Getting On The Turkey Train

By: Ashley Chance, Artemis Southeast Region Coordinator

I have never “called in” an animal before while hunting. Technically I suppose I’ve called waterfowl, but they mostly come in as a fast-flying group and the whole event transpires before my heart rate can interfere with my aim. Calling an animal appeals to me because it belies a connection to an individual and an intimate knowledge of a species. One of the few animals here in the Southeast that can be called effectively, is a turkey.

While turkey hunting has always been on my list, I never really got serious about it. Most of the people I know that turkey hunt are, as we say in the south, ‘eat up with it’. When they talk about turkeys their eyes glaze over a little and take on a faraway look that belies how captivating the experience is for them. It was difficult for me to understand what exactly about turkeys got other hunters so fired up. Turkeys are significantly smaller than deer, making the effort to meat ratio seem meager. Many turkey hunters I spoke with often didn’t see or hear anything on their hunting escapades, so the action couldn’t compare to even a mediocre day of duck hunting. Strangest of all, there seemed to be endless conversation about how simultaneously stupid and supernaturally intelligent turkeys are. This left me with a lot of questions and not much interest in the activity.

Photo credit: NWTF

Last year my husband convinced me to go out with him on a turkey hunt and my perspective on the endeavor will never be the same. The morning began in a familiar way. We woke up way before the sun, hooked up the duck boat, and drove to a nearby lake where we’d been catching limits of crappie over the past week. I backed the boat into the water, parked the truck and trailer, and found leaping from the dock into the boat much easier in my hunting pants than it usually was in waders. We took the boat to a cove that we’d scouted on the aforementioned fishing expeditions, cut the motor and sat listening in the dark silence.

The first few minutes were ethereal. Mist floated up off of the calm water, stars winked down on us from an inky sky and we could hear barred owls announcing the end of night. Shortly after that, all hell broke loose and what I termed “The Amazing Race” commenced. You see, something about owls attending to their normal business really sets off gobblers in the springtime. As the tiniest sliver of light began to show in the sky, gobbles rang out across the lake. This in turn signaled to all the other hunters waiting in boats where they should proceed to at the greatest rate possible. The once calm water churned with eager hunters trying to claim their entry point into an area where a turkey had revealed himself. We tried for about three opportunities and finally got lucky when a gobble came from just across the lake.

We sped towards the bank but another boat beat us to the inlet we were aiming for. With a small amount of cursing, we decided it was time to commit and hope for the best. All of the darkness had left the sky and sitting in a boat wasn’t going to get us a turkey. We tied the boat up further down shore from where the other folks had landed and hopped out. Immediately we heard it. The turkey was actually closer to us than them! We had all misjudged the origin of the gobble and the two of us serendipitously found ourselves almost on top of him. Quickly and quietly we climbed 60 yards up from the bank and crouched behind two trees.

My husband shook his call and an incredibly realistic (to my ears) gobble rang out. The tom answered us loudly and immediately. I turned back to look at my husband with wide eyes and he fervently motioned for me to be ready. As my husband and the turkey sang back and forth the anticipation built. This tom was still in the tree that he had roosted in overnight and while we couldn’t see him, he seemed close enough to fall on us if he slipped off of his branch. The volley lasted for about eleven rounds. I was certain we’d be bringing him home with us and began to wonder why some people had such a hard time harvesting turkeys. My legs began to shake from holding my cramped position with gun at the ready. Finally, we heard the explosion of his wingbeats as he left his perch. Rather than appearing in front of us, he flew off to the right and landed at the top of the hill. We tried a couple more gobbles but got no response. Slowly, certain it couldn’t be over, we crept to the crest of the hill and discovered…nothing. He’d vanished. I couldn’t help but feel crestfallen. This turkey had lit a fire in me and then just walked away! This teeter totter between certain success an open-ended bafflement seems to characterize turkey hunting as a whole, and now I knew what all the fuss was about.

I’ve hatched a plan for this spring but it’s going to look different than last year. I’ll be 7 months pregnant when turkey season opens, so racing boats across dark water and climbing steep hills strikes me as unappealing. The most accomplished turkey hunter I know recently told me that the year she turkey hunted while pregnant was “the year she learned to slow down in the woods”. Slowing down seems like a valuable lesson, and whether I harvest a bird this spring or not I know time in the field will be time well spent. To all of you turkey hunters out there: veterans, novices and the uninitiated, good luck and gobblespeed!