by Michael Waddell
It is sometimes hard these days not to get cast as a particular type of hunter.
“Oh, there goes Bill. He’s a deer hunter,” or “That was Ted. You know him, he’s a huge waterfowler.” And while I am often seen by a lot of folks as just an ol’ redneck who loves to hunt big bucks, the fact is, turkeys are still one of my favorite things to hunt. In fact–and this might surprise a lot of you–if I were forced to pick just one thing I was allowed to hunt, it would have to be a turkey. An animal doesn’t have to have a rack. There is just something about long beards and long spurs that has always turned my crank, and few things get my heart beating like the sound of a gobbler spitting and drumming.
It Takes the Best
Turkey hunting produces some of the best hunters out there. It’s true. Especially where hunting eastern wild turkeys is concerned, I’m a firm believer that if a hunter can hunt ethically and legally fill his tags consistently each season using his calling and woodsmanship skills, that hunter should have the confidence to hunt any type of game in the world and already has the inherent skills to do it successfully. Turkey hunting takes woodsmanship, patience, to some degree or in some places fitness, perseverance, knowledge of a turkey’s vocabulary and an understanding of its habits and instincts, and you have to know how to use the woods and geography to your benefit.
The key is being consistent, though. Any hunter can stumble into the woods and kill a turkey here and there, but it’s a whole different game to consistently kill turkeys every year. I was 13 the first time my dad and I went out with a Ben Lee owl hooter and a Lynch box call to try our hand at turkey hunting. The result: I killed a world-record jake. I was hooked, and walking out of the woods that day I thought I knew everything I needed to know to keep killing turkeys. Boy, was I wrong. It would take a couple of years and a number of failed hunts before I would kill a longbeard. I went from thinking I was a pro and ready to make turkey calls to not being able to buy a turkey at the Winn-Dixie. But I learned a lot in the process, and I continue to learn a lot, which has made me a better hunter regardless of whether I’m hunting whitetails in Illinois, elk in New Mexico or brown bears in Alaska. Turkey hunting is the one sport that allows me to brush up on all of my hunting skills.
Reasons to Love Turkey Hunting
There are lots of reasons why I love turkey hunting. To start, it’s the most beautiful time of the year to hunt. Dogwoods are blooming, trees are leafing out, the days are growing longer, and the weather is getting warmer after a long, cold winter.
Another big reason is that it can be a more social type of hunting. Deer hunting is so solitary. You have to sit still for a long time, and you’re usually alone. Even when I am with a cameraman, as I often am these days, I still can’t really talk with him. Deer hunting can be stressful, too, because you have to watch out for so much, such as sizing up a deer before you shoot. When that big one comes in, it may be the only chance you get at a deer that size that season or maybe even in your life. Such worries can weigh on a hunter’s mind.
Turkey hunting, on the other hand, has a more laid-back vibe. All is not lost if you miss a turkey or spook one, because while there are certainly longbeards that are bigger than others, most of the time killing any gobbler is a prize. If you mess up one hunt, you can usually go get on another bird that day or the next. You can also cut up with a friend, wife or girlfriend while hunting, and you can move around more and have fun.
Turkey hunting is also a good opportunity to get to know your woods better. Oftentimes, deer hunters go to and from their stands, afraid of busting a buck out of a nearby bedding area. Turkey hunting requires you to locate a gobbling tom, get close to it and then set up and call it in the rest of the way. You walk through parts of your property that you might not have ever checked otherwise.
If you’ve never fried up some wild turkey at the end of a hunting day, then you are missing out on some of the best-tasting game nature has to offer. This is my number-one reason I like hunting turkeys.
Michael’s Tips to Hunt By
I’m still approached by a lot of guys and gals new to the sport of turkey hunting. To them I offer this advice:
1. Never underestimate the benefit of using a friction call, whether it is made of glass, made of slate or a box call. They are much easier to master than a mouth call even though every experienced turkey hunter will tell you how important using a mouth call is. Get the sounds down on friction calls such as a pot-and-peg or box call, then work on perfecting your calling with a mouth call.
2. Remember to have fun. Hunting shouldn’t be so serious that you get mad at yourself or your hunting partner. If things don’t work out on a hunt, don’t sweat it. Just get after it again, and try to learn from your mistakes. Develop your own style of what works for you and what doesn’t. Over time, you will come up with an approach that is uniquely yours and, most importantly, one that works.
3. Use your camouflage. More than in any other type of hunting, camo is important when trying to fool a turkey’s keen eyesight. Dress in a camo that matches the terrain and type of season you’ll be hunting. Realtree makes a pattern for darn near every piece of land you can imagine. Once it starts to fade from years of use, buy some more to keep yourself looking sharp and blending well with the outdoors.
4. Buy yourself a really good shotgun with an extended choke tube so you can throw an even pattern of shot downrange for maximum killing ability. Practice before the season, and be sure you are hitting where you are aiming.
5. If you have a lot of land available to hunt, consider getting an electric cart such as a Bad Boy Buggie. I absolutely love mine. You can quietly and quickly cover a lot more ground in one of these than you can on foot, sometimes making a difference in getting to a noisy gobbler before another hen, or even another hunter, does.