A Turkey Hunter's First Shot

Peter Frank Edwards
by Allison Glock - February/March 2012

A newbie goes into the spring woods after a turkey and finds out what it means to take a bird

>Click to see photos from the hunt

Jay Walea is the sort of man you look at and think, football. He is large, thick, and dense, six foot three, 275 pounds, with the shuffling wince of a former athlete. The Savannah native, forty, did play ball off and on, tackle. And he was fine. But his heart was never really in the game. His real love, his only true passion, true since he’s been old enough to spit, is turkeys.

Walea loves turkeys the way some men love cars. Or the stock market. Or ribs. He admires them, studies them, and is, for the better part of the year, consumed by them, fixated on the day when hunting season arrives and he will rise before the sun, douse himself in DEET, pull on his camouflage, and head into the piney woods where he can meet his beloved turkeys face to face. And shoot them.

There are people who hunt. And there are people who hunt turkeys. The latter are a special breed. Mostly because turkey hunting is really, really hard. To excel at killing longbeards requires Jobian patience, a deep knowledge of bird behavior and habitat, and a willingness to master hen calls, itself a challenge up there with perfecting a Rachmaninoff sonata.

Most critically, turkey hunting demands humility, an uncontestable requirement that eliminates a significant portion of the population from the first cluck. When asked, many turkey hunters cannot articulate the precise reason for their fervor, but let’s be clear—no one loves turkey hunting because it’s macho. Turkey hunting is the hand-knit doily of the hunting genres. Arcane, involved, complex, and to outsiders, never worth the trouble.

Walea came from a hunting family. He killed his first deer at age ten. Other targets followed, with easy success. He was a natural. At ease in the wild. Respectful and in tune with the animals. And yet, something was missing. And that something was the Eastern wild turkey.

“I saw famous turkey hunter Ben Lee give a talk in Savannah,” Walea recalls. “He passed out mouth calls. And listening to him work them fascinated me. Hearing the sounds.”