards or so in front of me. I softly called one last time to let the gobbler know right where I was with the bird gobbling back immediately. Minutes later the turkey appeared in the dark shadows of the dim lit early morning woods and only seconds later he was on his back with his feet in the air. Little did I know the other gobbler was on his way to our position also, but I never saw him. Rocky said if I would have waited just a few more seconds we would have been putting two birds in the trunk of his red Pontiac Grand Am.
Turkey Fans Shared with Turkey Friends
One of my favorite turkey poses is to have multiple turkeys with their fans spread out with me and my turkey hunting friends behind them. Since that first time Rocky and I hunted together, we have posed with many gobblers that we killed all over Mississippi and in other states. There is just something special about hunting with friends and the memories that you share with each other. These friendships also seem to go beyond the turkey woods. From watching each others kids grow up to being there for each other when the storms of life come upon our shores. I remember being there for Rocky when his dad and grand dad (Pawpaw) passed away. They were as much involved with our turkey hunts as they could be. If possible, we would always take our kills by their house and share with them the day’s hunt. Not to mention the big country breakfast his Mawmaw had prepared that would be awaiting us on those special mornings. The day of Pawpaw’s funeral, another friend of mine, Chris, and I killed a double early that morning. Before I left for the funeral I printed out a picture of those turkeys and wrote a simple dedication to Pawpaw. Later on after the service, which turkey hunting was mentioned in, I gave the picture to Mawmaw. I thanked her for all the breakfasts that she had cooked for me through the years, and many other memories that I got to share with Pawpaw. That picture still hangs in her house today.
Rocky and I do not get to hunt together as much as we would like nowadays. Between us now living 150 miles apart and Rocky hunting with his new partner (his son Jordon, who has turned into a pretty good hunter himself), we are left with little time to get together on a hunt. However, I have several other hunting partners that I frequently chase turkeys with. There is Scott, a good friend of mine from the town I live in now, Chris, who lives close to where I grew up, and my cousin Austin; just to name a few. Scott and I have killed several turkeys together on his family property, but he seems to have the worst luck of anyone I have ever hunted with. The craziest and worst things seem to always happen when I am with him. Hunting with Chris, on the other hand, is just the opposite. More times than not one of us, if not both of us, leaves the turkey woods with a long beard draped over a shoulder. We hunt alike, think alike, and will do most anything to kill a turkey. One day we hunted from daylight to 6:00pm without stopping for a break of any kind. We killed one that day and should have killed another. Chris and I had some good hunts this year, but one April day of hunting seems to be the hunt of the year so far.
The Tractor Gobbler
This hunt started with both of us leaving the truck on the same property with Chris going in deep before daylight to listen and I was going to stay close to the truck and see if I could hear a turkey across the road. As the light starting filling the sky a turkey gobbled somewhere in-between Chris and I, but closer to Chris. After hearing nothing across the road I headed toward that gobbler. Before I could get close to the gobbler on the roost he flew down very early toward Chris so I stayed back. In the mean time Chris was trying to crawl up a little closer and into a better position when the bird landed within 40 yards of him. The turkey was on the other side of a grown up food plot in some open pines and all Chris could see was the tip of the strutting bird’s fan. By this time a hen had flown down on the opposite side of Chris in a logging road that lead up to the food plot. “Surely the gobbler will head toward the hen which will bring him into view,” he thought to himself. Ten minutes later the turkey gobbled 100 yards or so in the pines across the road. After I knew where the turkey was I eased up to Chris’ position and we devised a game plan to hunt him.
Team hunting is simply when two or more hunters team up to hunt a turkey. There are many strategies and techniques also within the realm of team hunting. The most common is simply two hunters sitting together in the general area while trying to call in a bird with one or all hunters calling. Another common team hunting technique is have one hunter stay in one place while the other hunter walks away from a gobbling bird hoping he will come into range for the other hunter.
On this particular morning, Chris and I basically decided to go after this turkey from two different sides. This in theory would cut off the two major travel routes that the turkeys normally used. To make a long story short, we spent the next two hours trying to cut off this gobbler to have him shoot the gap between us like an all-pro middle line backer. Once the turkey was in the other block of woods he quit gobbling and completely vanished. After meeting back up with Chris, he told me that he saw the bird a couple of times and even was in shotgun range, but just could not get a clear shot. The technique we used that morning had been used many times with most all of my hunting partners with lots of success. It just did not work on this morning.
After making it back to the truck we decided to ride around some to cool off and check some openings from the road to see if we could spot one. With only seeing a few hens and jakes from the truck I thought about a small property that was not far from the last opening that we checked. I had killed turkeys there in the past, but I had not hunted there in years. It was a block of mature woods with a 10 acre field in the middle of it. Immediately after getting out of the truck I saw both old and fresh gobbler tracks in the road that traversed the property and lead to the big field. Just knowing that there had been a bird somewhere on this property was a big confidence booster. We slowly made our way down the road stopping and calling several times along the way with no response from any turkey. As we made it down to the field we crawled up to the edge. I could see that the field had been recently disked and a tractor was left in the middle of the field. I thought to myself that there was not going to be any turkeys here because it looked like the field had been disked that morning. Well, just as quick as I thought that, I saw a big black ball walk out from behind the tractor. As I focused my binoculars on it, a big gobbler instantly came into view. He was headed toward the same side of the field we were on, just several hundred yards further down. I knew where an old logging road was that should come out directly where he was headed and we needed to get there fast.
Again, just short of running, we backed up a hundred yards and made our way across the timber. We quickly made it to the logging road and eased down it toward the field. When we got to where the field was in sight we looked for the gobbler while slowly walking down to the field edge. We got about 10 yards from the edge where we could see the section of field where the bird was headed to and still no sight of the turkey. Just as we stopped and while looking intently for the bird, he gobbled only 60 to 70 yards directly in front of us. There were a couple of big pine trees that were about 40 yards in front of us and he was behind one of them. We both hit the ground just before the big gobbler strutted into view. We noticed that he was all alone so we softly and sweetly called to him. The bird made a 90 degree turn and headed straight toward us. It was about eleven o’clock and the sun was shining almost directly down on him. You could see the red, white, and blue glowing from his head. The iridescent colors from his feathers where shining brightly in the midday sun. What a gorgeous sight! The sight that was even better was when my 3½ inch 12 gauge put him on his back.
A long morning of hunting that ended with a quick hunt, a high five, and a 10 inch bearded gobbler draped over my shoulder. However, the best thing about this hunt was that I was able to share it with a good friend and my favorite hunting partner.
Do not be afraid to try some different things with your approach to team hunting. You may find yourself a technique that is murder on turkeys. However, please do be careful in doing so. No matter what happens during your hunts together with friends, enjoy the time you spend with each other, because you never know when life’s circumstances will limit your hunting time together.
This turkey was number 143. I had to cancel on some of my hunts so it does not look good for the home team to make it to 150 this year. However, I leave for Kansas at the end of this week. Hopefully I can add two more there to my total. Please look soon for part three in this series, “Go West Young Man”, to see how my Kansas hunt went.
God Bless and Happy Hunting.
Posted by Mark Newell