I had always thought that turkey hunting would be way too complicated for me. I grew up hunting small game – mostly dove, duck, and squirrel in Florida. Pretty straight-forward stuff. I had always thought of turkey hunting as being very complex and crouched in a veil of almost mystical-like skill and talent. In actuality, though, I didn’t really know very much at all about turkey hunting and had no facts or experience to support this idea.
Then one day all of that changed. I was minding my own business waiting my turn at the doctors office on a routine appointment when I picked up a magazine – Sports Afield as I recall. The lead story was about turkey hunting and how easy it is to get started in turkey hunting. The article described the “run and gun” technique of turkey hunting wherein one walks about calling turkeys using a call. The article said walk 50 yards, yelp once or twice, and if a tom doesn’t gobble back within a few seconds to walk another fifty yards and call again. The article said that you just keep doing this until a tom calls back. At that point the article suggested finding a nearby tree to put your back against and get ready for the kill. I distinctly remember saying to myself “Hey, I can do that!”
I went from the doctor’s office to a nearby sporting goods store and bought me a mouth call (definitely not the best choice, but what did I know). I then went home, grabbed my shotgun, and headed to a nearby National Forest to give this new-found interest in turkey hunting a test drive, I remember walking back into the woods toward a large creek, finding a small opening, then sitting down against a tree and trying my new mouth call for the first time. It sounded more like a duck or a kazoo than a hen yelp, but I am a persistent chap and I kept at it for about two hours. Then, at almost dark, I finally made that gizmo in my mouth actually sound like a hen yelping. I kid you not, the very first time I sounded like a hen yelping a tom about 200 yards away answered my call! I didn’t get that tom to come in for reasons I will explain in a different article, but my confidence soared and I couldn’t wait to try it again.
Well, I did try it again. And again. And again. And again. I got up at 3:30 a.m. on countless mornings, walked for miles, and improved my calling – but still no turkey. Oh, I could get one to call back to me every once in a while, but four years had passed and countless hours and I still hadn’t even come close. I came to the conclusion that the only way that I was ever going to kill a turkey was to use my newly developed deer hunting skills. I would find an area where toms are passing through, wait motionless in silence, and then ambush one! That didn’t work very well either. I remember one day I was driving along a logging road in my Tacoma pick-up and a good-sized tom crossed the road about 150 yards ahead. I jumped out of my truck and attempted to run around it and shoot it when it passed by. That didn’t turn out well either.
So there I was. I believed that I had tried everything and absolutely nothing was working out for me. I watched hunting shows (which really disgusted me because they always got one…or two…or three), read magazines, watched “how to” videos on Youtube – you name it, and I gave it a try. Then, I remember telling my very good friend Ted that I was giving up turkey hunting because it had become an absolute, total, and complete waste of my time. Ted looked at me and said “we are going to change all of that.” That is exactly what he said and I will never forget it because it changed my turkey hunting career forever.
Shortly after Ted assured me that my turkey hunting was going to make a drastic turn for the better, he began to hunt with me – on my hunting grounds. I learned to swallow my pride and keep my mouth shut and my ears and eyes open. As I spent time in the turkey woods with Ted I slowly began to realize what I was doing all wrong. Ted and I did have success within a few hunts. Ted called a turkey to within 25 yards and I easily took it with my Remington 11-87. That was the beginning of my turkey hunting education. It was another several years before I actually called in a turkey myself and was able to harvest it. I realize now that I will always be learning, and each and every time I think I have those ding dang birds figured out, they make a fool of me.
I know what you are thinking. What did Ted teach you? Yes, that is important and I will get to that – but not in this article. The main point of this article if you haven’t figured it out by now is the critical importance of hunting mentorship. Turkey hunting is not something that you easily pick up on – at least not if you hunt heavily-pressured, extraordinarily wary Easterns like we have around my stomping grounds here in Alabama. Turkey hunting is a life-long pursuit. If you think you have turkey hunting all figured out you either hunt stupid turkeys, are delusional, or both. Turkey hunting is tough. There is no such thing as “out-thinking” a turkey. Turkey behavior is about as chaotic and unpredictable as the weather. You may not hear one single gobble on a crisp, calm, clear morning – perfect for hunting these majestic birds – and then on a stormy morning – and I mean thunder and lightning stormy – they are so fired up that they gobble at the thunder (yes, I have seen that!).
If you have become frustrated with turkey hunting or are not having the success that others seem to be or that you would like to – then you may need to find yourself a mentor. Had it not been for Ted there is absolutely no doubt in my mind – none – zip – zilch – nadda – that I would not be turkey hunting today. Also, if you are in need of a mentor, don’t be an idiot like me and be too proud to ask.
You can find mentors in any number of places. If you are in a hunting club ask one of the members who regularly fills all of their tags. However, perhaps the biggest sign that an individual will make a good turkey hunter mentor is whether or not they enjoy calling in turkeys for others. If you can find such an individual, chances are they will make a fantastic mentor. My experience is that most turkey hunters reach a point where they enjoy the chase and the challenge more than the kill. So, whether you know someone from your local hunting club, or at work, church or civic group you belong to, if you can find someone who enjoys calling in turkeys for others chances are they will make a perfect mentor. Can’t think of anyone? Many states like my home state of Alabama have state-run mentorship programs wherein volunteer experienced hunters are matched up with novices who have expressed an interest in either becoming a hunter – or simply to want to learn from someone more experienced and knowledgeable in order to have more success. If you live in or near Alabama check out the link below:
Although I do not ordinarily recommend watching hunting shows on mainstream T.V., I do highly recommend you check out The Hunting Public on Youtube. This show is for real. The Hunting Public’s mission is to “…create a community of hunters that can interact and learn as a group.” If you are new to turkey hunting, their annual “turkey tour” is extraordinarily educational. I have learned a lot from them. These are not staged hunts on some turkey farm where people pay lots of money to harvest half-tame toms. These guys film their hunts on heavily-pressured public land – and, they don’t always get one because that’s what turkey hunting is really like! They have fun, develop and deepen relationships, and most importantly, they have a sincere desire to openly share their knowledge with their viewers. One of my favorite episodes was when they wanted to show their viewers how easy it is to get started in turkey hunting. They went to Wal Mart, bought a single-shot shotgun for $99.00, a call, and some other basic gear, and then went out in the woods and showed their viewers what to do (see below for that episode). OK, I feel like I am writing a commercial for The Hunting Public – and they don’t need my help!
Now a word to the experienced turkey hunters who may have stumbled onto this article. If you have reached the point in your turkey hunting career where you consistently harvest turkeys year after year and no longer feel the need to kill every turkey you call in, or to fill all of your tags every year, you may be ready to be a mentor. Or, maybe you have learned to enjoy the thrill of seeing a longbeard pop into range – knowing that you have completely and utterly fooled them – more than squeezing the trigger. If this sounds like you, find yourself a kid (or adult) who is sincerely interested in mastering this game of turkey hunting and pass your skills down to the next generation. I absolutely guarantee you that seeing the joy on a youngster’s face after his or her first turkey harvest, and knowing you have just made a hunter for life, will warm your heart more than all of the turkeys you could possibly ever kill for the rest of your life.
Can I get an “Amen?”