I’ve been lucky enough to hunt thunder chickens across the United States, and while putting the smack down on one of nature’s most elusive birds is always fulfilling, there is nothing quite like doing it in the South. Maybe it’s ’cause I grew up there, or maybe it’s because the South simply offers something a bit different than anywhere else.
Early seasons and gorgeous country make it memorable—the educated birds make it challenging. To do it right, though, is not just about killing a bird—it’s about experiencing all the South has to offer. So every year I load up my gear and point the Chevy’s windshield toward these three Southern greats.
For any hunter wanting to tag an Osceola, Florida is a must-hit state. But Florida is cool for a variety of other reasons, not the least of which: it opens up first, generally around the beginning of March. When the rest of the country is blanketed in snow, and even much of the South is a few weeks away from turkeys gobbling, you can head down to the Sunshine State and get a bird to sing. And if you haven’t hunted Osceolas yet, you need to.
By far, they have the biggest, baddest attitude of all the turkey subspecies and are just plain fun to hunt. When an old boss gobbler with railroad-spike spurs comes stomping in, he does so with a purpose and a chip on his shoulder. It’s how birds should react. But don’t think that because these birds are aggressive they are pushovers.
Florida’s flat terrain combined with natural obstacles, like swamps, creeks, and palmetto patches, add enough challenge for anyone. One bit of advice: When you hear a bird responding, assume he is closer than he sounds. The thick Florida vegetation seems to dampen the sound, and, more often than not, the bird is close and coming fast. I have pushed too hard and bumped enough birds to figure this one out the hard way. If a bird gobbles a few times, get set up and wait. Patience will pay off.
Florida Road Trip
My favorite spots are around Immokalee, near the town of Fort Myers. This trip makes for an ideal southern getaway vacation/road trip. Heck, it’s so fun down there you can bring the wife, even if she doesn’t enjoy hunting. Rent a car in Fort Myers—spend the extra money and get a convertible or Jeep; the Florida sun is worth it—and set out to do some exploring when you’re not hunting.
There are great beaches, fantastic little restaurants with awesome seafood, and cool, out-of-the-way roadhouses you’ll not find on any map. Kill your bird and spend the rest of the trip simply kicking around the Florida backroads; it’s the best combination of rural hunting and seaside living. Plus, there is absolutely a ton of pigs in this part of the world; throw in a rifle, handgun, or bow to take advantage of some of the best porker hunting you will ever see. Life doesn’t get much better than Florida in early March.
Alabama and Georgia
Alabama is a fantastic state for non-resident hunters. There is tons of public land, licenses are reasonable, and you can kill lots of birds—five to be exact. Now, having the ability to theoretically kill five birds and actually hanging five pairs of spurs over a limb are two different things. I have often said if a non-resident can roll into ’Bama and fill all his tags, he is a turkey master, as there is no more difficult place to kill birds than Alabama and Georgia.
The birds are hunter savvy, and if you can kill them consistently here you can fill tags anywhere. While Alabama and Georgia are pretty similar in bird density, terrain, and skills needed, there is one place Alabama shines over my home peach tree turf—it opens up a week earlier! Because of this, it makes for a great dual-state combo trip.
For guys looking to experience a long Southern road trip, hunt the first week in Alabama, hit it hard, and then jump across the border to Georgia where you can buy another over-the-counter license good for three birds. If you fill all the tags for Georgia and Alabama, look me up at home in Booger Bottom; I’ll buy you a glass of sweet tea and crown you the new Southern Turkey Killing Champion.
’Bama and Georgia Road Trips
This country is my home turf, with lots of cool places to see and good Southern food to eat. In Georgia, if you get around Manchester, stop at Duck’s Trolley for the best post-gobbler celebration burger in the region. Heck, their burgers are so good, I generally grab one for a pre-turkey hunt celebration and stick another one into my vest for a “during the hunt” good luck charm.
For breakfast, swing by Tant’s Café…there is no better place to get a big breakfast. For some historic sightseeing, visit The Little White House in Warm Springs, where FDR lived and soaked in the therapeutic waters, attempting to alleviate the paralytic effects of Polio. He eventually died here, and the house is now a public museum. The ground water still comes out at a hot 90 degrees, just as it did when this town became popular in the 1800s.
When in Alabama, my favorite town is Salem, right across the Georgia state line. It has some cool antique stores with some iconic Southern cultural finds. It’s perfect for pickers, but there ain’t much in the way to eat. For grub, you need to head over to Phoenix, but heck, in this part of the world, the people are so nice, if you smell something frying, more likely than not, you can just pop in and tell them you are from out of town and they will invite you for dinner just to show you what true Southern hospitality is all about.