It began three years ago; this quest, a desire, an ambitious goal to learn how to turkey hunt. Y’all know I love hunting any and all species of animals. I had gone turkey hunting a few times but had not fully submerged myself into what exactly is involved in turkey hunting in Alabama?
Rewind back to the very beginning, the opening day of turkey season in Alabama dressed head to toe in camo, snake boots, deep woods off, a turkey vest loaded to max capacity with box calls, slate calls, mouth calls, a cushion, shotgun over my shoulder, flashlight, standing in front of a 7000-acre map clueless as to what to do next? Where to go? How to set up? How to call? I had never even seen a turkey in the wild and certainly had never attempted to call one in.
When I say I have been turkey hunting a couple of times, I mean that I had heard one gobble from a distance. Once.
So like most times I hunt, I go with my gut. That was my plan. I marked an X on my onX hunt app, and went to my pinned spot.
Turkey hunting for anyone who has never experienced it is nothing like any other hunting I’ve ever done. Turkey does not sit still and is on the move as soon as its feet hit the ground. Sometimes they gobble, sometimes they don’t.
If you’re lucky, you get an owl to do your locating for you so you don’t have to try and hoot. If you’re lucky!
The First Year
This particular morning I wasn’t lucky and I couldn’t call very well. I walked around; I attempted to call. My call sounded more like something dying than a turkey, but I was trying. That day quickly turned into a bust as did the few other times I attempted to go turkey hunt.
The Second Year
Year two rolls around. I’m more determined than ever to learn turkey so I called the experts. I watched YouTube. I listened to and tried to mimic other people calling. I learned the areas better; it was one of the hardest parts – pushing my boundaries. It was a season of blood, sweat, tears, encounters with snakes, wild hogs, getting lost in the woods, walking 10 miles a day or more, and falling in creeks; the second year of turkey season was brutal and I took it personally. I truly felt as if I could not call in a prehistoric red-headed ugly-faced bird into shotgun range. I was sucking as a hunter.
Truth is, it’s you against the bird and I was losing! I called in a turkey whisperer to try and call one in for me. I had professional guides send me voice recordings of them calling so I could practice in my car. I bought decoys and hunted all day. I began to get glimpses of them, or they would come in on one side of the field while I was on the other. Or, they would just appear and I was not ready. If it could go wrong it did until the last day of the season. I wrote about that hunt. I finally got my first gobbler on the last day. Thanks to two men from my hunting club for the teamwork. They wanted to see me get a bird – one located him, one called him in. It was a hunt I’ll never forget!
Fast forward to this current season. I’m more prepared. I’ve practiced. I’ve got two seasons under my feet. But this season is different, this season my girls got interested. My priorities changed, I wanted to be the one to call in their first bird. The first morning was so awesome and the dark started fading. I did an owl call and the gobbles rang out through the Alabama timber. My daughters got to hear a turkey gobble for the first time and looked at me and said it sounded close. We took off to get her positioned.
He was coming in quickly. My heart was racing. She was wide-eyed under her face mask as she saw him across the creek. All she could see were feathers – her first encounter with a turkey. She couldn’t get a shot, but she got to experience why turkey hunters are crazy over turkey. As an avid hunter, when she said she wanted to go again, I was excited. It’s so much more enjoyable hunting with someone than hunting solo.
We went a couple more times, and even though we got close, something wasn’t quite working out. I knew the bird should be coming in, but we were moving, or not brushed in good enough, or got too close, or had other hunters mess us up. It just wasn’t working in our favor. She began to get frustrated. I’ve always been told if you kill an Alabama turkey you’ve done something, so let’s be clear — turkey hunting is hard work. It’s a game where you have to be smarter and beat him in his element. These birds ain’t no joke.
On April 10th, I went by myself after countless attempts to try to win this chess game and lose. I think you build up expectations because it’s you against that bird. It does something to you when you aren’t successful. I actually told myself I’m not getting in a hurry. I’m not running & gunning. I’m not getting out there before 6:00 am.
The birds were flying off the roost late. I know they are there so I’m changing my game plan. I’m not even going to call more than twice. I went straight to the spot I had planned to go. I sat down and got comfortable. The owls started up; the gobblers started gobbling.
I had three turkeys around me. I made myself sit still, even though everything in me wanted to get closer. I yelped; he answered. I put my calls away. I heard the one behind me coming my way. In order to get him, I was going to have to let him walk all the way past me and then in front of me. I sat still while they gobbled, spitting, drumming as he was getting closer by the minute.
I couldn’t move. My plan was working. Patience was the key and it was about to pay off. The one behind me decided he wasn’t coming any closer. I was determined not to move when a gobble to my left answered me. I yelped a couple more times. He answered and I saw him. It was actually happening. I was calling in my first solo gobbler. He was in a patch of woods and I had a pretty narrow opportunity to get a shot. I knew two things were about to happen. I was going to make a pretty long shot & I wasn’t letting this bird get away.
I took my safety off, held my bead on him, and at the last gobble I shot. He dropped in his tracks. I had done it!
I said “thank you” to Jesus and got up to walk toward my bird. He had still not moved. I couldn’t believe I made that long shot. I got maybe 15 yards from him and he raised his head. His eyes open. He wasn’t dead. I shot him again. That time, he went rolling, trying to get up, flopping everywhere. I went to shoot him again and my third shell didn’t chamber. I dropped my gun and ran to him, trying to get my foot on his neck, but that was not happening.
He’s flopping, trying to somehow get up, so I tried to grab him by the neck. That’s when I knew we were both in a fight for our lives. He had spurred me ripping my glove half into two. He got free from me. I jumped on him again, feathers were flying everywhere. I was wrestling a turkey in the middle of the woods, trying to hold him down, his wings slapping me in the face, trying to make this expiration as ethical or human as possible, but he was fighting with everything in him. Finally, finally, I got my knee on him and the fight was over.
I literally fought a turkey. I’ll admit he got me good! My hand swelled so much I thought I broke it. And those 1.78” spurs ain’t no joke!! Out of breath and in a little disbelief of what just happened I picked him up along with some of the feathers he had lost in our fight and I backtracked to find my gun, calls, and cushion.
I’ve never had to dispatch an animal before with my bare hands like that. I can tell you it’s something that I hope I will never have to do again. Some will say I shouldn’t have taken the shot. Some will say I should’ve made a better shot. But I’m proud of myself for not giving up. Three years ago my goal was to call in my own bird completely myself. If I would have given up after two seasons of trying on my own, this 5-year-old 20+ pound 11” bearded, 1.87” long-spurred gobbler wouldn’t be mine today!
Be careful when you’re hunting by yourself. So many things can go wrong in minutes. Don’t grab a turkey if you can help it because you will get flogged and spurred. Lastly, don’t give up!
Through tears, poison oak, briar scratches, blisters on your feet, wetness from crossing creeks, and close encounters with snakes – don’t give up or say no! When it finally happens you will be so proud of yourself for sticking with it.
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