Almost 30 years ago, I killed my first turkey near Port Gibson, Mississippi with longtime NAHC Life Member and one of my gun writing mentors Dr. John Woods. The bird came down a logging trail in the afternoon strutting and gobbling. I was set up around a tight curve so I couldn’t even see the tom clearly until he was eight steps away. The hand-me-down-from-my-dad Remington 870 Duck Gun I was shooting patterned so tightly I nearly missed. It’s exactly what I hope to relive this spring turkey season, only maybe I can call this one just a little closer!
The calls are all retested and nestled in the correct pockets on my turkey vest. The new snake boots are broken in and oiled. The turkey gun is patterned, and I replaced the old swing swivels to get rid of last year’s irritating squeak. Five 3-inch #6 shot shells ride in the right hand pocket of the vest … five times what I’ll need tomorrow, I hope.
On the eve of my first 2011 spring turkey hunt, I sit here looking at photos and notes of hunts past. As I look at these images and read these words, every single hunt comes back to life. There’s not a single turkey I’ve killed or been a party to killing that I don’t remember vividly. And there are a lot of equally sharp memories of the birds I didn’t.
Even tonight, the thought of the sound of a gobble in the morning literally makes the hairs on my neck and arms stand up. For those so addicted, the gobble of a tom is a spring tonic that powerful. It stimulates me to the core of what makes me a hunter.
It’s amazing that today 49 of the 50 states and several Canadian provinces are home to huntable populations of turkeys. With four different subspecies spread across that much territory you can imagine there are many techniques and traditions for hunting them. In some places rifles and pistols are legal for spring hunting. Bow hunting is considered by many to be the “cool” way to take gobblers, now. And with advances in shot shell and shotgun choke technology kills at 50 yards, 60 yards and beyond are commonplace.
Personally, I don’t care what legal tools you decide to use in hunting spring turkeys, but if you aren’t committed to calling them close then you’re cheating yourself.
Whether I’ve ended up killing them or not, the birds that give greatest on-going thrills are the ones that came nearly within finger-touching distance. When a tom gobbles at eight steps or spit drums at four the vibration of the sound goes right through your body. It’s an indescribable sensation of victory. To fool an incredibly wary wild bird that completely is an accomplishment. At that point, what difference does it make how you seal the deal?
But if you haven’t set your own goals for how close you’ll call a bird before taking it and if you don’t keep making the goals tougher to reach as your skill grows, then you’re cheating yourself out of the real joy and excitement in turkey hunting. In wishing you the best for this spring season, all I’m going to say is, “I hope you call them in close!”